Opera singer Lesley Garrett has revealed that she can hardly wait to return to the Isle of Wight after making her first ever visit here to perform at the Isle of Arts Festival in Ventnor.

The charismatic soprano was chief celebrity at the inaugural Isle of Arts event, and admitted it was a truly memorable occasion for her and husband Peter.

Lesley enjoyed her brief visit so much that she said she would be willing to return to sing here at any opportunity, and added: “It seems to be a wonderful place to live. We even took a quick look at a few ‘For Sale’ signs. If I am invited then I would be delighted to come back.”

Her audience at Ventnor certainly enjoyed every minute of her performance and there was an unexpected bonus for a few guests sitting in the Royal Hotel, where she stayed, when she suddenly got up and gave an impromptu performance of Gershwin’s ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’.

“A very talented pianist was in the foyer tinkling the ivories so I just joined in,” smiled Lesley. “I’m a girl for a sing-song – karaoke was made for me. One or two people did turn round, but they probably thought it was a CD playing.”

She said: “We had an absolutely wonderful weekend. I had never been to the Island before, but had always wanted to visit, so it seemed the perfect opportunity. And when I was told we would be staying at the Royal Hotel I looked it up on the internet, and didn’t hesitate. Everyone looked after us so well, nothing was too much trouble.

“I had often been to Southampton singing for Cunard at the launch of two of their leading cruise ships. I often looked across at the Isle of Wight thinking I must go there one day. Then the invite to the Isle of Arts ensured this was to be the occasion. I thought the whole Island was beautiful and quaint. I am sure many people have said it before but it really is like stepping back in time to the era of my childhood, when I grew up amid lovely countryside in South Yorkshire.

“It was very peaceful and quiet, and I thought the community spirit on the Island was wonderful. The whole community rallied round to make the Festival so successful, and I really identified with that.

“I felt completely and utterly at home, and when my husband discovered there were Roman ruins at Brading he was very excited because that is his big hobby and passion. So we looked around all the foundations and mosaics, and the only thing I was disappointed about was that because we spent so much time there, we didn’t have time to visit Osborne House. So I have definitely got to come back, and to be honest I can’t wait.

“We tried to see as much of the Island as we could in a short time, but I would like to spend a week visiting, because you could spend that much time just looking at the coastline.”

The revered soprano with a fine sense of humour claimed she was surprised a similar festival had not been held on the Island before because of the many fine venues, including churches, and thought it might be possible at some stage to make it a festival for the whole Island.

However, Lesley also disclosed that she nearly didn’t make it to the Festival in time for rehearsals because she arrived at the ferry terminal to come to the Island just a minute before the sailing was due. It was only when she told staff she was singing here, and was recognised by staff that they allowed her to make a last-minute dash to get on board.

“I have to say the Royal Hotel was wonderful. It is in such a lovely location, the rooms were comfortable, and I don’t think I have ever eaten so well, it was really delicious. Food really matters to singers. If I don’t get my food right then I don’t sing well, and hopefully the singing was a testament to the food that was served. People certainly know how to eat on the Island!

“I was only there a couple of days but I discovered a lot of things I didn’t know about it, like the wonderful garlic that you can get there. Some of the houses we saw were charming, and we also went for a walk and found it so easy to access the coastline.

“I know there are a lot of well known people who already live on the Island or have homes there, and now I can understand why. I would imagine someone like Alan Titchmarsh can’t wait to be there, with the climate, soil and beautiful plants. So you just never know!”

Lesley has performed all over the world, singing at such acclaimed venues as the Sydney Opera House, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, the Bolshoi in Moscow and several times at Wembley Stadium ahead of the football showpiece FA Cup final.

But she also relishes singing at many small venues, as she did at Ventnor, and tends to do that as part of her current ‘An Evening With Lesley Garrett’ tour, and admits she derives as much pleasure singing in a hall or church as she does in front of tens of thousands.

She said: “I love performing at big venues, but at the same time I also like playing to a smaller audience, like at Ventnor. That is when you can be much more intimate and see into people’s souls. In a large venue they tend to be a distant mass, but at a small venue it is as if you are singing to each individual person who is there listening to you. It is a different experience and one that I treasure because I like to get to know people and feel part of the community. It is good to keep a mixture of venues going, because it brings different things out of me musically.”

Lesley also recently guested on the popular lunchtime TV programme ‘Loose Women’ and said: “I like to do any kind of different activity that will allow me to reach a wider audience with the music I like to perform. I think it helps break down that stereotype that some people still hold for opera singers.

“Some regard us as aloof, difficult or posh, but we are not at all. We just have this great passion for music and want to share it with everybody. I have always wanted to reassure people that classical music and opera in particular are for everyone if they will just give it a chance. Many people have told me they have come along to see me and have thoroughly enjoyed it.”