Former child opera star from Mile End returns to music after “retiring” at 17

Emily Gray has found her singing voice again

Emily Gray has found her singing voice again - Credit: Nigel Sutton

A former child star, who was once dubbed the “thinking man’s Charlotte Church” but retired from the opera industry at the age of 17, has just made a return to music by setting up a church choir.

Mile End resident Emily Gray, who is now a 26-year-old legal assistant, used to pack out 25,000-seater stadiums after winning BBC Radio 2’s Choir Girl of the Year in 2000 and appearing on BBC1 show Songs of Praise.

The soprano, of Burdett Road, scooped a record deal with classical music giant Naxos and her album, Passiontide, soared to number 7 in the classical charts in 2002. A review of the 16-year-old’s record in Gramophone magazine favourably compared her to fellow child opera sensation Charlotte Church, and the legend was born.

“It was brilliant being told that you are going to be famous - better than anything,” Emily said. “I went from being that girl who sang awkward opera songs in assembly, to everyone wanting to be my manager and kids who had been frightening suddenly wanting to hang out with me.

“I was made out to be this rival to Charlotte Church as some sort of marketing idea, but I was nothing like that. I was the girl who went through an entire photo shoot with her flies undone!”

But although Emily initially enjoyed her career, she became increasing anxious and overwhelmed by the pressure of the highly-competitive industry, and lost her confidence after suffering from debilitating panic attacks.

However, jamming sessions with work colleagues have reignited her passion for music, and she was introduced to a minister who was keen for her to start a choir at his church.

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“I said I’d run it if it helps support the charities the church supports,” Emily said, adding she was thrilled 15 people attended the first rehearsal on January 17 at the Heath Street Baptist Church in Hampstead.

“I’m really enjoying it,” she said. “I can totally be in control – this way, I’m the boss, which is nice!”

To join the choir, email Emily at