North Leeds-based Jonathan Ansell shot to fame when he appeared on the first series of The X Factor as one-quarter of operatic quartet, G4. JLife’s Laura Sefton spoke to him ahead of his tour with the group to discover what he makes of the reality show today and what is next.
When did you first realise you had a talent for operatic singing?
At the age of four I stood on my grandfather’s rug and told everyone to listen while I sang a song! I have always loved singing and my mum’s love for great operatic stars such as Luciano Pavarotti and Mario Lanza influenced my love of classical music.
I attended the Guildhall School of Music & Drama [one of the world’s leading conservatoires and drama schools for musicians and actors based in London] after my A-levels and it was there that I met Mike Christie, Ben Thapa and Matthew Stiff. We formed a close harmony barbershop-style quartet and did very well busking on the streets of London. We called ourselves G4 – the G was taken from the Guildhall.
You were thrust into the limelight via The X Factor. That must have been quite an experience.
We entered The X Factor with open minds and no real expectations. It was the first year that any of the TV talent shows had accepted groups so we decided to go for it. Very quickly we were told that Simon Cowell and the other judges really loved us and it was a hugely exciting process.
It was immensely hard work, being thrown together as a four – sharing dressing rooms, hotel rooms and living together was very intense. Performing on the live shows was incredible and to come second in the first series was hugely rewarding. Since The X Factor we have had huge success both as a group and as solo artists, so it has been a brilliant experience for all of us.
Do you think the show has changed over the years?
The X Factor is an amazing vehicle for any artist to use to break into the industry but I feel that the show has changed. Back when we were on the show, it was more focused on the contestants and their talent. Now it centres a little too much on the ‘back stories’ of the contestants, whereby if someone is a brilliant singer but they don’t have an interesting story they may not get onto the show. I understand that shows have to develop and move on to keep the audience tuned in, but I also think it’s a shame that lots of talented people get overlooked.
Are you still in touch with anyone from your The X Factor days?
Yes, I’m constantly in touch with the boys from G4 as we are currently touring and recording, and my sister is close with Voices of Soul; a trio of fab singers. I’m also friendly with Chico who was on the show the year after me – in fact he sang at my wedding!
What’s Simon Cowell really like? Did you enjoy being mentored by Louis Walsh?
Simon Cowell is a great guy. He’s a clever businessman and was always very lovely to us. He always encouraged me backstage after the show and he loved it when I argued with him on stage – anything to up the viewing figures! Louis Walsh was also a great mentor; very loyal and easy to work with.
Britain’s Got Talent has seen an array of singing styles perform over the years. Do you think an operatic quartet on The X Factor would do as well now or are they destined for BGT?
I watch BGT when I can and love the show. I think David Walliams is an excellent judge – he’s so entertaining – and I really love the variety of acts on the show. In fact, one of the best all-male operatic groups from this year’s BGT, Vox Futura, are performing as our special guests on this year’s G4 tour in September.
I think an operatic group could do well on either show if they are talented, but also lucky. It takes luck!
You returned as part of G4 for ‘one night only’ in 2014. Would you re-form permanently?
G4 are now officially ‘back for good’. Our one-off show at the Barbican in 2012 to celebrate our 10-year anniversary was so successful that we embarked on a reunion tour around the UK and Ireland.
Since then, we have released a Christmas album, had a Christmas tour, and this year our Back for Good tour is currently on sale, with shows around the country in September. We are also doing another G4 Christmas by Candlelight tour this year with a show at Leeds Minster on 15th December, plus we are recording a new album set to be released next year.
We are so happy to be back together and our schedule is very busy!
How does singing as part of a group differ to being a solo artist?
When I step out onto a stage and perform, it is a feeling like no other, whether I am performing solo or as part of a group. When the other G4 guys are with me we can have fun on stage and lean on each other a little, especially if our voices are tired after a long tour. When I’m on my own it’s all me, so the pressure is on a bit more.
What has been the biggest highlight to date?
My proudest moment was performing at the Royal Festival of Remembrance at The Royal Albert Hall in the presence of the Queen and all the members of the UK Armed Forces who do such an amazing job risking their lives to ensure this world is a safer place.
Do you have anything else on the bucket list?
I would love to perform at Madison Square Garden in New York.
You’re set to perform on New Year’s Eve at Sant Angelo in Wetherby and it sounds like it will be a fabulous way to see in 2017. What can the audience expect?
New Year’s Eve is a fabulous time to come together with friends and family and celebrate. The night will be full of music fun and laughter. I will be performing many of my classic favourites from the world of opera, musical theatre, soul, rock and pop, along with some new songs.
How did you end up in West Yorkshire permanently?
My wife Debbie is from Leeds and although we met and lived in London for many years, when we had children we decided that it would be nice to raise them close to Debbie’s family and friends who all live here.
I love living in the countryside; it’s very peaceful, and I love the close-knit community we are in. I travel abroad and around the UK a lot performing, so it’s lovely to know that my wife and children are with family and friends back home.
Are you involved in the Leeds Jewish community?
Yes, I have performed at many Leeds community and charity events including Donisthorpe Hall and Leeds City Varieties, both for Remembrance Sunday, and with Gateways School choir. I will be performing at an event for my daughter’s school, Brodetsky Primary School, in January 2017.
What other music genres that you enjoy?
I love to perform rock and soul music and think these genres suit my voice well.
Complete the sentence ‘If I wasn’t a singer, I’d be…a chef who also does DIY while fishing