Did you dream of being a star when you were small but have kept your talent hidden? Are you worried it’s too late? In my conversation with soprano Nadine Benjamin you’ll discover how she switched direction at the age of 35 and has since realized her childhood dream. She is such an inspiration! You can listen to the podcast here or via the player at the bottom of this page.
Welcome, Nadine, to The Creative Switch. It’s lovely to have you here.
Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here, Nikki. And thanks for your patience and your wonderful organization of all of this. It’s amazing. Really, really happy to be here.
No problem. Well, we’ve got lots to discuss, and I’m really curious about many aspects of your story, but what I’d like you to do, if you can, is start by telling everybody a little bit about what you do now and who you are.
So. I’m Nadine Benjamin and I’m a professional opera singer in the voice type of a soprano. I’m also what I call a conscious creative leader. And the way I do that is to lead consciously via mentoring and coaching. And so I have a mentorship company called Everybody Can, and I trained as a certified high performance coach, an NLP mind coach, and also as a physical intelligence coach. So I integrate my artistry and coaching to deliver myself in a more higher frequency on stage and also to support others in their own development.
Fantastic. So that’s a lot of different aspects of your current career. I guess I’m a little bit curious to know how long it is in your life since the moment when you realized you liked singing.
Gosh, I think I remember saying I was going to be a star when I was about eight. Seven or eight. I remember saying, I’m going to be a star. I didn’t really know what a star of what whether that was going to be singing or whether that was going to be dancing or acting. I didn’t know what it was going to be because I’ve done all of them, but I just knew that there was a star. I mean, now that I’m this age, I know it’s more about shining my light on whatever level that is, that level of manifestation. But that twinkle started when I was about seven.
So had people been telling you that you had a good voice, or was it that you were just performing generally and getting a really great reaction from people?
I think what happened when I was about three or four or something and I was at a convention with church, there was a pastor on stage. We were in Swanage or somewhere, and he said, there’s a little girl in here, and she has the voice of an angel, and we must hear her sing. And so I ended up singing and being brought up on the stage. I had my red corduroy dress on and blue, little shoes, and I sang I Love Jesus, and everybody got into the Holy Spirit.
Ah. That’s really great.
So that’s the beginning of that feeling of having that inner ability, but not really knowing, of course, at that age, you had no idea what that meant or how you were going to use it.
Yeah, having the twinkle.
Having the twinkle. I love that. So what happened then? Because you didn’t get to where you are straight away, you did some other things in between. So when was the moment when you actually switched into using your voice for your career?
Oh, my gosh. It’s quite complex, but if I can do it in a short, sharp spurt, I ended up on a YTS training scheme doing NVQ Administration level one, two, and three. And I ended up at an architectural company, realized that the woman that I was working for, I could do her job blindfolded, went back to my division and said, how do I learn to be her? And so they put me on the next level of the education of the NVQ, followed by me then being placed in corporate finance.
And that’s when I really got into the world of finance and commercial banking and rights issues and mergers and acquisitions and things like that. Just becoming the right hand person of my boss. And he eventually became my adopted father, actually, because I was only about 15 or 16 and a half when I started with him. And then I moved on onto a trading floor, and I was just about to be given a huge position, FSA exams, start trading, the whole lot. And I was given an option. And at that point, I didn’t know what that option was. And I was 33, 34 at the time.
And he said, look, we’re all in our 40s now. We can’t go back. But I’ve noticed you’ve got this energy. You’re very charismatic. Are you sure this is what you want to do? Is there anything else that you think you could do?
And I said to him, well, my music teacher at secondary school once played me the Queen of the Night’s, aria, from The Magic Flute by Mozart. And she looked at me and she said, you could do this one day. I didn’t know what she meant, but he was like, Go and see. I’m going to leave your job open for you. Go and see if you can do it. And so for two to three months, I, with every bone in my body, focused my attention on how would I start singing, like my music teacher had indicated at the time. And I saw that they were doing Carmen Jones at the Royal Festival Hall. So I just phoned and phoned and phoned until they gave me an audition. And they gave me an audition, and I got in. I got the chorus with one solo line. And at that point, I knew I wasn’t going to go back to banking, so I just knew.
But then from that, I always think work begets work. And artistically, I think it’s really important that regardless of whether we’re doing pro bono work or our own artistic work, that we’re consistently working, because work always begets work. And a guy called Herve Gothing said to me, you should audition for Porgy and Bess and I was like, what’s? Porgy and Bess? And he was like, “It’s this Opera, you’ve got to go, they’re doing it in Lyon, but you have to go and audition at the Opera Bastille in Paris.
