26 October 1997, The Sunday-Times, Travel section
My Hols - Vanessa-Mae
From Glenn Cooke
Vanessa-Mae Nicholson, was born in Singapore in 1978, but moved to London when she was four. She started playing the piano at three and switched to the violin at seven. At eight she entered the Chinese Conservatory in Beijing and made her concert debut at 10. At 11 she entered the Royal Academy of Music in London, and at 12 toured with the London Mozart players. Her 1996 album, The Violin Player, sold 2m copies. In 1997, she won the Nordoff-Robbins Silver Clef International Music Award. She lives in west London with her parents. Tomorrow is her 19th birthday, and the day her new CD/cassette, Storm, is released.
WORKING is a pretty hectic, rock'n'roll kind of schedule and lifestyle, so holidays are time to physically have a break. But I never dream of just lying around and thinking for hours and hours a day. I have to do something very active nonstop that is not work. I want to have fun in a very different, extreme way. Like skiing.
I love skiing, both on water and snow. We sometimes ski in France Val d'Isère, Heynia and Trois Vallées but since I was a little kid we've been skiing a lot in St Moritz. It's not only really good skiing, it's a nice resort. A lot of the French places are for extreme skiing, and for people like my mother and grandmother, who don't
ski that much, there's not much else to do. We also go to Badgastein in Austria. And this year, after two concerts in Vienna, I just took my ski boots and headed for the slopes.
I love the feeling of speed. Skiing gives me a feeling of flowing, of soaring above everything else, of being alone on a mountain apart from the ski instructor looking at the vast landscape of untracked, virgin snow launching towards the valley side of a steep slope. It is a feeling of not having to have questions and answers. It's almost that being close to nature completes me. But the main thing is that it's spiritual. I put it into my music.
This summer we took three weeks of vacation which is the longest stretch I have had since I was a child and we went to Argentina. It was kind of perverse that in the heat of August I went to find snow in the southern hemisphere. But in summer I get itchy and I really need to get on skis again. We went for 10 days to the Andes. We flew to Buenos Aires, took a tiny plane to San Rafael, then a bus to San Carlos de Bariloche which is a great place in the Rio Negro and it was just the greatest holiday I've had.
Of course I have to be careful of my hands, but I've been skiing since I was five or six years old and I'm obviously not a breakneck and don't take extreme risks. But the whole of life is a risk. If you walk out of the door you can get run over by a car. I think it's such a short life that you just have to have fun while you're doing it.
When I'm working there's really no time to take a holiday. Sometimes you only get a brief hint of the vibes, the culture, the rhythm of a place.
I go back to places that I really liked but didn't have time to get enough of such as Argentina. Sometimes we can get a couple of days at the end of an assignment. Like, after making a pop video in Miami, we went to water-ski in St Lucia for a few days. Or the two days this summer in Disney World in Orlando. That was mainly for my mother; she's just mad about the place.
When I was four I went for the first time to Disney in Tokyo. Apparently there are photos of me absolutely gobsmacked in awe pointing to all the different nations in the "Small Small World" ride. When I was a kid I used to enjoy all the really scary roller coaster rides, but now that I'm getting a bit older I prefer whether I'm doing the really scary rides or skiing to be more in control. Nowadays I like low-key rides such as "Wind in the Willows" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", but my favourite is still "Small Small World".
When I was studying at the Conservatory of Music in Beijing I did manage to see the Great Wall of China twice and the Emperor's Palace. In fact, I did a project for my English school on the Great Wall, and after six months without my English school friends, to return with the project and get five stars for it was really fantastic.
It was a bit of a culture shock for me, after living in England, to be in China, looking Chinese though with a Thai father and not be able to speak a word of Chinese. The Chinese thought it weird that here was this Chinese-looking girl who only spoke English. Though later I did pick up a bit of Mandarin, sadly I don't read and write it. But it was great to meet and mix with people of a different culture.
The highlight of my stay was my teacher, who taught me the Russian Yankelevich method of playing the violin. It makes you relax while playing, which is a healthy approach to playing music. And in Beijing I also started my first menagerie. Although we were living in a hotel, first with my mother and then my grandmother, and because I love animals, I lived with a hedgehog, some baby chicks that I was given for Easter, some mice that came from a lab somewhere, and a budgie. The Japanese restaurant downstairs in the hotel also gave me some goldfish, and I collected some tadpoles from a pond: it was just fantastic to have animals.
I also take books on holiday. I'm reading Günter Grass's The Tin Drum it's a weird book set in the time of Hitler and the Nazis. It's part of my course for A-level history. But my favourite author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I absolutely love him. I adored his Love in the Time of Cholera and Of Love and Other Demons. He has the gift of describing even the most mundane things in a magical way.
I also take lots of tapes. The thing about music is that you can't say, "I'm not going to listen to any music". It's a part of my professional and personal life. I like having music around me all the time. I take all sorts with me. Old bands such as the Bee Gees, and if I'm going to Barbados, reggae. Or the classical greats such as Heifetz or Kreisler playing concertos. Sometimes solo Bach, which is very cleansing for your system. Or, if I am returning immediately to do a concert, I'll take a score along to study.
And, of course, I take my violin. I have to make sure it's not too humid because that can unstick the glue, or in dry countries to keep it humid so it doesn't crack. Every six months it has to go to a violin doctor for a checkup. Sometimes I manage to practice for an hour, sometimes longer. Playing is such a physical act. But this summer holiday was wicked. I didn't touch my violin for three whole weeks
Vanessa-Mae Nicholson talked to Vanya Kewley
Photograph © Vanya Kewley