Event review: the Norbury Manor Celeste choir sings with Lianne La Havas at the Royal Albert Hall

By - Monday 4th April, 2016

Liberty Martin is wowed by a Croydon school choir at the Royal Albert Hall

Photo by NMBEC, used with permission.

Most school choirs don’t sing at the Royal Albert Hall with a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, but the Norbury Manor Celeste choir is an exception. On Monday 14th March, twenty Norbury Manor Business & Enterprise College for Girls (NMBEC) students sang with the stunning Lianne La Havas in her sell-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall to an audience of five thousand.

La Havas chose to share this unforgettable moment in her career with the Norbury Manor Celeste choir because she is, in fact, a member of their alumni. The twenty-six year-old singer grew up in Streatham and attended NMBEC in Thornton Heath from Year 7 up to the sixth form before leaving to pursue an art foundation course.

In her late teens, La Havas recorded demos and posted them on Myspace and, as a result, began to find work as a backing vocalist. She then made the leap to pursuing music as a full-time career, working with Paloma Faith amongst others. After years of hard work, La Havas was eventually signed to Warner Bros Records and has since released the two albums: Is Your Love Big Enough? and Blood, which reached number four and number two in the charts respectively. She has also been nominated for a Grammy, and has caught the attention of the likes of Prince, Stevie Wonder and Barack Obama.

La Havas herself only auditioned for the Celeste choir in Year 9

The general NMBEC choir is open for anyone who is a student member of the school, but the Celeste choir, formerly known as the ‘Special Choir’, is only open to those who successfully pass a testing audition. During her student years at NMBEC, La Havas sang in both choirs and credits her time spent there as being part of the foundation of her career. Emma Stevens, La Havas’s singing teacher when she was at school and NMBEC’s choir director, was the person who persuaded Lianne to sing publicly when she was a teenager. At first, La Havas was too nervous to sing in front of anyone and only auditioned for the Celeste choir in Year 9, but Emma Stevens instantly knew that she had a massively talented voice and pushed La Havas to sing an extensive repertoire of many different genres, including a stand-out solo performance of ‘Paper Moon’ in a school concert.

Now, Stevens is La Havas’s vocal coach, and the teacher and ex-pupil keep in close contact with each other – at the Royal Albert Hall, La Havas referred to her as the ‘best singing teacher in the world’. Stevens says, “I feel extremely proud […] to see her up there at the Royal Albert Hall and everywhere she goes, because now she’s the support act for Coldplay. She deserves everything she gets. She’s just the loveliest girl and she remains to be so, so pride doesn’t really sum it up”.

I can’t believe that I came from Norbury to here

Of course, La Havas is immensely proud of her south London origins (her latest album also revolves around her recent exploration of her Jamaican and Greek heritage) and it was her idea to reconnect with her old school choir and have them perform with her at Bexhill-On-Sea on 12th March and the Royal Albert Hall on 14th March. The Celeste choir members only found out that they were going to perform with La Havas in January and scrambled to squeeze in extra rehearsals to learn the accompaniment to three of La Havas’s songs, ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’, ‘Unstoppable’ and ‘Forget’, as well as a cover of Everything Everything’s ‘Final Form’.

However, the special highlight of the show was an acapella, four-part harmony arrangement of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. The song was requested specifically by La Havas as she fondly remembers singing it in her school choir days, and the critically-acclaimed singer was ecstatic to sing along with the choir as the introduction for her encore. La Havas and the Celeste choir brought the Royal Albert Hall to a standstill and then rapturous applause, even moving some audience members, including La Havas’s old boss, Paloma Faith, to tears.

The experience is something that the Celeste choir members will find difficult to forget. Eva Solomon, a Year 12 pupil who joined Celeste in Year 7, said, “It was an amazing feeling that something as simple as joining the choir six years ago allowed me to perform at the Royal Albert Hall and doing it with your friends made the fear non-existent, so it was only a joy”. Emma Stevens was also elated by the opportunity and told the choir to ‘savour the moment’ before they got on stage. She said, “I was just as proud of all Celeste because they were all so professional, and it’s from experiences that Lianne has given them that they’ll all go on and the world is their oyster”, mirroring La Havas’s humble comment, “I can’t believe that I came from Norbury to here”, when she was on the Royal Albert Hall’s world famous stage. Who knows, maybe amongst the present Celeste choir will be another successful, talented artist?

Liberty Martin

Liberty Martin

Born and raised in Croydon with a rich Jamaican heritage, Liberty Martin is a keen aspiring journalist and writer. After winning the Guardian’s Young Reporter of the Year for Years 10 and 11 in 2014, she’s hungry for a good story and wants to travel and learn about the world around her. Always interested in a topical debate, Liberty’s constantly reading online blogs and news websites to keep up-to-date with the latest news. She’s obsessed with chips slathered in vinegar, elephants, Frank Ocean and wants an extensive library of books in her future home. At school Liberty is studying English Literature, Spanish and History at A Level and sings in her school choir.

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