How We Met: Jon Snow & Mara Carlyle

Mara Carlyl, 36

A singer-songwriter, Carlyle is also a part-time counsellor at New Horizon Youth Centre in King's Cross, a day centre working with young people who are vulnerable, homeless or at risk. She lives in London

I was an advice worker for New Horizon and Jon, as the centre's chairman, would swish in and out for meetings. The first time I spoke to him was a Christmas Day shift 10 years ago. He came into the kitchen wearing a mustard-coloured waistcoat, holding a lump of Stilton and bellowing: "Cheese?" It was surreal.

When I gave him a copy of my first record, in 2004, he was complimentary about it, and a few years later he asked me to sing at Downing Street for a New Horizon fundraising event. We got chatting on the way there, and realised we had a mutual friend he hadn't seen for years, so I arranged for us to all meet up, and our friendship took off from there.

He gets asked to do a lot of fundraising, so he began inviting me to sing at other events, and during our chats I discovered a musical side to him. He was a chorister at Winchester when he was a kid, so I was determined to get him involved. He was like, "Darling don't be silly, I can't sing." But he has a fine voice– a really resonant baritone, just like his speaking voice.

I convinced him to record a duet with me, a Gillian Welch track called "Dear Someone" and we now sing it at various events. Jon's a proper show-off; when he's come to my gigs, he's even jumped up on stage to join in, which is brilliant.

Jon has been relentlessly supportive. My second album was supposed to come out a few years ago but it got caught up in all that EMI chaos in 2008 [when the label was the subject of a takeover] but he was always saying to me, "Come on, darling, it's going to be fine, you can't keep good talent down." And when he chose my song for Desert Island Discs, in February, I was deeply honoured.

His enthusiasm is infectious – it's like being around a bounding Labrador puppy. He's like family to me, but he thinks I'm a total lazy arse. I don't get out of bed in the mornings and by the time I do get up, he'll have been for a run, cooked breakfast and written an article.

I'm a terrible time-keeper, too, so if I'm meeting Jon for dinner, I have Channel 4 News on in the background – as long as he's still on telly, I'm not running too late.

Jon Snow, 63

A journalist, Snow has presented 'Channel 4 News' for the past 21 years. He is also the chairman of New Horizon Youth Centre. He lives in London with his wife

I became aware of Mara 10 years ago when she joined New Horizon. She was a good worker but that's as far as my knowledge of her went; I had no clue she was a remarkable singer. After a year someone in the centre handed me a CD of songs she'd sung, which was fantastic, so I confronted her and we got talking.

We realised we had a lot in common as we'd both been classically trained: I had been a chorister and she went though music school. I suggested she should sing at a profile-raiser for New Horizon at 10 Downing Street and she totally stole the show; Ed Miliband even asked for her number. She's got an incredible range, from the small and extraordinarily controlled to the really big, strong voice.

Over time I got to know her and her boyfriend Sam, who comes from Martha's Vineyard [in the US state of Massachusetts], while I go each year to [nearby] Cape Cod. Mara and Sam's entire family came over to stay with us once and they all jammed in the garden and put on a concert.

She's reawakened music in me.I had consigned that part of my life to history but she persuaded me to sing with her; it feels so natural and it takes me back to being 12 years old in Winchester Cathedral, where I'd perform every day. She's even goaded me into coming up on stage and singing at her gigs. Wild horses wouldn't have dragged me up there a few years before.

I live a very ordered life and in lots of ways I'm the complete antithesis of Mara. She ranges between completely focused and totally out to lunch. She lives in the moment, so you could never say at the beginning of the week, "Would you like to meet on Friday?" Friday is too far away for her, and she never answers her phone, so she's not someone you can pin down.

But somehow we meet in the middle over music, New Horizon and friendship. She's become very close with lots of my friends. There's just something truly deep about her I can't quite put my finger on. And the fact that she works with vulnerable people at the day centre makes her a fantastic listener; when my previous marriage broke down, she was good to talk to; I'm not quite as good a listener. Am I a father figure? My mental age is not enough to warrant that.

'Life Cycle', an opera commissioned by Opera North Projects, starring Mara Carlyle, will be performed at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival (www.nnfestival.org.uk) on 11 May and Opera North in Leeds ( www.operanorth.co.uk) on 27 May

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