And I was just like, OK. So he got me the forms, I filled the forms in and I’d got a coach at the time for Paris with a friend. And then I had no idea what I was doing. I think if I’d known what I was doing, I’d never have done it. And I ended up at the Opera Bastille with a panel of five or six people in front of me willing me to sing. I was so nervous. So they made me sing line by line and I sang line by line. And then after that they said, we’d like to have you. And so I was one of out of 500 that they auditioned, they only chose four or five of us and I was one of those four or five. But while I was there, they made me re audition again. And then I got seven solo lines and I was, Ah, there’s the bait.
I’m a very big pattern person. I look for patterns and indicators. So my first indicator was in the Carmen Jones, but I got one solo line. But then in this Porgy and Bess I’ve got seven solo lines. So I was like, I’m a soloist and so what do I need to do to become a soloist? I wrote a business plan for becoming an opera singer and sent it off to about 150 people and got people to sponsor me
Wow, that’s amazing. So from the sponsorship, what did that give you? What did that enable you to do?
It enabled me to train. I had one woman that sponsored me for the three years in the end, and that sent me off to summer school. It sent me off to work with teachers and coaches on an individual basis because I had also auditioned at all the conservatoires, but I didn’t get into any of them. So I thought, oh, well, okay. I can’t do that. I need to do this another way. I’m a ‘Let’s find the door that opens’ person, not ‘the doors locked and I’m trapped behind it.’ I’m like, ‘there must be another door around here because I’m going in.’ So I’m that kind of person. And yeah, one woman came back to me and that changed my life. It really changed my life, and I’ll be forever grateful for her.
What else do you think has helped you? You had your initial adopted father who said, ‘Come on, you’ve got to try something. There’s something here that you got to do something with.’ And you found that thing and then you applied your business knowledge and you thought, okay, I’m going to combine that and get my supporters. So you got your sponsorship. What else do you think you did that’s helped you get where you are now?
My training as a coach, I think. Also therapy, going into different levels of therapy. I’ve done Gestalt therapy, I’ve done transpersonal psychotherapy, I’ve done cognitive behavioral therapy, I’ve done EMDR, anything that kind of gets me to the next level. I’ve followed great people who I love, like Brendan De Chard. I’ve gone and spent ten days with Lisa Nichols. I’ve gone and spent ten days with Byron Katie. I’ve gone and spent 20 days with Tony Robbins. All of these people really, their methods, because everybody has their own method, just got me out of my own comfort zone.
It meant that and especially NLP, actually, if I’m honest, I did that with the Irish Institute of NLP, and Richard Bandler was one of the ones that signed my certificate with Brian Colbert and Owen Fitzpatrick. But it was really great to start off with NLP because I read the book by Tony Robbins, Unlimited Power, and I think when I read that book, Unlimited Power, I know that that had some negative connotations for him, but actually, for me, it opened me up into a new way of thinking that I didn’t know existed. I felt like a child in a candy store. I was like, oh, my God, I can make my brain do all of these things and I can apply them. Oh, my goodness, how do I start? Where do I start? And that has actually followed me for the whole of my life. So if there was one ingredient that I would never miss, it was that study of NLP.
So obviously you have that skill to be able to help other people realize their dreams, but because you know that it’s part of you and you can apply it to your own situations and your own challenges and things like that.
Yeah, that’s why I naturally became a coach. There was no way I wasn’t going to become a coach. So there was a lot of struggle as a creative, because the social norm or the social stereotype is, if you do any other job but your creativity, then you’re not a creative. But we’re all creative. Yeah. So the thing is, I need the thing that’s going to light my fire. I’m not into fighting for things that’s just not how I work, but I am into switching myself on, lighting my fire, activating myself, so that I’m at my best in all the opportunities around me that I can possibly have. And one of the things that I realized for myself is the struggle that I had was, oh, my gosh, but I can’t coach and be and opera singer, because if I’m a coach and not for singer, I’m not going to be taken seriously.
But then what I started to see was, again, the pattern of the way that these two things inform each other. I become a better character on stage because I know my own self very well through the vehicle of mentoring and coaching. I’m then a better colleague, a better peer. And then when other people are in front of me, I know how to, you have the creative switch, I know that they can. Everybody can. I know how to turn that key and unlock who they are, because my intuition is with them at the drop of a hat. When you’re that connected to your own self, your own mind, your own body, wow, you open Pandora’s box into a world that you didn’t even know existed.
