updated 03/08/2012 AT 11:40 AM ET
•originally published 03/18/2012 AT 7:00 PM ET
A superstar in her native U.K., singer Katherine Jenkins is one of the biggest music acts to ever come out of Wales, with more than five million albums sold. And while American fans of the show may remember her classical-crossover performance on Dancing with the Stars last season, she’s hoping they’ll get to know her better as a ballroom competitor when the show returns March 19.
“When you step outside of your comfort zone, really good things can happen and I’m honestly having a ball right now,” the mezzo-soprano, 31, says of rehearsing with partner Mark Ballas in London. Before she makes her debut on Dancing, here are five things to know about Jenkins:
1. She’s newly single – but is not dating her partner
Jenkins and Welsh TV host fiancé Gethin Jones broke off their engagement two months ago. “I’m not yet ready [to date],” she says. “It’s all too soon. But I think it’s great to have a new physical challenge, something to throw myself into.” As for rumors she and Ballas are already an item (British tabloids speculated as much after they were photographed getting out of a cab together), she says their pairing is purely professional. “It’s insane,” she says. “I cannot believe how quickly those rumors started.”
2. She’s dined with the Queen
“When you go for lunch with the Queen, you’re trained to make sure that your table manners are up to par,” Jenkins says of her 2009 royal dinner date. “After the main course, they brought ‘round a plate that had some gauze on it, a bowl of water and a platter of fruit. I thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that!’ ” But it was the Queen who came to her rescue. “Her majesty … helped me out and showed me what I needed to do,” she says. “Wash the fruit in the bowl and clean it with the gauze.”
3. She’s been pescatarian for five years
Fish is the only meat Jenkins eats. “It’s not for animal rights – it’s something I tried and it seemed to suit me,” she says of her diet, which will get a boost when she heads to Los Angeles for Dancing. “I love sushi, and I know you have the best, best sushi in L.A.”
“Because I sing classical and opera, people assume that’s all I listen to. But I’m like any other girl of my age. I like to go out and dance with my friends and listen to pop music. I love everything from hip-hop and rap to jazz, blues, R&B, anything,” she says. “I love Nicki Minaj, love Beyoncé, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.”
5. She survived a missile attack
Jenkins, who’s sung for troops everywhere from Kosovo to Afghanistan, won’t stop even if it means putting herself in danger, she says, recalling a close call in Iraq. “We were traveling across Basrah, Iraq, and the helicopter we were traveling in got fired at by a ground-to-air missile. I really thought that maybe that was it,” she says. “But … when you’re out with the military, you’re in the very best of hands, and they managed to get us out of the situation and they landed us safe.”
Why does she do it?
“People who put their lives on the line and are away from their family to serve their country is an amazing thing,” she says. “I hope in some way to boost morale and to let them know that we are very grateful.”