An interview with Joanna Forest
PUBLISHED: 11:16 30 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:16 30 May 2017
Loughton-based soprano singer and West End star Joanna Forest talks to Kate Everett about her chart-topping classical album and the cancer diagnosis when she was aged just 21 which changed the path of her life
Joanna Forest is on cloud nine. Just a few days before our interview, her debut album, Stars are Rising, made chart history by entering the classical charts at number one. The independent album, produced, orchestrated and conducted by world-renowned pianist Robert Emery and recorded with The City of Prague Philharmonic and Arts Symphonic Orchestras, has outsold established artists such as Alfie Boe and Andrea Bocelli.
It’s a fairytale end to an inspirational journey for the Loughton-based artist, as Joanna herself explains. ‘I’ve lived in Loughton all my life and I don’t know where the performing gene came from, but I remember watching Sarah Brightman on the television when I was quite young and thinking, that’s what I want to do.’
While Joanna was still attending Loughton’s Staples Road Primary School, she set about researching stage schools and went on to win a place at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts.
‘Once they got over the surprise, my parents were really supportive,’ recalls Joanna. ‘I had to commute to school in London every day, but I got to do some fantastic work in stage, television and commercials. During sixth form I got a part in a West End production, it was Michael Palin’s first play called The Weekend, and it started me on the road to my professional career.’
In 1999, Joanna received the devastating news that she had breast cancer. Aged just 21, she was one of the youngest women in the UK to receive the diagnosis. ‘Because I was so young, it was a big surprise for everyone,’ she says. ‘I had never even thought about checking myself and breast cancer just wasn’t on my radar. I had two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Thankfully, one year later, I got the all clear.’
Joanna’s experience led her to the charity CoppaFeel! which aims to increase awareness and early detection of breast cancer in younger people. ‘I’m now a very proud CoppaFeel! Boobette,’ explains Joanna. ‘A Boobette is someone who has experience of breast cancer aged 35 or younger. We go to schools, colleges and mother and baby groups, in fact wherever there are young people, to encourage them to make checking themselves a lifelong habit.
‘Three years ago, I had an epiphany when my husband and I decided to organise a charity event for CoppaFeel! We named it Busting to Sing and managed to get stars including Joe McElderry, Paul Potts, Francis Ruffelle and Jessie Wallace to sign up to perform on the night. I sang Point of No Return with Paul Potts and a solo of Nessun Dorma, and at that moment I knew that soprano was what I wanted to do.’
Joanna’s debut album, described as ‘crossover classical’, includes an unusual and diverse repertoire including classically orchestrated interpretations of David Bowie’s Life on Mars? and Slade’s How Does it Feel? £1 from every album sale and all proceeds from the lead track are going to the CoppaFeel! Charity.
‘I am so delighted and proud to have a number one classical album,’ says Joanna. ‘Because this was my first album, I had no idea what to expect. When the charts were released at 6pm I couldn’t believe it. It’s been wonderful for my husband James too, who has been so incredibly supportive.’
So what is next for the soprano? ‘I will continue my work with CoppaFeel!’ says Joanna. ‘I’m working on my live tour dates now too, and would love to do another album, so anything is possible!’
Find out more
You can download or buy the album Stars are Rising from Amazon, Apple and HMV
The next track from the album, Life on Mars?. will be released as a single this month. For more information, visit www.joannaforest.com