So are you someone who wants to apply that to people coming behind you? That sort of path? And there were other people who maybe even don’t know that path exists. Are you trying to reach out to other people to say, hey, guys, I’ve learned this thing, and this is what I do? And did you know you can do that? Did you know you’re allowed to work in corporate banking, do really well, and go, no, this isn’t for me? So few people would even contemplate switching at that point.
Yeah. Well, my thing is that I support what I call the forgotten age group, and they are the group between 35 to kind of 75. Now, it used to be 35 to 65, but with our world consciousness and the way things are working now, it has stretched on by another ten years. But for me, it’s because they inform our younger population, and they inform our older population as well. And so 35 is when I kind of really officially started, and I found all the people that I admired, like Maria Callas and Martina Arroyo and Leontyne Price, they all had mentors. And I was like, oh, well, where are they now?
I felt that people either took you on sometimes because they wanted to look good, or you made them look good. There was no kind of I just want to pass on my trade. And I recognized that the value of what I had experienced, which was my business side, and I said, Actually, in terms of mentorship, I can’t offer someone how to be an opera singer, but I can offer them that acumen that an opera singer doesn’t necessarily get. So that’s when I started, Everybody Can, because I realized, absolutely, I can support that. And while I’m learning all the other creative stuff as well, I can pass that on when I get to where I was to be. I’m now where I was to be, so whoever now works with me in terms of mentorship gets this double miracle potion, basically, which is fantastic.
I totally agree with you. I think that some of us well, actually all of us are pigeonholed, and I think none of us are one thing. And of course, the sum of who you are is what makes you unique and helps you give your gifts to the world. So, yeah, convention says you got to have one career. Well, I don’t agree with that. I’ve changed direction four times. And in any case, all those four things, if I look back, connect with each other and help me to offer what I offer now.
So I do the same thing. I coach and mentor people who are writers, but who want it to become something more than just a way of expressing themselves. They want to actually publish something. It’s creative writers because I think there’s lots of people now who write. And it’s great that you can self publish and you can have a business book that tells people the model of what you do and how you do it and what makes you unique.
But I think the creative writing is something that a lot of people want to do but hide because they’ve been told at some point they’re not good enough at it or whatever. There’s lots of judgment around. And so I’m like you. I don’t teach people how to write. I’m not trained to do that. I know what I know, and I can pass that on. And I absolutely do. All the things I’ve learned, I pass that on. But actually what I do is help them unlock all the blocks, change the mindset, tap into all the stuff I’ve learned through my coaching training so that they can then take that away and not be dependent on me. They’ve learned what works for them and they can use that in their model of going forward, how they’re going to continue with their career. So I think it’s absolutely the two things.
I’m sure you found this, I don’t want to presume, I’m going to ask you, how many of the people you interact with who are creatives actually have any kind of business thinking?
Not many, actually. Not as much as I would like. And I don’t really like to say business either, because the word derives from busyness, which also means anxiety. So I always say that I have a creative company rather than say that I’m a business person. I’m a creative person who understands the pathway to what we need to do. So our language, as you know, Nikki, is really important how we speak to ourselves and the words that we use repeatedly to instill in the brain.
But I feel that creatives now are becoming a lot more savvy about this side of their career and recognizing that in terms of who they are, they are actually a product, Mozart knew that, Bach knew that. Composers and film people and actors, they all know that they are some form of product. Whether we like that or not, that is the truth. We live in a society that sees us like that in lots of ways.
But I think what’s really important is around this therapeutic side and this coaching side that we were just talking about, is that the person also knows themselves like that because when they really know themselves like that, they know what their value is. And I think that’s the kind of cross line. The through line, it’s not just about, oh, I’m a product, so I’m to be passed around and not cared about. No.
It’s yes, you understand what’s on the external side. On your internal side, you know your worth, but it’s about communicating that value and allowing that yourself to also be respected, taken care of, but also the professionalism in that value place as well.
Yeah, totally agree with you. I’m curious because you did mention there how you melded the two parts. It’s more than two parts, more than two things, but those two obvious sides to your company. How do you juggle the creative path and the mentoring path, how you spend your time and how do they weave into each other?
Well, if I coach, I normally coach on Sundays, or if I mentor, I normally do that on Sundays because it’s the only day as an artist that I’m able to have that where I know I’m definitely not going to be in a show. And I feel that consistency is really important. Otherwise, I’m quite maybe like you, I’m kind of an early riser as well. So I was up at 4:30 this morning, started traveling at 5:10. So I would see people between those hours, between 5am and 8am, because I know how important our work is. And our work requires that level of consistency and just accountability so that person knows that we are walking alongside them. So that was how I would spend my kind of time in that world.
