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Tuesday, 12 November 2013 12:13

Biography of Vanessa-Mae.

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Vanessa MaeVanessa MaeThis 35 year old lady has duel Thai / UK citizenship and has a violin that was bought for her by her parents when she was ten for £250,000.  She was also training as a skier to take part in the 2013 Winter Olympics.  Her music is a new style of fusion that combines the violin, classical music and pop beats.  She was also a child prodigy.  At seven she won the title Young British Pianist of the Year, then gave up the piano and turned to the violin.  At eight, she was invited by Prof Lin-Yao-Ji to Beijing to continue training with him.  The course, scheduled for three years, she finished it in months.  People magazine has voted her one of the “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” and FHM named her one of “The World’s 100 Most Beautiful Women.”

I’m talking about Vanessa Mae.

An Eclectic mix of Crossover Violin and Skiing.

She was born Vanessa-Mae Vanakorn Nicholson in Singapore on 27th October 1978 to a Thai father and a Chinese mother.  When she was four her parents separated and her mother married Graham Nicholson, a British attorney, who adopted Vanessa-Mae.  Her family then moved to London.

When she was four years old, Vanessa started taking piano lessons and 2 years later, she began to study the violin.  Despite her multi-talent at playing both the piano and the violin Vanessa decided to focus on the violin, ironically after winning a prize at the British Young Pianist of the Year Competition.  She was relatively famous in the United Kingdom throughout her childhood making regular appearances on television (for example on “Blue Peter”) mostly involving classical music and conservative style.


As a child, she was a tomboy preferring transformers and robots and toy knives and guns. She enjoyed climbing trees at weekends and did horse riding for a short time.

Also, when she was four, she started skiing and has since bought a place in Zermatt in Switzerland with her wine dealer boyfriend, Lionel Catelan.  As she says “It wasn’t an altogether positive experience.  We got robbed at the train station and found the people a little unfriendly, but the stunning natural scenery and the Matterhorn more than made up for this.  After that we came back to Zermatt whenever we could, summer and winter.”  In 2009, she broke her shoulder skiing.

In 1988, when she was ten, she made her international professional debut at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival in Germany.  Also during 1988, she made her concert debut on stage with the Philharmonic Orchestra in London.

“What she has, like Mozart and Mendelssohn, is maturity beyond her years, for this – her spirituality – you have to go back to Heifetz, Menuhin and Kreisler.  Vanessa-Mae is a violinist to transcend labels.”

  Royal College of Music

According to Guinness World Records, she is the youngest soloist to record both the Ludwig van Beethoven and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky violin concertos, a feat she accomplished at the age of thirteen.  During this time she attended the Francis Holland School in central London. 

After she studied with Prof Lin-Yao-Ji she travelled in 1988 to Schlezwig-Holstein for summer master-courses, where she trained under Prof Felix Andreyevsky.  That year, she started her concert appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.  She was the youngest soloist in history to play Bach’s, Mozart’s and Kabalevsky’s concertos with the orchestra.  At 11, she passed entrance exams for a one-year course at the Royal College of Music where, a year later, she became the only child in its history to gain the Professional Diploma Course.  They say of her: “What she has, like Mozart and Mendelssohn, is maturity beyond her years, for this – her spirituality – you have to go back to Heifetz, Menuhin and Kreisler.  Vanessa-Mae is a violinist to transcend labels.”

At 12, she played with the London Mozart Players celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death.

When she was 13, she was the youngest violinist ever to record the Tchaikovsky and Beethoven violin concertos.  Vanessa had a world tour with the London Mozart Players during the Mozart bicentennial year, got great reviews from international critics and she had three classical albums to her credit.

Violin Player released at 17

In 1995, when she was 17, she shattered the mould of the classical virtuoso with the release of her first fusion album The Violin Player, forging a new style that has made her a multi-million-selling worldwide phenomenon and the breakthrough artist who virtually defined the fusion of classical and pop that became known as crossover.  And that was after she made three classical recordings.

The Violin Player blends traditional and modern electric violin sounds that produced the pop song, "Toccata & Fugue".  It hit the UK charts.  Vanessa made history yet again, as the only classical artist to have a Billboard Dance Chart Topper, with the dance remix of "Toccata & Fugue".

The Violin Player was also released in Japanese and Asian versions.  It went multi-platinum with multi millions of sales worldwide.  This encouraged her to work on a follow-up album.  In 1996, Vanessa's The Alternative Record From Vanessa-Mae was released, along with The Classical Album, that same year.

In 1996, Vanessa was nominated for Best Female Artist at the BRIT Awards, blurring the lines between musical genres as the first instrumental and classical artist to receive this nomination.  She also received the BAMBI International Classical Artist of the Year Award.

In 1997 she released China Girl and Storm (on which she sings), while The Original Four Seasons and The Devil's Trill Sonata were released one year later.

Also in 1997, she was the first non-native of Hong Kong to be invited to perform at the China Re-Unification Ceremony.  She even played to roaring crowds at the "Sopot Festival", sharing the bill with Annie Lennox and further proving her ability to blend rock into her music.  Her performance at the World Series Playoff at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park have certainly helped boost her recognition in the US.  Remember, she is only 19 years old at this stage.

She falls on stage at 2.03

She has inspired hostility and outright rejection from her colleagues in the world of classical music.  Many complain that she is a half-developed talent, who is using her good looks and the pop promotional machine to make her a star at the expense of the classical tradition.  Vanessa claims that she does not listen to critics and has said "to have an ordinary Classical career would have been just a bit too lazy."

In 1998, she made her acting debut in the Hallmark Television movie Arabian Nights.

