Kiri TE KANAWA OBE (1944-)

Kiri Te Kanawa
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Classical Life

A symphony of subjects from the world of classical music

Harry Secombe

THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Kiri Te Kanawa, New Zealand soprano, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews outside London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

Kiri was a pop star and popular entertainer in her native New Zealand before winning a grant to study opera in London in 1966.

After training, Kiri achieved a successful international opera career, receiving accolades in many countries, and singing a wide array of works from the 17th to the 20th centuries, in multiple languages.

She is particularly associated with the works of Mozart, Strauss, Verdi, Handel and Puccini, and found particular success in portraying princesses, nobility, and other similar characters on stage.

“I said they’re never gonna do that to me!”

Screenshots of Kiri Te Kanawa This Is Your Life

Wayne Sleep's autobiography

In his biography of Kiri Te Kanawa, Kiri, the writer David Fingleton recalls this particular edition of This Is Your Life...

In March 1981 Kiri was a guest on Michael Parkinson’s show on BBC television and finally, on Christmas Day 1981, she was the subject of This Is Your Life with Eamonn Andrews on Thames Television. Having been collared by Eamonn and most of the management of the Royal Opera House on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, she was joined in the studio by Desmond, Tom Te Kanawa, and by her bridesmaid Sally Rush, and a very old friend, Kura Beale from North Island, who had known her since she was three, all of whom had been flown specially from New Zealand to join her on the programme.

The Prince of Wales addressed a letter to the programme from Balmoral, 'to send my very best wishes to my favourite soprano on a special occasion and to say how much one of her greatest fans admires her glorious voice and her acting ability.' It ended with: 'PS. I hope this isn't too much of a shock for you!' Kiri was also joined on the programme by Harry Secombe, James Robertson, Colin Davis, Stuart Burrows, and Richard Baker, with filmed messages from Dame Sister Mary Leo, Dame Joan Sutherland from her dressing-room at San Francisco Opera and Sir Georg Solti. It was quite a line-up, quite a programme; Toni and Thomas made their first public appearances, which they carried off with aplomb.

The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his book This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

For the Life of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, at the Royalty Theatre on 23 October 1981, Prince Charles wrote a letter to her to be read on the programme, with a hand-written PS. It said, ‘I hope this isn’t too much of a shock for you!’

The girl from New Zealand’s quaintly named Poverty Bay had been personally chosen by Charles to sing at St Paul’s Cathedral for his wedding to Lady Diana Spencer that same year, an occasion watched by eight hundred million television viewers in seventy-four countries.

The full letter from Charles read: ‘I am writing to send my very best wishes to my favourite soprano and to say how much one of her greatest fans admires her glorious voice and her acting ability.’

We flew in Kiri’s father, Tom (her mother had died nine years before) to tell how they had adopted Kiri when she was just five weeks old. Her Maori name ‘Kiri’ means ‘bell’ and ‘Te Kanawa’ ‘chief kinsman to Tom’.

Another Dame, and another opera great, greeted her from Sydney: Dame Joan Sutherland.

Sir Harry Secombe came along to tell us how he had a bit of trouble pronouncing her name when she appeared as a guest on one of his own TV shows.

Dame Kiri told him, ‘Don’t bother. Just call me “Tin Knickers”.’

programme details...

  • Edition No: 585
  • Subject No: 582
  • Broadcast date: Fri 25 Dec 1981
  • Broadcast time: 5.15-5.45pm
  • Recorded: Fri 23 Oct 1981
  • Venue: Royalty Theatre
  • Series: 22
  • Edition: 12
  • Code Name: Katie

on the guest list...

  • Basil Horsfield
  • Vera Rozsa
  • Sir John Tooley
  • Staff from the Royal Opera House
  • John Kilgar
  • Des Park - husband
  • Tom - father
  • Letter from HRH Prince Charles
  • Harry Secombe
  • Sally Sloman
  • James Robertson
  • Colin Davis
  • Stuart Burrows
  • Richard Baker
  • Kura Beale
  • Toni - daughter
  • Tom - son
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Dame Sister Mary Leo
  • Joan Sutherland
  • Georg Solti

external link...

production team...

  • Researcher: Maurice Leonard
  • Writer: Maurice Leonard
  • Directors: Paul Stewart Laing, Terry Yarwood
  • Producer: Jack Crawshaw
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 22 subjects: Bob Champion > Bill Fraser > Wayne Sleep > Ian Botham > Cannon and Ball > Rob Buckman > Angela Rippon > Julia McKenzie > Jackie Milburn > Paul Shane > Peter Adamson > Kiri Te Kanawa > Mickie Most > Anita Harris > Mike Brace > Faith Brown > Robin Bailey > Rod Hull > Bob Monkhouse > John Toshack > Wally Herbert > Joe Gormley > Roger Whittaker > Alan Whicker > Peter Davison > Douglas Bader