A chat with Wynne Evans

Wynne Evans
Wynne Evans: there goes a tenor...
"There are very few operas which don't involve sex, sleaze and murder. It's not highbrow– it's very real"
  • | by Kristian Dando

It’s been a busy year for Wynne Evans.

Besides fronting a new round of adverts for Gocompare.com, presenting radio shows for Classic FM and BBC Wales, not to mention performing in sold-out operas, he’s managed to find time to record a new album, ‘Wynne’.

We had a sit down with the big-lunged tenor to chat music, cars, fruits and what annoys him….

So, Wynne. You’ve got a new album out. What’s the story?

Well, it came about from doing my radio show on Classic FM. They approached me and asked me if I wanted to make an album.

They’re a station with six million listeners, and I thought that with my demographic, it was a great opportunity - the most difficult thing with making an album is getting radio stations to play it!

We compiled a list of songs which people might want to hear. Then we went ahead and made the album.

How much of a departure is it from the last one (Wynne’s 2010 platter, ‘A Song In My Heart’)?

This is the one I probably should have made first. The last one was so specific – it was mainly the songs of Mario Lanza, and if you didn’t like that, you probably weren’t going to buy the album.

This one is comprised of songs which have inspired me over the course my life. There’s a lullaby that my mother used to sing to me in Welsh, right through to Neapolitan songs, ‘Oh Shenandoah’ (an American folk song) and songs of the British Isles.

Karl Jenkins (the famous Welsh composer) has written a new song for me which is on the album, as well. There’s a little bit of everything. Hopefully it’ll appeal to a big audience.

For a number of years you’ve extolled the virtues of comparing things. If you were to compare yourself to someone or something, what would it be?

Oh. That’s a hard one. I was at the Classical Brits last night and they gave a posthumous achievement award to Luciano Pavarotti. I can’t be compared to him because he’s the greatest singer ever…

I hear you do a mean ‘Nessun Dorma’…

Well, I want to be him one day, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. He was an artist who was so technically sorted, totally at the top of his game. That’s someone I’d dream of being compared to.

How would you sell opera to someone who hasn't experienced if before?

Everybody thinks that opera is highbrow and elitist, but there are very few operas which don’t involve sex, sleaze and murder. It’s not highbrow, it's very real.

Last year, I did the Anna Nicole Smith musical. People were asking “why have they picked that as subject matter for an opera?” And actually, it’s brilliant. She was a drug abuser, there was scandal in her personal life, she ended dying quite young. That's the perfect material for an opera.

At the moment, I’m making a couple of specials about Giuseppe Verdi. He was a guy who had real tragedy in his life, too. He was an amazing bloke. Both his children died before the age of two. His wife died quite young, after childbirth.

Austria was occupying northern Italy at the time he was alive and writing. He wrote an opera called Nabucco, and it’s got that song – 'Va Pensiero’ (Wynne treats us to a hummed rendition) – you know the one.

Well, that was adopted as a sort of folk anthem of Italy. People were writing ‘Verdi’ on the walls. When he died, there were 300,000 people lining the streets of Milan who all burst into that chorus.

Stirring stuff. What was the last album that you bought?

The last album I bought was by Caro Emerald. I’ve been playing ‘Liquid Lunch’ on my Radio Wales show and I really like it. I’m quite into Mumford and Sons at the moment, too.

My musical knowledge used to start at 1685 and came to an abrupt end at 1920. So doing my show on Radio Wales gives me a chance to learn about music I wouldn’t have been into before.

The last ad series saw quite a development of the character of Gio Compario. I’ve heard quite a lot of the material you did was ad-libbed…

It was! I was quite nervous about it – the scripts came in and in the dialogue were loads of sections saying “Wynne to adlib.” I’m not a comedian, although I did do stand-up once...

How was that?

It was really hard. A friend of mine asked me to do this charity gig up in Pontypridd. He was a bit short on numbers and asked me if I wanted to do it. I thought, why not? If it all goes wrong I can just burst into song, and that will just stun people into silence.

I walked onstage and didn’t have a clue what I was going to do. I had a few ideas of what I was going to say. I just asked this bloke in the front row what he does for a living. He said “oh, it doesn’t matter” so I kept asking him. It turned out he worked for another comparison site. So that was brilliant. Then I sung, so it went really well.

But the adverts were good. The other actors were all comedians, so they’d just feed you the lines.

I particularly enjoyed the 'autotune' ad, where you teamed up with hapless producer RANDI.

