Katherine Jenkins

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A petrifying X Factor-style audition hour at Universal Records set Katherine Jenkins on the path to her stellar career. An hour after hearing her sing Rossini's Una Voce Poco Fa music bosses offered her a six-album deal reportedly worth £1 million - a figure unheard of at that point in classical circles. Later, the Welsh diva would reveal she "cried most of the day at the emotion of it".

Since then the red-letter moments have come thick and fast. Shortly after inking the contract Katherine was invited to sing at Pope John Paul's silver jubilee. Then there was the lunch at Buckingham Palace where the monarch taught her to eat fruit the royal way.

"After dessert they brought a bowl of water with gauze spread over the top and some fruit," she recalled. "The Queen sensed that I was panicking, so quietly and without embarrassing me, she showed me how to wash the fruit and dry it with the gauze."

Soon her fame was such that when she bumped into Gordon Brown in the corridors of GMTV the prime minister stopped and told her: "How funny, only yesterday I was talking about you to the Queen".

Growing up in a Neath council house as the daughter of a factory worker and his mammogram operator wife the girl with the golden voice never dreamed of being famous. "I only ever wanted to be a singer," she's said.

Yet, from an early age the mezzo-soprano, who was born on June 29, 1980, stood out for her extraordinary talent. She earned a string of Choirgirl Of The Year titles before, aged 18, entering local legend by shattered a chandelier while singing O Holy Night at Swansea's Brangwyn Hall.

Despite the death of her beloved dad Selwyn when she was 15 she never lost sight of her ambitions. She won a scholarship to London's Royal Academy of Music two years later, and credits her subsequent success to his belief in her. "If ever I need a little extra strength, I think of my father," she once explained. "I believe that he is here, I do. And that if somebody loves you, they will guide you through the most difficult times in your life."

Her utter dedication also played its part: 36-hour talking bans and steam inhalations to protect her voice are not unknown. It's a formula that has worked. Her 2004 debut album Premiere topped the classical charts for eight weeks, making her the fastest-selling soprano of all time. And with success came the financial rewards - as of 2007 her wealth was estimated at £9 million.

In the midst of her rise to the top in 2007 she found time for love, in the form of presenter Gethin Jones. Though ultra-discreet about the romance, Katherine will talk of her hopes for marriage, which she wants by the age of 30, and having a little girl. "With all the hundreds of dresses and shoes I have, it would be an absolute crime (not to have one)."

Before then there is another union to fulfil - her £5.8 million contract with Warner Music, signed in 2008 with an eye on her conquering the American market.

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