As Halifax soprano Lizzie Jones MBE returns to The Great Yorkshire Show’s main ring, she talks to Rebecca Pitcairn about life after Danny, her upcoming nuptials and why she’ll never live anywhere but Yorkshire
July 2023 is going to be a momentous month for soprano Lizzie Jones. Not only will she return to the Great Yorkshire Show’s main ring to sing classic anthems, such as Jerusalem and Nessun Dorma, but the 38-year-old is also getting married to her partner of five years, Nick Whitehill.
“We’re getting married in Northern Italy, we wanted to go somewhere quite rural, so it’s all very exciting and the children can’t wait. It’s going to be a really wonderful summer,” says the mother-of-three on finding love again following the passing of her husband, Wales international rugby league footballer Danny Jones, eight years ago.
Danny, who played at club level for Halifax and Keighley Cougars, collapsed and died from an undiagnosed heart condition – later identified as cardiomyopathy, an inherited condition leading to the thickening of the cardiac muscles – while playing for Keighley against London Skolars in May 2015. He left behind Lizzie and their two twins, Bobby and Pheobe, who were just five months old at the time.
Following the 29-year-old’s passing, Lizzie, who lives in Halifax with Nick and their two-year-old daughter, Bella, the twins and Fletch the Cavapoo, teamed up with the Rugby League Benevolent Fund to establish the Danny Jones Defibrillator Fund to raise money to fund defibrillators and cardiac screening within the sporting community.
Cardiomyopathy can be diagnosed following an echocardiogram screening, which was not available to Danny before he died, and Lizzie continues to campaign for the compulsory screening of athletes for hidden cardiac problems.
“After Danny passed, the laws were changed that screening would be compulsory within Championship rugby, as well as the top level of rugby league and now everybody is screened before they play,” she explains. “The charity provides defibrillators, predominantly to the sporting community, but we do now provide to everybody – schools, community groups, church halls and libraries and we also do cardiac screening days for sports clubs, communities and schools. We’ve screened over 3,500 people.”
In 2019, Lizzie was awarded an MBE for her services to Rugby League Football and charity, which was presented to her at Windsor Castle by fellow Great Yorkshire Show ambassador, Her Royal Highness Anne, Princess Royal. “It was a really special and emotional day, something you just literally never, ever forget. It was amazing to be recognized for all the changes that have been made in Danny’s memory and the difference his life has made,” Lizzie recalls. “I got introduced to Princess Anne again on the president’s lawn at last year’s Great Yorkshire Show and she remembered me and we had a really good chat – she’s such a huge supporter of the show.”
Lizzie, who has been involved with the show since 2018, when she became the first singer to perform in the main ring, will share the biggest arena at the show with acts including performer Lorenzo, the legendary horseman who last appeared in 2018.
“He rides on something like 12 horses, he’s just jaw-dropping. Then there’s the shopping, I love the shopping, and the Yorkshire tweed – the fashion show is back this year and that’s one of my favourite parts,” she says of the event, which celebrates its 164th anniversary this year. “But I do absolutely love the animals too – the bulls in particular. The first year I was at the show, they got me to do a shoot with the biggest bull you’ve ever seen. I think he was called Henry and I had to hold on to him. It was the scariest moment in my life, but he was so gorgeous, the animals are just the most stunning from all around Yorkshire.”
Yorkshire born and bred, Lizzie grew up in Warley Town, attending the local catholic school. After studying for a degree in Music at the University of Leeds, she headed south to do a masters in Musical Theatre at London School of Musical Theatre.
“I’m such a Yorkshire girl – I couldn’t believe how much I missed home when I was in London, I genuinely didn’t think it would hurt so much, but it did. I missed the green, the smell and I missed the water. Gosh, the water,” she remembers. “London is one of my favourite places to go and visit, but a weekend is enough and then I want to come home. Everything seems just twice as fast in London and so I love coming back to the slower pace of Yorkshire – we’re so friendly here and everything just feels that little bit warmer, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Known as the ‘sporting soprano,’ Lizzie, who was named Lorraine Kelly’s Inspirational Woman of the Year in 2016, wows stadium crowds across the country and has performed at England football internationals, The Ashes and the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final.
“I started my career in amateur dramatics and I’ve done shows on stage my whole life, but I’ve never felt more at home than when I’m walking out on the grass and can feel my heels sinking in,” explains Lizzie, whose version of Danny Boy performed at BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards in 2015 shot to the top of the classical charts.
Lizzie, who is now also a singing teacher, says she loves getting the chance to play local venues, such as The Piece Hall in Halifax and Harrogate’s Great Yorkshire Showground, but her favourite has to be Wembley. “When we get back from the wedding, I am performing at Wembley for the Rugby League Challenge Cup final on August 12,” she says. “It feels quite lonely when you’re walking out on your own into the middle of this huge pitch, but then to have all these people singing back at you, that atmosphere is just incredible, you can’t beat it.”
Lizzie’s Yorkshire loves…
Nick and I love to walk and we’ve just come back from doing the Three Peaks Challenge for the charity. We did the Yorkshire Three Peaks Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough as a warm up actually, although it was hardly a warm up!
We used to have a caravan so, as a family, spent a lot of time on the east coast of Yorkshire. We love places like Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington and the kids also love Yorkshire Wildlife Park.
The Piece Hall is always a great family day out too, the kids love it there – they love going there to eat, but we’re going to see George Ezra there and the twins can’t wait.