Almost half of people with mental health problems don't know their conditions could...read more
Claudia Morris has taken a circuitous route to follow her passion of singing. A mum of three, she tells workingmums.co.uk how she realised that she just had to sing.
Claudia Morris is excited. She speaks fast and furiously as she describes how she has spent most of her adult life repressing her lifelong passion: to sing. A year ago, after a rather circuitous career progression, which included the chance of fame on Opportunity Knocks, over a year in the West End musical Buddy, a career break to have two children, setting up an allergy-free cake business and years as a psychotherapist, she returned to her first love and her enthusiasm is contagious.
“I have to sing as that is what makes me happy. I really believe I have to do what I was meant to do,” she says.
Her story is the age-old showbiz adage of never giving up on your dreams. Indeed it was one of her dreams that was to prove the turning point in bringing her back to music.
Claudia was an early musical talent. By the age of 16, she was receiving singing lessons in classical singing and musical theatre from Ian Adams, the renowned West End singing teacher. She even shared a couple of lessons with Sarah Brightman.
Claudia, however, wanted to be a serious actress so she headed for the Webber Douglas Academy, a well-known London drama school. During her time there, she applied for Opportunity Knocks, the X Factor of its day. The producer told her she was a sure-fire to win, but Webber Douglas said that students were not allowed to do professional work. Nevertheless, the show’s producer was so enthusiastic about her performance that he rang the school to plead with them to let her perform.
Claudia, however, was enjoying her course and didn’t realise how big Opportunity Knocks was. “Looking back,” she says, “I think why did I turn it down. My life would have gone down a very different path if I hadn’t. I thought it didn’t matter“.
Through drama school she felt she was steered strongly towards musical theatre, pigeonholed perhaps, because of her voice so it was no surprise that when she left she went into musicals, first outside London. Within a year or so, she moved to the West End in Buddy.
It was fun at first, she says, particularly as the show was such an unexpected success, but the excitement soon lost a bit of its gleam as she settled into “the monotony of seven shows a week”. “I felt like I was stuck in a time warp,” she says. “It did my head in.” She auditioned for other shows, but says she was very ambitious and not prepared to wait for the leading roles. Although she was offered good roles, she didn’t want to serve her time as an understudy and she did not have the confidence to look around at other options, such as playing in a band. Plus she had met her first husband and wanted to settle down and start a family. She soon got pregnant and took a career break. Two years after her daughter was born, her son came along.
But family life wasn’t all she had hoped for. Her marriage started to break down. At the same time, her daughter was facing problems due to food allergies. “She would get invited to parties, but could never eat the cake,” says Claudia. “It made me furious that no shop could sell a guaranteed safe cake.” She rang an allergy specialist and then, “like a woman on a mission”, she went to meet the owner of the only nut-free chocolate factory in the UK. They came up with a chocolate fudge cake which was safe for children with allergies to eat. It was a runaway success and was distributed in 250 Sainsbury’s stories. Claudia promoted it on Breakfast TV.
“It was a bit of a rollercoaster,” she says. She was courted by McDonald’s and Starbucks and then ditched by her original company, Kinnerton, which decided to focus on its original chocolate business. “I realised I could have followed through and made a go of it, but I would have had to live and dream it all day long. My heart was not really in it,” she says. She adds that she realises now that it was just a diversion from her true desire to pursue a singing career.
It was at this point that her marriage ended and she went into therapy. She found the whole process fascinating so when a friend suggested she train as a psychotherapist she looked into it. Five years later she was qualified.
During the training, she had to have personal therapy and her therapist encouraged her to keep a journal of her dreams. Many were about performing. Her therapist, however, she feels now, misinterpreted them and when she asked if she should go back to performing, he said it might not be the right time. Last year she changed therapists and was asked to re-read her dreams. “Suddenly it became so apparent that I was not doing what I was meant to be doing,” she says. She came across a dream she had had in 2002. “I was in a classroom and was asked to draw myself. I asked if I should draw a sad face or a singer.”
She had reached a turning point so despite having a new husband and a two year old son – her older children were teenagers – she decided to return to her old passion. She looked up her old pianist from the Ian Adam days, who had since risen to dizzy heights and was coaching the likes of Leona Lewis. The pianist, Janet Edwards, lived in France and Claudia emailed her to arrange a meeting. It was an emotional affair, with Edwards saying Claudia’s voice was better than ever.
She started having monthly lessons, but, having been away from singing for so long, was impatient to get started again. “I was like a new woman. It was a complete transformation,” she says. She was given the names of several possible accompanists, with Simon Colam who works on the X Factor heading the list. She wasn’t going to settle for second best after all the years she had spent away from music. She rang him first and arranged a meeting where she sang to him and asked him to audition for her. “I think he was a little surprised, but I explained that I wanted to be sure we fit together well,” she says.
He was won over by her voice and the two started working together and laid down an album of 10 songs called ‘Love and Demons’. Claudia did her first gig at the end of last year and has two more planned in the next month with a major record company likely to attend one of them.
She tells her story at a pace, partly because she has done quite a few interviews in recent months, but partly, you suspect, because she is still so delighted by the recent turn of events. She says most of the interviews have focused on her life story, which is fascinating, but she would like people to comment a bit more about her singing, which can be heard on her website. She has a clear, strong voice filled with emotion, which she says has been compared to Streisand. Her song set currently includes jazz, musical theatre and Country & Western. Colam is stretching her jazz abilities in new ways, she says.
She still keeps a hand in at therapy and sees a few patients at her house in London, but singing is now her main focus. Her two older children are out at school most days. Her three year old goes to nursery in the mornings which is when she does most of her networking and classes. She rehearses in the living room in the evening when he has gone to bed.
“It’s exhausting, but I am so much happier than I was and I think that is good for the children to see. I have to do what I am meant to do,” she says.
More information: www.claudiamorris-music.com/
Claudia is playing New End Theatre, Hampstead, on 28th February and Pizza on the Park on 17th March.