Keedie is a 23 year-old singer from Wolverhampton via Torquay. She looks, speaks and dresses like your average 23 year-old, and likes her dance music and her fashion. To the naked eye, there is nothing particularly remarkable about her: she is sweet, attractive, possesses boundless energy and a very pronounced craving to sing. So far, so X Factor. But Keedie, all five foot one of her, in fact has a rare talent indeed. It's in the voice, all in the voice, a truly bewitching and magical thing that, really, has to be heard to be believed.
Listen to her sing, and suddenly the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Her voice is clear and full, impassioned and magisterial, and as adept at interpreting a pop song as it is the most opulent of arias. She can take virtually any classical favourite - let's say La Wally or O Mio Babbino - and she'll somehow imbue it with something completely new and vital. Listening to Keedie sing them is like hearing them for the very first time. And so, in this case, appearances are deceptive in the extreme. Keedie, as you will very soon learn, is something rather special.
"This was my life from a very early age," she says. "It was never going to be just a hobby. My first memory is singing along to Maria Callas on the television, and giving it the whole operatic bit. I was three years old. I've no idea why, but singing has always come completely naturally to me."
She was born in 1982, and christened Keedie because Dad is a big fan of Kiki Dee, and inexplicably felt moved to honour the singer in this fashion. (Clearly, he has a fondness for unlikely names: his poor son is saddled with Milan, in deference to the Italian city's two football teams.) By the time she turned toddler, the family had moved to Torquay, where her father had intermittent work as a painter and decorator, paying for his prodigious daughter's vocal lessons while narrowly avoiding bankruptcy. Until, that is, one Christmas when bankruptcy finally caught up with him, and the entire clan - Mum, Dad, three sisters and little Milan - found themselves temporarily homeless.
But a chronic lack of funds was never going to stop his dogged daughter from pursuing her dream. By the age of 11, she was performing outside local pubs, in hotel foyers and, once, on top of an ice cream van. Everywhere she played, she received a rapturous response that encouraged her to strive further still. She started taking time off school, ordering her father to drive her up and down the country to hastily-arranged performances at any club and pub that would have them. "It didn't matter where I sang," she says now, "I just needed to do it. I guess I was a show off, but then I felt I had a lot to show off."
Brimming with self-confidence, she left school at 14 in order to pursue her intended career full-time. Her live revue at this time consisted primarily of pop songs, until one day her mother asked her to give classical a go. She took singing lessons, which worked immediate wonders. "It was amazing," she says. "I discovered so many more colours in my voice. I learned how to phrase a line of music and let it flow naturally, and how to breathe properly. I felt like I was singing with my whole body, from my toes to the tips of my fingers to the back of my neck."
There was, however, a problem over just how to market such a precocious young talent? Should she become pop star or pint sized operatic diva? At 16, she signed her first deal, but found herself very quickly at odds with a record company she now pronounces as "clueless". Under the encouragement of her father, she walked away from the deal but quickly slid into a depression. Her dreams, so close to being realised, now felt like they had been irretrievably quashed. She stopped singing, stopped eating, and withered down to a perilous six and a half stone.
"I was really very poorly," she admits. "But I was just so upset with the way I was being treated. I guess because I was so young, I couldn't understand it and I certainly couldn't deal with it, so I just sat down on the sofa and didn't get up again, virtually for a year."
And when she did, she headed in the other direction completely. "I went a little bit mad," she says. "I was always out, never home, and partying a lot. I definitely kind of lost it..."
An unexpected rescue came a couple of months later at a special night at London's Groucho Club. Suddenly, a wide-eyed Keedie was gawping before her very first celebrity audience - among them, Bob Geldof, Richard Branson and Richard E. Grant. After her performance, a member of the audience, wiping tears from his eyes, approached her with a proposition to sing the theme tune to a new play he was writing for the West End. Was she interested?
That audience member was Andrew Lloyd Webber, and a year later she found herself duetting with Blue's Duncan James on I Believe My Heart, the theme tune from The Woman In White. In its first week of release, it went to number two in the charts.
At last, Keedie's career was taking off. In between Lloyd Webber's offer and its eventual recording, she had secured new management and a new record deal, and had unleashed her voice upon classical and pop audiences at events across the UK, Spain and even Bulgaria including touring with Aled Jones, in Barbados for the Kidd family, at South Africa House for Michael Parkinson’s charity, at Blenheim Palace, Twickenham’s rugby stadium and at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s private chapel. Word spread across the Atlantic and Keedie was invited to record the theme tune for Modigliani starring Andy Garcia and subsequently to perform at the Miami and the Washington Film Festivals and later to perform at a private party for Al Pacino.
Keedie had regularly performed at cricket-related functions and was invited to perform Jerusalem at the PCA’s Ashes celebration to such a fantastic reaction that the seed was sown to record the song with the England Cricket Team. Keedie has just returned from Pakistan where she recorded the song with the team and filmed a video. “I feel honoured and privileged to be asked to sing with the team, especially on an anthem like ‘Jerusalem’. The guys were all great, really down to earth, and I had a lot of fun recording it.”