But then as an artist, I think I just naturally do that anyway. So in my artistic time, somebody always comes up and asks me a question. I get loads of emails, I’m doing interviews, or even in my daily work and rehearsals. And the work that I do, it’s just a natural occurrence of who I am. For me, who I’ve become is they’re not separate, i can’t switch it off because it’s an innate part of who we are as coaches and as mentors. But if I was to see someone on a corporate level, those are the hours that I’d use to facilitate their needs. So that does mean that I can’t see many people. So it’s not something that I do for everyone because I don’t have that time. And I do see the value in what I give. And I also know that the people that come to you have to be ready to take it on as well.
Totally. That is the biggest pre qualifier, actually. As you say, you’ve got limited time. One to one time is very precious. But actually the biggest question to clients is, are you going to be able to use this? Because it’s very valuable. But unless you’re ready to change through the process, then come back to me when you are. That’s absolutely the thing that we have to do.
What about talking about your whole career now, not just the current situation? What about with a creative career, the patience that you need to have and the faith in yourself that it will come? You talked a little bit about it earlier with being one of those people who will find a way, if the door is locked, to get round, under…
I think you have to make a decision whether you’re into the short game, the long game. For me, it was always about longevity. I had a vision, and my vision was to become one of the world’s 10% top coaches. I’ve done it. My other thing was to be one of Britain’s greatest Verdi sopranos. I’m just about hitting that now. So it was really about having my eyes on where I wished to go.
But not to get so caught up in the goal that I didn’t take into account the journey because my journey as Mary King, a wonderful vocal coach, she always used to say, ‘you’re going to get these curveballs’ and now I’m reaching other levels, you’re also going to get these, bob Proctor used to say ‘terror barriers’. So when we’re growing and evolving, you’ve got to just be comfortable with knowing that some things are going to take longer to get to than you thought. There’s going to be people that get in your way, there’s going to be your own growth moments that are going to get in your way. There are going to be maybe life moments, like starting a family, returning to education. I’m just about to return to education.
Oh, that’s exciting.
Yeah, because I’ve been chosen by the Global Leaders Institute to do an arts MBA and they’ve chosen 60 countries and I’ll be representing the UK in that. So it’s really amazing. But again, they only gave me half a scholarship, so I had to say, okay, so how do I ask for support? Other people are going to want to support this journey that I’m doing, because they know once I achieve this, I’m going to help thousands of people. So I just put out a small Go Fund me, actually. It’s really lovely to be supported and I’m nearly there, so I’ve been able to pay my first tranche of my MBA and so I start at the end of August. I’m really excited.
Oh, yes! I have, deep down, I don’t know what yet, I’m waiting for the opportunity to present itself, but I have always known that I wanted to do a second degree, mainly because my first degree, although I thoroughly enjoyed the subject and obviously I enjoyed being at university, I didn’t ever want to be a scientist in a lab. I chose chemistry because I was good at it, but I think because I didn’t do a degree that I absolutely knew was what I wanted to then take forward, or related to what I wanted to take forward, there’s always been that thing in the back of my mind thinking, when it comes, I’ll be ready. I’ll be ready to do that.
But I think fundamentally, that’s the best degree that you could have taken with the pathway that you’re on now, because research and scientists always keep digging, and there’s always a new answer, there’s always a new moment, there’s always a new place to go. You find a result of one thing, you settle. You stay in that for a little while, and then you find a new result of a new thing, or you deepen the development of the result that you found in the first place. I’ve got a huge catchphrase, and I always say to people, be the scientist of your mind. I’ve had that catchphrase forever. Be the scientist of your mind. I think that’s one of the best degrees that you could ever have ever done to start your life off with.
Yeah, I definitely feel like there’s creativity everywhere. As you said before, creativity is being human, actually.
We have to use our brains creatively in every moment of our lives, when we’re trying to decide what to do. And so I certainly don’t think that education should be all STEM or science. We need those skills. Absolutely we do. But to help those people be the best scientists, engineers, whatever, they also need to access their creativity. And I think a broad education is absolutely what you need.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think the way that we access it, I accessed it through my voice. We find ways to access our creativity because, as you say, it’s a naturally divine gift that each person has, which is so exciting. And going back to education, my thought process around Everybody Can, I didn’t get a chance to go to university. I came from a family where you cared about the roof over your head, shoes on your feet, clothes on your back, food in your stomach. That was it. So to actually be able to go and do that now is amazing. If anybody’s listening, do not put limitations on where you’ve been. Anything is possible. Think how limitless you are and get really curious about discovering new pathways, even the ones that you don’t even know are there yet.