In 1999, Vanessa and her mother, Pamela Nicholson, had a parting of the ways over issues relating to her management.  She told Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper in 2008 that Pamela said her love for her daughter was “conditional” on Vanessa-Mae’s performance as a musician.  The following year Vanessa-Mae revealed to a reporter that she was being harassed by a stalker.

Love Life

At 21 she met Lionel Catalan in Val D’Isere on a skiing break.  They fell in love instantly.  Interestingly, Lionel, Vanessa-Mae’s senior by 10 years, had no idea when they met that she was a world famous musician and celebrity.  The relationship developed quickly.  Vanessa-Mae moved out of her family home to her own luxurious apartment in nearby Kensington and Lionel practically moved in with her.  Today, they remain a very happy couple.  Lionel started his own wine trading company in London.

Throughout her career, Vanessa-Mae has collaborated with various musicians.  She played a track on Janet Jackson’s album The Velvet Rope in 1997; she worked with George Martin for one song on a CD In My Life with special arrangements of old Beatles songs; she shared the stage with groups like The Scorpions and The Back Street Boys; she participated with many other musicians in experimental jazz session with Prince to produce an album called Xpectations in 2002 this CD has never been released but was available for a short time as an mp3 file via the NPG Music Club; she produced and played on the album Flow Of Soul together with the Japanese rock musician Takuro.

As an explosive live performer, Vanessa-Mae stars in an intensive touring program that has taken her around the world several times over.  She has visited over 50 countries, including performances in many spectacular venues such as the Kremlin Palace in Moscow, the Acropolis in Athens, an outdoor pyrotechnic extravaganza in Dubai, and stadiums in Beijing and Shanghai.

Beyond the bounds of typical concert venues, Vanessa-Mae is constantly bringing music to new places and new people.  She was the first foreign performer invited to play the U.S. national anthem at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in Chicago.  She did the same at the World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail, Colorado, where she performed two concerts, one of classical and the other of fusion music.  She has performed at the Ajax arena in Amsterdam to a football crowd numbering 60,000.  Vanessa-Mae provided the climax to the International Go-Karting championships in Helsinki and performed at the opening race of the F1 Grand Prix season in Melbourne.  She also performed as featured artist at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Para Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Also, Vanessa-Mae joined and participated in several promotion campaigns for high value commodities like Siemens mobile phones, Mercedes C Class, Rover cars, The Oriental Mandarin Hotel group and Rado watches, indicating that she is seen as an interesting partner with irreproachable reputation by these organisations.

To date, she has received more than 40 platinum awards.

Her innovative style, which she calls violin techno-acoustic fusion, has made her a multi-million-selling worldwide phenomenon.  She is the breakthrough artist who virtually defined the fusion of classical and pop that became known as crossover.

At 23, she was voted FHM’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World list in its 2001 poll.  She was born exactly 196 years after Niccolo Paganini.  She classes him as special drawing parallels between herself and him.  He was first and foremost a great violin performer, perhaps the greatest ever and only secondarily a composer.  He had a flashy style that caused some to consider he was being possessed by a demon.  He was innovative and controversial in his day.

In April 2006, Vanessa-Mae was ranked as the wealthiest young entertainer under 30 in the UK in the Sunday Times Rich List 2006, having an estimated fortune of about £32 million (€37 million) stemming from concerts and record sales of over an estimated 10 million copies worldwide, which is an unprecedented achievement for a young female violinist.

Vanessa-Mae most often uses one of two types of violins, a Guadagnini acoustic violin or a Zeta Jazz model electric violin.  The Guadagnini was made in 1761 and was purchased by her parents at an auction for £250,000.  It was stolen in January 1995, but was recovered by the police two months later.  She once fell and broke it, but it was repaired.  It is currently valued at almost €350,000.  In addition, she uses one of two Zeta Jazz Model electric violins, one of which is white and the other one of which features decals of the United States flag.  In addition to these two main violins, she sometimes buys violins and resells them later, giving the proceeds to charity.

A minor planet that was discovered in 1990 orbiting the Sun, was named “10313 Vanessa-Mae” after her.


She has always loved skiing and in 2009, she bought her place in Zermatt.  She also has a house in London that is being renovated.  She always wanted to represent Thailand in skiing in the Winter Olympics.  Vanessa is a British citizen, but has the right to Thai citizenship because her father, Vorapong Vanakorn, is a national of that country.  She currently has a Thai passport.

Addendum January 2014. Vanessa has qualified for the Winter Olympics and will be skiing under the name Vanessa Vanakorn (her fathers surname). Giles Holland, her manager, says "She's done it by a whisker, but she's done it." Ana Jelusic, the FIS Alpine media co-ordinator, told Press Association Sport: "She ticks all the boxes.  According to the qualification system which we have, which requires her to start at least five slalom or giant slalom races, she has done so.  It also requires her to come below a certain number of FIS points, which in this case is 140. She has done so."  So it looks like Vanessa Vanakorn will be taking part in the Winter Olympics 2014.

Vanessa-Mae has been performing concerts the world over, but I don’t think she has played in Ireland – yet.

In 2012, Vanessa said” It’s wonderful to be in charge of my own schedule these days.  When I do shows now, they have to fit in with my ski training, which isn’t easy as I have to take an extra day just in case the mountain pass is blocked.  I’ll then have a day of rehearsals before the show and if I’m in a nice place, I might stay on for an extra day afterwards to explore. My ideal would be to play at Sochi during the Winter Olympics but I’d also settle for playing with the Matterhorn as a backdrop.”

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Read 44760 times Last modified on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 16:33
Robert Tallent

Bob is a Management Consultant, Mentor and Trainer. He is also an Entrepreneur from 1983 to the present day. Between 1983 and 1995 he ran four businesses with a turnover in excess of £1m. As well as having an Honours Degree in Business Studies, he is also an Industrial Engineer and managed a large department in a multinational with large budgets and responsibilities.

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