Singing makes me feel very alive; Penny's People Penny Fray meets singer Caryl Hughes.
JNewborn kittens, beach walks and finding the perfect pair of Louboutins for half price. But nothing comes close to the sheer elation of singing for Caryl Hughes.
"When it goes really well, there's no better feeling - it's a release of stuff I hold on to," explains the Welsh mezzo soprano from her London home. "What I love about it is being able to communicate with people, and seeing how that makes them feel."
Upon meeting her, the petite brunette instantly vanquishes any cliched images of big, blonde opera divas with horns on their heads. The mistaken imagery comes mainly from Bugs Bunny; well maybe Wagner, but today we stay clear of him and focus on Mozart. She's just got the part of Cherubino in Diva Opera's production of Le Nozze Di Figaro, and is thrilled with the boyish role.
"He's an adolescent, full of raging hormones," laughs Caryl, who's originally from Aberdaron. "He's crazy about all women but mostly about the Countess Almaviva, and that gets him into a bit of trouble with her husband the Count. It's my first time playing it, and I'm hugely excited - and we get to tour France for much of the summer, which is a big plus."
Despite being constantly lauded for her warmth, extraordinary voice and dramatic commitment on stage, Caryl has made a lot of sacrifices to get where she is today.
After winning a scholarship to Atlantic College, she went to Namibia and completed a law degree with a view to making a career in international affairs. But music was always her first passion, and a recommendation from Bryn Terfel, led her to take lessons from the celebrated singer Sarah Pring. Four years of study at the Royal Academy of Music and several prizes followed before she launched herself professionally.
"I took an evening course in performing whilst in my final year of studying law, and realised it gave me something that I didn't want to live without," she says of the unusual career swap.
"Singing is something that makes me feel very alive - it's a real mix of things - playing someone else is liberating - there's an element of danger to it which is exciting - and it allows me to be creative on a daily basis."
While she enjoys the glitz and glamour of performing on some of the world's greatest stages, it's the more ordinary moments that motivate her.
"When I sang with Live Music Now Wales, going round retirement homes, it was a real reminder of why we do it," she says. "The profession can sometimes disappoint you, but doing that kind of work is real, no-frills, and has huge honesty about it."
The reminder stands her in good stead when it comes to surviving in a tough industry. When asked what the real secret of her success has been so far, she laughs.
"I'm still trying to get my hands on those secret survival-tips," she exclaims modestly. "I think not giving up has to be the biggest factor. So many times, I have so nearly given up but every time a little voice has whispered 'don't'! Hard work is the other, and a handful of good people you can trust."
Terfel has been good to her; and touring with him a treat.
"Just sharing a stage with Bryn is special," she says. "He has a wonderful way of making you feel at home when he's standing beside you, even though I'm standing in front of thousands of people."
The other career highlight has been producing Les Miserables with the inmates at HMP Erlestoke.
"It was an experience that brought us all together," explains Caryl. "At that moment it didn't matter what people's pasts were."
Of course, there are low points too, mainly not knowing what the next job is going to be.
"It can be exciting at times, but mostly terrifying," she says.
There are no regrets though. "Edith Piaf 's 'Je ne regrette rien' is one of my life mottos. But it's easier said than done perhaps. Life can be wonderful sometimes; at other times it can throw the cruellest things at you. As long as I keep moving forward and take from the past all the positive bits, that's all I can do."
She doesn't elaborate on the negativity but you get the impression that her successes have been hard won.
"It's easy in this business to beat yourself up continuously, especially if you don't get this role or that role, but I try to never let go of the belief that, if I tried my best, it has to be good enough," she says.
Of course, she acknowledges that she's been blessed to be born Welsh. It's a country that turns out more than your average number of star singers. Those over the border claim it's because of an enduring culture of competing on stage.
"It's definitely true that we have a strong tradition of performing, and Eisteddfodau are definitely a big part of my childhood," agrees Caryl. "I think as a nation we have an innate love of words and story-telling. Maybe it also comes from our need as Welshmen and women to stand together and assert ourselves - to make ourselves heard."
The daughter of two school teachers, she always has a deep love of learning and performing. But there was no great early discovery of talent, she says.
"I suppose when I sang Dorothi in Ysgol Botwnnog's Wizard of Oz at 13, it was a hint at something more, and then being part of Ysgol Glanaethwy gave me a chance to explore performing. These very early opportunities were really important for me - I met people who inspired me, who nurtured me, and helped me believe I could carry on with it."
Today, when she's not singing, the opera star unwinds by playing Badminton.
"I'm a member of a group who play once a week in Kensal Green," she says. "I love it as it makes me forget about every little niggle and just focus on the game. I also mentor a young girl as part of a charity that helps resettlement for refugees here in London. When I can though, I escape back to Aberdaron, for my fix of the sea and family."
Welsh mezzo soprano | Caryl Hughes, from Aberdaron A P WILDING