Totally. So I have one question I ask everybody, and it’s going to be a new segment normally fed through the group, because I’ve got a free Facebook group that matches the podcast for people to carry on the conversation and connect with all the people who might be able to help them access their creativity. But a lot of people have told me that somewhere in their time, if they haven’t yet connected with their creativity, it’s because they had a Doubting Doris so a person or possibly even themselves, that said, “Hmm, nah, you can’t do that.” Have you ever had anybody in your life that’s been like that? And if you have, how have you dealt with them?
I think I see Doubting Doris’s or Doubting Bob’s, whoever they are, as they have been my greatest gift at the pivotal moments. They were huge in the way that I changed my life.
My biggest doubting person was somebody who said to me, ‘You will never sing opera. Go and sing jazz.’ They tapped into the stereo type of me being a black woman and I had no place in opera. That was what they tipped into. And when I first had that, it was around the same time as I didn’t get into the conservatoires as well. So, I thought ah, there’s a message here. And I stood at a bus stop and I cried. I remember just, I can feel it now. I was standing and I was crying. And I was crying. I was wow. Because that felt like a huge rejection of myself on every level.
But then with, always with Nadine Benjamin, with every rejection afterwards comes a huge thunder. I get this roar of the gods that happens within me. And I was just, OK, then you’re telling me it’s not possible, you’re telling me I should go and sing jazz and I’ll never be an opera singer. Watch me.
And that was it. So they’re my greatest, they have been actually my greatest gifts. All the people who have promised, oh, I’ll support you and I’ll do that… And months later, years later, you’re going, I thought they said that they were going to do… but really they just wanted to keep you in the same space so you didn’t evolve, so you didn’t intimidate or get better than them.
I always talk about compare and despair. We can never be the same as someone else. Stop watching other people. Get on with your own journey. Get on with your own gift. I have my soul. It’s mine, all the DNA in it. The way I’m constructed is not going to be the same as anyone else’s in the world. So I don’t have time to live in someone’s own limitations of what they believe something is. I don’t make other people’s opinions become my reality.
No. So if people want to find you, if they want to follow you, if they want to see you perform, how do they know what you’re up to? Where do they connect with you?
So my website for my singing and everything is nadinebenjamin.com. For the mentoring side, it’s everybodycan.com. And on Instagram, I am @Nadinebenjaminsopprano. And some Everybody Can stuff is @everybodycanwithNadineBenjamin on Instagram.
Okay, so definitely Instagram is your place. It’s out of all of the different social media.
I mean, I’m on Facebook as well, so you can find me as Nadine Benjamin on Facebook. But I’m still working out social media. Again as a creative as you know Nikki, there are many ways. I’ve got a podcast as well with my dear friend Darren Abrahams called the Conscious Creative Leader Podcast. And that we’ve got a new season coming out in a couple of weeks time. You can also find me on there with Darren Abrahams as well. He’s a wonderful peer of mine.
So I just think the visibility aspect we didn’t talk about this, Nikki, but I think this is really important, the visibility aspect of being a creative.
You talked about people doubting us or people doubting me, but one of the ways that I recognized I was doubting myself was by being invisible. And actually when you take the courage to jump into the space of visibility, you realize then that even if you’re just helping one person, your message is vital in the world. Your visibility is really important as a creative being, as a creative soul.
Your work needs to be seen. Your books need to be read. Your voice needs to be heard. Your speech, your Ted Talk needs to be heard. Your dance moves need to be seen, your acting needs to be seen and heard. We need you. You are a vehicle for us to understand life problems, patterns, things are worked out through how we deliver our creativity and our artistry.
Wow, that’s a powerful thing to end on. Thank you so much, Nadine. I hope we will speak again. I’m sure we will. I don’t think our paths are meant to diverge from this point.
No, I don’t think so either. And yeah, I’ll be very interested to keep having this conversation with you and maybe get you on our podcast as well.
That would be fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today on The Creative Switch.
Not at all. Thank you. Take care.
Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Creative Switch. If you enjoyed it, please leave a review over on podchaser.com. And if you’ve got any questions, please let me know on Twitter @nikki_vallance. You can also head to nikkivallance.com to join The Creative Switch community.
Tune in for the final episode of the season where actor, author, coach and founder of the Happy Me Project, Holly Matthews shares how creativity and creative thinking have been the constant thread through life’s tragedies and celebrations. And remember, Why Survive When You Can Thrive?