BY ANASTASIA CHOO
It’s a warm sunny afternoon and I am sitting in an idyllic converted church chapel in the heart of the Hertfordshire countryside in the delightful company of singer and song writer Holly Rose. Holly was the lead singer of platinum selling band Semisane in South Africa in 2004 followed by a successful solo career in the UK and two outstanding album releases. She has worked with some of the best – including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – at the famous Abbey Road studios.
No stranger to the big stage, Holly has toured with Mica Paris and Ocean Colour Scene, headlined at the Venice Music Festival, opened for The Who at the Royal Albert Hall and 10cc at the O2. But, at the height of Holly’s success, she fell in love and decided to put her singing career on hold.
Today, over copious amounts of tea and delicious home baked cake from Holly’s Mum, we talk about Holly’s journey from her childhood dream of becoming a famous singer to her brush with stardom and finding love.
A: Having listened to you at The Miss Dior Eau de Parfum UK launch party earlier this year, it’s good to catch up with you Holly. Tell Country Squire readers a little about yourself…
H: I have enjoyed writing and singing since the age of seven; I used to charge my family two pence for every song that I performed. My childhood dream was to become a famous singer/song writer. Aged eighteen years old I was studying at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford alongside my classmate Newton Faulkner. Platinum selling band Semisane were looking for a new lead singer…I happened to fit the bill and flew out to South Africa. I spent the next four years touring the garden route in South Africa while my friends went to Uni.
A: You were living the dream in South Africa, touring and hobnobbing with famous musicians and models. So why did you choose to return to the UK? Did you get bored or homesick?
H: Yes, I was living the dream from a very young age but I grew tired of the politics within the band. As lead singer, I ultimately received more attention which did not sit well with some of the other band members. My work visa was ending so instead of renewing it, I decided to return to the UK and pursue a solo career.
A: You received numerous offers from those in the music industry and you chose to work with Jeff Calvert, famed for writing for Sarah Brightman with hits such as I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper and producing hits for British band Typically Tropical in the 1970s. How was it working with a “Svengali” figure, there was after all a twenty-nine-year age gap between you?
H: Jeff was like a father figure to me, he believed in me and I soon moved into his Hertfordshire home which had a state of the art recording studio. I was given a lot of creative freedom to write my songs but it was a rigorous regime recording from 11am to 2am in the studio.
Q: What inspired you to write the songs on your first solo album Vulnerable to Touch?
H: I’d just returned from South Africa where I was in a successful band and I was starting all over from scratch. Jeff and I enjoyed a whisky, which probably influenced my writing at the time!
A: What message if any did you try to put into your work and were there any inhibitions?
H: I was so young at the time and just wanted to be loved and successful; I’d say the song Don’t Mention Me is the most honest and un-inhibited song I wrote at that stage in my life. I was not as mentally strong as I am now; I often allowed Jeff and the PR Team to take over what I should wear for example, whereas now I think I’d have the confidence to express more of my opinion.
A: Your single I Don’t Care https://youtu.be/fFLj9o63Fro was played on Radio 2 by the late Sir Terry Wogan for twelve weeks and it reached number twelve in the charts. You were travelling to New York for photo shoots and music videos. You were just on the brink of stardom and with a second album due for release, so what happened?
H: I met and fell in love with Jon. It was literally love at first sight when we met however, three months into our relationship Jon was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I remained strong and helped Jon get through the operation which was successful, as early diagnosis and treatment has a 98% success rate. A year later however, we received the devastating news that Jon had yet more testicular cancer. Although curable, this time it was life changing in that it would affect our chances to make a family in the future. Jon had sperm frozen from the first operation but we knew that we would only get a maximum of three cycles on the NHS to produce a baby via IVF so our dreams of having a large family naturally were shattered. Jon was the stronger one this time, he gave up his career in private banking to participate in the Tropic of Cancer for Cancer Challenge to raise money for charities.
A: You put your music career on hold to join Jon on this cycling expedition?
H: Not to join him on the TCC Challenge as he’d convinced his brother Dominic to cycle 11,000 miles along the Tropic of Cancer to get to Cuba. I remained in the UK and threw myself into raising funds for the TCC Challenge. My record company seized upon the publicity which was not a bad thing as it raised awareness of testicular cancer. We were able to get MacMillan Cancer, Orchid, Starlight, Thinkle and the Willow Foundation involved which led me to eventually take up a role within the Willow Foundation. My singing and song writing was no longer a priority as Jon became my priority. Eventually I had to take out legal proceedings against my record company to be released from contract, as Jeff just wouldn’t acknowledge that my focus was on Jon and charity work. I hasten to add that despite the two-year legal battle my relationship with Jeff Calvert is no longer acrimonious and we are friends.
A: Gosh, you really were in love with Jon and confident that he was worth giving up your career while on the brink of stardom?
H: Overcoming the trauma of testicular cancer made us both look at life in a different way. Jon fought the disease and was not going to be beaten by cancer, you could say he’s lucky to be alive. He wanted to put something back into society. He now works in a financial investment company which works alongside social projects, combining philanthropy with capitalism. My passion is singing and although I chased stardom in my earlier years, the journey with Jon from diagnoses to getting the all clear also made me look at life in a different way. I no longer wanted to be in the limelight nor chase the bright lights of stardom and the legal battle taught me to take charge of my affairs.
A: It’s not all bitter though, as Jon proposed and you are both in a happier place, right?
H: Yes, Jon took me to India before he started the TCC Challenge and while tiger spotting we interrupted two tigers mating. The female ran away and the male tiger was not happy, we had to drive away at speed and Jon proposed! I said yes and we married in Ibiza in 2013.
Click here: https://youtu.be/oYxWmG-L_So
A: You now have a beautiful daughter through IVF, but there has been a lot of controversy recently in a cash strapped NHS over IVF funding. What would you say to journalists such as Sirena Bergman who argued that IVF is not cost effective and should not be available on the NHS?
H: I get it when people argue that the NHS is to save lives but I also feel that medical advancement has taken us to where we are now and we should embrace these advances. If there is a chance that the NHS could help couples who have endured cancer treatment which renders them unable to produce a baby in the traditional way, I feel it should be made available to all and not a postcode lottery. Better management across Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) with access to services and streamlining of costs may help as costs vary up and down the country which determines how CCGs make decisions. The NHS could review cases where couples already have children from other relationships to reduce costs which sounds selfish on my part but in a cash strapped NHS, tough choices need to be made.
A: Tell us about your plans, any new material and will you re-start your singing career?
H: I still dabble in writing songs and I never really gave up singing, just I no longer sing under a record company. For example, I sang at the Teenage Cancer Trust Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. After the birth of our daughter I started my own teaching and events business which is easily managed by myself. I’m also a professional jazz performer covering songs from the Great American Songbook. Ella Fitzgerald is an idol of mine and I love singing her renditions of the songs. My priorities have changed and family Jolly (Jon + Holly = Jolly!) are happy as three with our dog Bertie, perhaps when our daughter is older I will start recording again.
A: Holly it’s good to hear that you have kept your passion for singing alive and thank you for sharing your journey with us. Good luck with your teaching and events business.
H: My pleasure.
You can find out more about Holly Rose here: