Hayley Westenra admits 'breakdown'

OPENING UP: Kiwi songbird Hayley Westenra has confessed that she suffered a breakdown in 2009 due to eating issues.
OPENING UP: Kiwi songbird Hayley Westenra has confessed that she suffered a breakdown in 2009 due to eating issues.

Kiwi songbird Hayley Westenra is "on top of the world" again following a breakdown in 2009, her father says.

Westenra confessed earlier this week that she suffered a "breakdown" and became "self-destructive" due to eating problems.

The 24-year-old singer, who has sold more albums than any other soprano in the past 10 years, told The Telegraph the pressure of living in the public eye and keeping to an intense performance schedule led to a meltdown in early 2009.

"That's what I thought I was going through," she said. "I told my family, 'That's it, the end'."

Westenra said the danger signs were there several years before when she started to obsess over what she ate.

"Initially I thought it was healthy. I wouldn't have dairy, I wouldn't have sugar. When you reach about 18 you stop being able to eat what you want. I saw a picture and I thought I looked full of puppy fat."

She said she got into the habit of not eating much and only having boiled vegetables, nuts and seeds.

When she contacted bronchitis towards the end of 2008, she finally decided to cancel the remaining dates of a tour and returned to New Zealand where she was suddenly hit by an enormous wave of exhaustion.

Westenra's father Gerald told Stuff from her hometown of Christchurch that when she arrived in New Zealand she "felt pretty down".

"She never cancelled anything before and that made her feel equally as bad, so it probably compounded the problem."

He said Westenra was now doing great and was "on top of the world".

At the time however, Westenra said she got really depressed. "I convinced myself that I could never go back. Usually if I'm ill I eat healthy food, but [instead] I thought, 'I don't want to go back on stage, I want to eat ice cream and chocolate biscuits'.

"I might actually have partaken of some McDonald's. Not too [often] because that would require me to go out to get it. Most of the time I was walking around the house, hoodie up, eating all the naughty things that were in the house. I couldn't help myself. I couldn't stop.

"It was as if I didn't want to get better, I didn't want to be able to perform. I became self-destructive and it was a vicious cycle. You're tired, you eat really bad food, you feel worse, then you eat more. I wasn't sleeping," she said.

Then, two of her friends died in a road accident within weeks of each other, one in New Zealand and one in Croatia.

Their deaths forced her to re-evaluate her own life, and she rediscovered her "passion" for performance.

 "I realised how important singing was for me. To do a show, to get the applause. New [tour] dates were confirmed and I thought, 'That's it; I'm going to get my act together'," she said.

Gerald Westenra she his daughter "definitely didn't have an eating problem" now.

"She probably just wasn't eating as well as she should have been. I think she came home to New Zealand and sort of reassessed things.

"When you get sick you start to look at your life and think 'where can I improve on it,' and she probably looks back and thinks 'well I probably wasn't eating as well as I should have been'."

Westenra last week was named the official voice of the Rugby World Cup for UK broadcaster ITV.

Her version of the song World in Union will accompany ITV's coverage of the tournament, which runs between September 9 and October 23.

Westenra, who has sung the New Zealand national anthem at test matches in the past, is based in London.