'I learned everything from Joe' Star's tribute to publicist who guided career EXCLUSIVE.
KATHERINE Jenkins has spoken for the first time of her grief following the sudden death of the man she credits with launching her phenomenal career.
The star, who has just signed the biggest classical recording deal in history, says tomorrow's release of her sixth album Sacred Arias will be a bittersweet experience as her Welsh publicist Joe O'Neil will not be around to share the success.
Family man Joe, who was in his early 50s, collapsed and died while overseeing a recording session by Only Men Aloud! in London on October 10. Katherine last saw Joe, who also worked with Aled Jones, Bryn Terfel and Karl Jenkins, just a week before his untimely death.
He had set up a series of interviews with her in Cardiff to plug the album and he asked a photographer from Wales on Sunday if he would take a picture of him with Katherine. The Neath-born mezzo soprano now treasures that last photograph of them together.
"Joe asked for a photograph of us to be taken together and I hugged him really tight - I just smothered him with a big hug," says the 28-year-old. "It's one of my last memories of Joe.
"I was really pleased I had those couple of days with him in Wales recently. Although it was work, we had a nice lunch together and a nice chat. I learned everything from Joe."
Katherine will not be attending the small family funeral tomorrow at Llanelli Crematorium but she will be involved in a service to celebrate the life of Joe, who in the past worked with music greats like Queen, Johnny Cash, Billy Idol and Paul McCartney. And she says she will sing if it's what the family wishes.
"My album is released on Monday and it's his funeral on Monday. It's an album he put so much work into to promote and he will not be herefor its release.
It's so sad. I'm going to be doing lots of television shows (to promote the album) and part of me thinks I'm not really up to doing those things, but I know Joe would want me to be doing it. It's going to be a tough day."
Katherine, who already has five chart-topping albums under her belt, met Joe for the first time in May 2003 at a Classical Brit Awards ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall. It was just before she signed her six-album deal with Universal.
Joe, who Katherine says was instrumental in helping her become the Welsh rugby mascot, was also a proud familyman.
He lived with his wife Sian and children - 10-year-old Martha and six-year-old Finn - in Carmarthenshire, and would love sharing tales about them and his grown-up daughters with Katherine, whose own father Selwyn died when she was just 15.
"I'm hoping to visit his family within the next couple of weeks," she says. "I'm just so sad for the children as I can understand what it's like losing a father at a young age. To see his family is really important."
She added: "Not only have I lost someone who worked so hard to get my career started but I feel like I have lost my friend. I can't imagine what it's going to be like without him. He can't be replaced. He did an amazing job."
FINAL PICTURE: The last time Katherine and Joe were photographed together