Composer Sir Karl Jenkins: ‘Adiemus, my biggest hit, was written for an airline advert’

一本道理不卡一二三区 Sir Karl Jenkins, the world-renowned composer, says his music for adverts such as Levi’s, Delta and BA changed his life

Sir Karl Jenkins
On the beat: Sir Karl Jenkins admits his career really took off when he composed Adiemus for a Delta Air Lines advert

一本道理不卡一二三区Sir Karl Jenkins is a composer whose music for choir, soloists and orchestra is among the most popular in the genre by any living composer. His works include Adiemus, The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, Requiem, Stabat Mater, Gloria/Te Deum, The Peacemakers and Cantata Memoria. He has 17 gold or platinum disc awards.

Sir Karl, 75, lives in London with his wife, Carol Barratt. He has a son, Jody, also a composer, and two grandchildren.

Did your childhood shape your attitude towards money?

A great deal. I came from quite humble beginnings. One grandfather was a Swedish sailor who sailed to Wales and met my grandmother, a cockle picker, and the other grandfather was a Welsh coalminer, so it was a very working-class family. I grew up in Penclawdd, a small seaside village on the Gower Peninsula. My father was a teacher. My mother died when I was four.

一本道理不卡一二三区We were chapel-goers, with that sense of morality and work ethic to match. My family was hardworking and generous towards other people. We never had a family car and used to use public transport and cycle locally. Money was never discussed, but we lived well within humble means.

一本道理不卡一二三区My father was more keen that I learn how to play the piano than do odd jobs. He earned a reasonable living as a teacher and would give me pocket money as and when I needed it. I read music at Cardiff University and then went to London in 1966 to study at the Royal Academy of Music.

What was your first wage packet?

I was in a jazz band doing gigs in London when I was 22. I remember playing The Bulls Head in Barnes and getting paid three pounds, 15 shillings and sixpence. I supplemented my income with peripatetic woodwind teaching in schools and then things improved when I started working in a jazz-fusion band, Soft Machine.

Have you ever worried that you wouldn’t be able to pay the bills?

There was a period in my mid-20s, just after my wife and I had taken out a mortgage on a flat in Putney, when things were tough. My father left me £5,000 when he died in 1969, which we used for a deposit on a £17,000 flat.

一本道理不卡一二三区I had started working as a composer, but then I had no work for a few months, which was a worry. By then I had left Soft Machine, which I’d been in for many years. We had worked a lot, but not for loads of money. The manager of the band went bankrupt in the end, as he couldn’t pay his tax bill.

Did your earnings improve as your career progressed?

Yes, definitely. In my late 20s, I became a composer of music for high-profile ads like Levi’s, De Beers, British Airways and BMW. I was in business with another ex-Soft Machine member, Mike Ratledge.

We usually got a fee and royalties for the music, and we retained copyright. For example, we’d get £1,000 or £2,000 to do a demo, £7,000 to do the master and then we’d get royalties on top of that. At one point we were doing two or three ads a week, but the life of each ad only lasted two or three years.

一本道理不卡一二三区I wrote Adiemus for a commercial for Delta Air Lines, and as Delta flew everywhere, it became a global hit. I then developed it into a much bigger symphonic piece of work, released in 1995. I was commissioned to write The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace in 2000.

一本道理不卡一二三区My life changed when people started singing my work around the world. Adiemus was a global seller and The Armed Man has now been performed 2,700 different times since the Millennium. I have the benefit of not having to be there when the music is performed as other people play and conduct it, so I am working as I am sitting at home in my studio.

Karl Jenkins' worst financial experience was when a former accountant, who was later struck off, wrongly advised him on a tax matter Credit: Geoff Pugh  

Is it difficult to earn a living from classical music?

一本道理不卡一二三区Assuming you are very, very good at it, I think it is easier as a performer because you can play Bach and Mozart and you are valued at that. It is very difficult to write a memorable piece of music that has longevity.

Are you a millionaire?

If I sold everything I had, technically I would be. Remember, I am still in the so-called classical world so, although Adiemus sold a lot copies, it isn’t the same as pop royalties.

What was your best buy?

I suppose getting my first property. We later moved and bought a house past Richmond for £50,000, but never thought of it as an investment and stayed there for 20 years.

And what has been your worst financial decision?

一本道理不卡一二三区A former accountant, who was later struck off, wrongly advised me on a tax matter, which then led to an investigation. That was in the early 2000s. It led to some sleepless nights with worry, but everything was resolved in the end.

Do you have a personal pension or long-term financial strategy?

I do have a personal pension with a reliable firm and, since I am 75, the long-term financial strategy is not relevant. My main concern is seeing my family are OK, really.

一本道理不卡一二三区I am addicted to work. It is what I do every day and I will carry on doing it until I am ill or kick the bucket. I might cut down a bit on the hours I work though.

Do you meet regularly with a financial adviser?

一本道理不卡一二三区Yes, she handles my portfolio of investments. I have always asked for ethical investments and I use a low-risk strategy.

How do you invest?

I have a pension and I have Isas. I did have a second home in Wales up until five years ago, which we had for 10 years.

What’s been the hardest lesson you’ve learned about money?

一本道理不卡一二三区Trusting people and taking them at their word and sometimes employing them. I have worked with incompetent people.

一本道理不卡一二三区When I got past a certain age when I wasn’t looking or actively searching for work I dispensed with a PA or manager and looked after things myself. I keep tabs on everything that goes on now, whereas in the past I did discover some abuse of credit cards and that type of thing.

Is there anything you don’t really like about handling money?

I hate having coins in my pocket – they are a nuisance, so I usually empty my pockets and go out the next day without any change.

Do you give regularly to charity?

一本道理不卡一二三区I run an award every year, in association with The Arts Club in Dover Street – the Sir Karl Jenkins Music Award in association with Classic FM, which is given to young players between the ages of 18 and 25. The winner gets a financial award, and I write a piece of music for them. My wife gives to other music charities and animal charities.

Does money make you happy?

I don’t think it makes anyone happy. I do think it is enabling, so it allows you to travel a bit more and stay in better hotels, and have access to cultural activities like opera, which is ridiculously priced in London.

Miserere: Songs of Mercy and Redemption (Decca) is out now. Visit

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