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Dido and Aeneas, Theatre Royal

Opera singer James Laing has so many interests in life it's a wonder he finds time to sing at all, as Entertainment Editor Gordon Barr finds out.

Opera singer James Laing has so many interests in life it's a wonder he finds time to sing at all, as Entertainment Editor Gordon Barr finds out.

Pera singer James Laing is the first to admit he talks with the slightest hint of a lisp these days.

It was all self-inflicted from a moment of madness, and he is the first to admit it.

"I had my tongue pierced by a gypsy when I was travelling through Australia," reveals James, who sings the role of the Spirit in Dido and Aeneas with Opera North at Newcastle's Theatre Royal on Saturday.

I suggest to him it probably wasn't the best thing for an opera singer to do, and did it not affect his singing abilities?

"The stud didn't stay in there that long," he confesses. "I was going to see my mum and took it out as I didn't think she would approve, never mind the singing!

"To this day I still think I have a bit of a lisp because of it. The thing about getting your tongue pierced is that if you take the stud out, the tongue heals up really quickly and the hole goes. So I simply could not get it back in again. Maybe it is just as well!"

He has fond memories of his time in Oz. "It was amazing," he says. "We stayed in Melbourne for a couple of weeks and bought a camper van there and toured all around. It was incredible. Life-changing."

While it is unlikely his time in Newcastle will be life-changing, he's looking forward to it. "I've performed there once before, great city.

"And I think people will like the production. The story of Dido and Aeneas is quite well-known, but it is a short piece, so there is a double bill on offer, Stravinsky's dance drama Les Noces, and they seem to complement each other really well."

James is certainly something of a character. He was given his first oboe at the age of six and comes from a very musical family. He took a three-year gap between school and music college, during which time he went on his travels Down Under, ending up bungee jumping in Cairns from a forest platform, bouldering and canyoning.

James also enjoys playing internet Dungeons and Dragons, sang the national anthem before each England game during the Rugby World Cup in 2003 in Australia, rides a Honda RVF motorbike, has a Staffordshire terrier called Macey who was rescued from the Battersea Dogs' Home and has collected Star Wars figures for about seven years.

He and his brothers set up a paint-balling team to compete in the World Championships at Crystal Palace and he also owns one of the Kitt Night Rider cars - one of only four in the world.

"Why not?" he laughs at that last statement about him. "I was going to lease it out for shows etc but so far I have kept it for myself.

"I believe life should be lived to the full, and it makes it all the more interesting."

NDido and Aeneas is at the Theatre Royal on Saturday. Opera North's other productions there this week are The Magic Flute (tomorrow), Rigoletto (Wednesday and Friday) and Katya Kabanova (Thursday).

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