Profile: Wynne Evans, tenor

ACCORDING to a recent study, he's officially more irritating than Churchill the bulldog, more infuriating than the oh-so-simples Meerkats and more tacky than Kerry Katona's Iceland advertisements.

But not only is the Welsh-Italian tenor Gio Compario's chorus annoyingly addictive, his character is also stunningly successful. Within a month of the Go Compare campaign launching in June 2009, its recognition rate among viewers had more than trebled.

Since then, Welsh tenor Wynne Evans, the voice behind the ubiquitous ad campaign, has propelled a new and relatively obscure Welsh brand to a position of pre-eminence among a slew of big-spending insurance comparison websites. It is a measure of the campaign's success that the tubby, balding Welshman is now a major celebrity who recently signed a six-album deal with Warner Music, and whose first CD will be released in early 2011. It is expected to top the charts. As is the charity Christmas single due to be released tomorrow in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust - a remake of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

Hide Ad

Indeed, so successful is the campaign that Evans has now become a star in his own right, a public figure who says he can barely walk out onto the street without being assailed by kids singing his "Go Compare" catchphrase at him. The 38-year-old tenor, whose first commercial break came with a Walkers crisps Smokey Sensations ad when he was the operatic voice of Gary Lineker as he pushed Tara Palmer-Tomkinson on a swing, is now showbiz gold.

It is a long way from his days as a young opera singer from the rural, Welsh-speaking town of Carmarthen trying to forge a name for himself in Scotland in 1995. His first major role was performing in The Magic Flute and Der Rosenkavalier at Glasgow's Theatre Royal and Festival Theatre in Edinburgh, while living in digs in Milngavie.

After those humble beginnings, he quickly established himself as one of British opera's leading men. By the time he was asked to audition for the Go Compare ads, he had already sung at the BBC Proms, was a regular with the Welsh National Opera, had released three CDs with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and was about to make his debuts at the Royal Opera House and at Glyndebourne.

Yet if he has been a success as a serious opera singer, it was his theatrical fondness for comic roles which was to prove the clincher for a campaign that is based on a bastardised version of the George M Cohan classic Over There. In particular, his delivery of lines like "With just a few clicks/You save spondulicks" or "Search no longer/To save some wonga" has proved horribly memorable.

"The agency needed somebody for Go Compare," said Evans. "They didn't think they'd find anybody who could do a convincing operatic voice and also act the part but I began gesticulating to inject a bit of character into my vocal performance and they took one look at me leaping about and said, ‘You'll do'. "

The larger-than-life singer insists that the five ads filmed in five days in London were an extension of the way his operatic career had already started to develop. "When every singer starts out in their career they want to be a lyric tenor," he said. "A couple of years in to my career, I thought, ‘What do I excel at and enjoy doing the most?' It's comedy really. I know I can do it at a very high level and do it well, as opposed to doing lyric roles at a lesser level."

Hide Ad

It is hardly surprising Evans pursued a career based around opera. He joins a long line of exceptional Welsh singers that includes Bryn Terfel and Katherine Jenkins and he has a family connection that ensured the opportunity to pursue an operatic career was put in his way from an early age.

Evans' operatic impulse undoubtedly came from his mother, Elizabeth, one of the best-known figures in Welsh operatic circles thanks to her energetic promotion of the art form in her home town of Carmarthen. A daughter of a local girl and Belgian plantation owner and army officer Louis Gentile, Elizabeth worked as a stage make-up artist and singer and single-handedly started the now-famous Carmarthen Youth Opera. She eventually expanded it to the point where she saved the town's Lyric theatre from being turned into a shopping centre and used her contacts with opera figures such as Sir Geraint Evans to wring funds out of the government when the local council refused to help renovate it.

Hide Ad

With a mother who was awarded an MBE for being a Welsh opera powerhouse, it was hardly surprising that Wynne would be smitten, as was his brother Mark, a well-known baritone. Both Mark and Wynne are now trustees of the influential Elizabeth Evans Trust, which was set up when their mum died of pneumonia aged 60 in 2004, with Wynne saying of his mother that "my career is down to her and those visits to the Grand Theatre [in Swansea] to watch the opera; she was an amazing woman".

If Evans is a part of the Welsh love affair with singing, he is also partial to another traditional Welsh pastime, rugby. A substantial citizen, he was apparently a useful player at school, but it is in meshing his love of the game with his singing talent that he was famous long before Gio Compario's arrival.

The tradition of singing the national anthem is taken for granted now, but the practice actually started in Cardiff in 1905 when Wales met the All Blacks for the first time. The Kiwi pre-match war dance, or Haka, had struck fear into the hearts of opponents, so Welsh rugby administrator Tom Williams asked star player Teddy Morgan to respond with a rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau or Land Of My Fathers, which was enthusiastically taken up by the crowd.

Leading the national anthem before a Wales rugby game is a big deal, and Evans described being asked to do so before the All Blacks game in 2004 as "one of the biggest honours of my life". Evans' presence has become something of an institution and he's done another 30 internationals and led the national anthem before boxer Joe Calzaghe's world title bout with America's Peter Manfredo in 2007. Evans, like Gio Compario, has become a national icon.

Facts of life

• On Gio's website you can learn to grow a moustache like his.

• Evans' favourite Go Compare ad is the one set in a finishing school where Gio bursts out of a wardrobe.

Hide Ad

• Evans lives with his violin teacher wife Tanwen and daughters, Ismay and Taliesin, who are Gio Compario's biggest fans.

• Evans co-hosts a show on BBC Radio Wales with his baritone brother Mark.

Hide Ad

• He appeared in the C4 Comedy Gala raising money for Great Ormond Street Hospital in a sketch where Jimmy Carr grabs him by the testicles, causing him to sing in an even higher note.

• People have compared Gio Compario to Luciano Pavarotti, who Evans says is "a singing god".

• His sister-in-law, Eos Chater, above, is in the string quartet Bond and has played with Pavarotti.