She’s the mezzo soprano who helped bring Bizet’s “Carmen” to the ukulele stage provoking rapturous applause and standing ovations. Let’s find out a little more about Ms Harkett…

We all know and love you as the talented half of Opera-lele, but there’s a whole host of other artistic traits behind those glamorous dresses. Tell us all about your exploits with panto, crystals and acting?

You can certainly say I get around a lot (not like that! Behave!)

I trained as a classical singer but at university I was also known to enjoy being in musicals and once my training was done I decided to move more in that direction.

I was in professional pantos for 4 years in Margate which was an amazing experience and I really got to enjoy playing some wonderfully weird characters!

I have also known to do a bit of acting too. I have been a murder mystery actor for the past 8 years and also been in various shows and interactive theatre productions. I also feature in videos for an escape room in Kent.

What I am most proud of, however, is that I have been a Maze Master at The Crystal Maze Live Experience in London for the past 2 and a half years. I was a MASSIVE fan of the TV show when I was a kid so to be part of a live experience that recreates my favourite show… How could I not love it! pinch myself every day and give my nine year old self a high five!

How did you travel from a classically trained singer to a ukulele performer?

So when I originally trained I found myself spending more time in the drama department more than the music department. Opera didn’t feel as fulfilling as being in a musical. That feeling for 3 years led me to a Masters degree in Musical Theatre at The Central School of Speech And Drama. This degree trained me to create as well as perform… Make your own work. That kind of stuck with me for many years as I transitioned through many weird phases…. I was the lead singer in an amazing metal band for two years and part of a folk/rock collective. Both taught me so much about live music and performing.

It was after all of this I took my love of the ukulele into my work. I was part of the three piece girl uke/harmony group ArteMiss and then played the role of Muffy Martini in The Martini Encounter, a ukulele cabaret collective. We played the Edinburgh Fringe and Glastonbury which was truly amazing. All whilst this was going on I starting writing songs on my ukulele and soon into this i was invited to a ukulele open mic happening near my hometown. It so happened a certain Mr George Bartle was on the line up… after a few pints after performing our solo sets and realising we were also trained classical singers… the idea was born!

Opera-lele is, without question, a triumph. What do you think have been the keys to that success & where can you take it next?

Hard work, perseverance, friendship and trust. We both work damn hard at what we create on stage and we rely on each other to keep the energy and fun! If one of us does something wrong or out of the blue on stage we honestly tell each other if it worked or it didn’t. Leaving ego at the door and working out what is best for the act is crucial. George’s skill and wealth of musical experience and my theatre background complement each other perfectly. We trust in each others experience and also embrace the chaos we create. I know what we do is ridiculous and silly but it can also be moving and magical and I couldn’t do it without my best mate by my side (Don’t tell him that though cos’ his head won’t fit through the door).

It’s a cliched question, but you’re a musically complex gal, so I’d like to know who you consider your influences are in all aspects of your artistic achievements?

Joan Turner. If you don’t know her… look her up! A wonderful soprano but with an edge of wit that I have never seen in any other performer. A phenomenal talent who I admire greatly. I also love many wonderful performers such as Victoria Wood, Catherine Tate and Julie Walters.

Musically… I have so many! Alanis Morissette, Portishead and the amazing Glaswegian electro pop outfit bis were the sounds of my teens but I also loved musicals from a very young age. Les Mis and Phantom have always been my top 2. I also listen to metal and ska punk. Within Temptation & Reel Big Fish are two bands I still can’t get enough of.

When George isn’t looking, you engage is solo uke performing too. Given time, where would you like to take that side of your career?

I love doing solo stuff but yeah…. no time at the moment! I have enough songs for an EP but I’m a little nervous to go out on my own and record it. Maybe in the future I’ll give it a go! There are so many amazing solo uke female artists out there that I don’t feel I could be among that list… Perhaps I need a good kick up the bum and get it done… watch this space I guess!

To find out more about Mandi, the Opera-lele website and Mandi’s Facebook page are excellent places to start.

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