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Cool Daddio! Jon Snow gets star jazz billing

The Channel 4 newsreader is to be opening act at London festival

From Cleo Laine to Jamie Cullum, British jazz has had its fair share of big names – but, for one night only, that name will be none other than Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow. The veteran anchorman will be possibly the most unlikely opening act in the history of London's Jazz Festival.

Though it is not widely known, Snow has a solid musical background and was once a talented schoolboy chorister who gave solo performances before large audiences at Winchester Cathedral.

He will duet with the acclaimed singer-songwriter Mara Carlyle for the opening night of the capital's annual jazz extravaganza. So secret has been the planning for the upcoming performance that even his family was kept in the dark.

Snow and Carlyle, who met and became friends through their involvement with a charity for the homeless, are planning to perform a selection of songs, including classics by Duke Ellington and Gershwin.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, the 65-year-old broadcaster said: "I'm probably rash to be accepting the challenge. Fortunately, I'm only doing two numbers, but I'm excited about it. It's going to be tough practising because I'm going to be covering the US elections at the same time. We're going to try to rehearse over the phone by Skype."

He admitted: "I'm going to be absolutely shaking and nervous."

At the age of eight Snow won a full scholarship to The Pilgrims' School, the choir school of Winchester Cathedral. "I could sing as a child and I could harmonise," recalls Snow. "I kept it up until university, but then I let it drop because I started to do different jobs that didn't make it easy to do music."

Snow rediscovered his musical talent after meeting Carlyle at the New Horizon Youth Centre in Euston, north London, of which he was the chairman. The pair soon began performing at a string of charity fundraising gigs.

"He's got this background in harmony, so we realised we could sing together. He's got a lovely voice – it's as simple as that," said Carlyle. "I knew music was a part of his life that he really missed, so it's nice to see that part of him come alive again."

A man of many parts

* Snow was Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, 2001-2008.

* He is chairman of the New Horizon Youth Centre which helps vulnerable young people.

* He is patron of the charity Trees for Cities.

* He was the president of the Cyclists' Touring Club.

* Snow has been a school governor in Camden, north London.

* He is an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

* He was a trustee of the Tate gallery and the National Gallery, 1999-2008.

* And Snow was chairman of the Prison Reform Trust, 1992-1997.

Jon Snow and Mara Carlyle will perform at the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre as part of the London Jazz Festival on 9 November