Mar 15 2001
The huge number of wailing wannabes fighting for a place in the final line-up of TV’s Popstars came as no surprise to Vera Haime. Running a singing school has made her realise just how many young people see working in the entertainment industry as the ideal career. A recent survey for Top Of The Pops magazine found that 42% of youngsters rank being a pop star as their dream job – above acting or playing football.
But when Vera placed an advert for The Solo School of Singing in The Stage newspaper, she still wasn’t quite prepared for the massive response she received. Being inundated with calls from young people up and down the country, all desperate to learn how to sing and see their name in bright lights, also confirmed what she had known for some time – that singing schools are pretty rare.
“It was unbelievable; I got calls from Scotland, Ireland, Wales everywhere. I think there’s a huge call for it, but I’m just servicing West Sussex and the southern part of Surrey and that’s keeping me plenty busy!” says Vera.
Over in East Grinstead, where Solo is based, there are no false promises made and passports to fame aren’t handed out at the door. Instead, Vera provides an opportunity for enthusiastic, eager young people to sing the songs they like – with a little help of course. Students are tutored to suit their own level of vocal ability, they sing chart music with backing tracks and microphones and at the end of the year perform on stage in a 320-seater theatre.
There’s no audition as such to gain a place in the school, but Vera does insist on an initial one-to-one assessment to determine the correct starting point for each pupil.”The only pre-requisite,” she says. “Is that they can sing in tune”
No comparisons to Popstars’ infamous Nasty Nigel, then. In fact Vera wouldn’t describe herself as a hard-faced businesswoman at all. After years of professional session singing (including working with George Michael on Wham Rap and Junior Giscombe’s Mama Used To Say), touring the world, doing radio and TV work, signing to Warner Chappell Publishing as a songwriter and gaining teaching qualifications, it was then she started the school and realised she had stumbled onto something that was in great demand.
A small percentage of Vera’s students seriously consider singing as a career. She estimates about 20% want to make their living in singing, while the other 80% just enjoy it for what it is – another part of their education, and great fun.
Many ex-pupils have gone into the music business; some have won places at the famous BRITS School in Croydon, some have secured record contracts, joined bands or performed on cruise ships and others have passed GSCE music with flying colours.
According to Vera, the final five in Popstars have exactly what is needed to create success – the right package. And although she hints that she may be nurturing her very own ‘package’, her real motivation is far more comprehensive:
“You get the talented and the not so talented ones, but my overall goal is to see them leave and be able to communicate much better, because that ability embraces everything we do. What do they call it in the corporate world? A mission statement – well that would be my mission statement.”