The guy who played RANDI was hilarious. He never actually went out of character. From the moment he came into the room until the end of the day, that’s who he was. I never actually met the guy he really is.

He even went to the extent that when we had a picture taken he wouldn’t take his hat off. He was like “Nah, nah, nah, the hat stays on – the hat is RANDI.”

When he did that “I’ve got chills”, line I was really struggling to hold it together.

Do you see yourself doing any more acting in the future? You seem to have quite the knack for it

Well, I’d like to. But it’s hard, because I’m trying to keep an operatic career going, and you’ve got to be in training all the time. And the radio presenting is taking over, too. Dunno. It’s a matter of time, isn’t it? Let’s see what the future brings.

On to the serious stuff now. What animal would you bring back from extinction, and why?

I can’t bring an animal back from extinction, but I’d like to turn back time and stop my cat falling out of a tree three years ago. He’s only got three legs now. So can I do that instead? I’ll bring a leg back for my three-legged cat.

Well, we can make that happen. But you WILL have to bring an animal back from extinction as well.

How about the woolly mammoth? Apparently, they've just discovered that it was actually a really horrible beast and that it was probably hunted to extinction instead of dying out. It would be good to see one though – like an elephant crossed with an old English sheepdog. I’d like to see that.

I suppose you could conceivably make your own woolly mammoth using a standard elephant, a job lot of Pritt Sticks and some bags of off-cut hair from the barbers.

You could! Why don’t we do that? You could do it with a saber-tooted tiger as well – just get a standard tiger, or a big ginger cat, and put some massive teeth in it. I think we should do it. What could you do for a dodo though?

I suppose that’s just like a big pigeon. On the subject of tigers, who’d win in a fight out of a tiger and a shark?

Depends where the fight was. I suppose if it was in water, the great white shark. On land, definitely the tiger. It’s a difficult fight to call.

How about a tiger and a lion?

Ooh, now all bets are off. I’m going with the lion, just because he looks harder.

What’s your favourite citrus fruit?

(Immediately and with utter certainty) Lime. Yeah, key lime pie. Nice, I like it a lot. Having said that…. Can I go off-topic here?

Of course.

I like a gin and tonic, and recently I’ve discovered a G&T where you don’t have a slice of lime, you have a slice of cucumber instead. It’s absolutely delicious.

Mmmm. Sounds refreshing. If you could be stuck in a lift with someone, who would it be?

Again, a difficult one. Everyone is going to annoy you after a while. Avoiding the obvious one, probably  Eddie the Eagle. Although I was out to dinner last night and was sat next to Floella Benjamin who used to do Play School. She was very nice.

But I’d go for Eddie the Eagle, because like me he’s been something of a figure of fun, and I think he’d be fascinating. Also, if I had to jump off the lift, he could probably give me a few tips on how to land. (Eddie the Eagle has also fronted personal finance ad campaigns, teaming up with the Churchill dog several years ago).

What was the first car you ever owned?

I had a Citroen 2CV. It had a soft top, and if you didn’t put the roof down properly it would flip back and whack you on the head , so there was a chance of getting concussed while you were driving.

Also, my wife and I drove to the south of France in this car. The exhaust was broken for most of the journey, but it was so noisy I didn’t notice.

What’s your favourite filling for a meat pie?

I’ll have a Clark's Pie please. (The Clark's Pie is Cardiff institution, sold for many years at the Ninian Park football ground and around the city).

Having said that, I would prefer to have a pudding. Yeah, steak and kidney pud. I’ll take the suet option.

Finally – you were the star of Marketing Magazine's 'Most Annoying Advert' two years in a row. What annoys YOU?

Where do I start? Call centres where people don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Call centres which keep transferring you to different departments. Opera singers who’ll sing a comedic opera in a different language then laugh at the end of it and expect everyone to understand what they’ve been on about even though they were singing in German. That annoys me.

Celery. That really annoys me – it’s horrible, disgusting why would you have it? People who under-take on the motorway as well.

Oh, and this is my new one – builders who say they’ll be there on Monday but don’t turn up until Thursday. What other job could you do that in? If I was booked to do a concert on Monday and then turned up on Thursday and said “sorry I wasn’t here on Monday to do the concert, but I’m here today. Can I still get paid?” Ridiculous.

Wynne, it’s been a pleasure.

Likewise! Thanks.

Wynne’s new album, ‘Wynne’, is out on 21 October 2013.