The trumpet soloist, who is redefining the image of the instrument, is usually styled in Armani gowns and lipgloss: the archetypal classical Glamazon. I didn’t celebrate, I just wanted to go to bed,’ she says.
In real life, she’s a bare-faced, jumpered and bejeaned tomboy. She rolls her eyes when I say how energetic she seems today.
And I loved having special treatment at school: “Excuse me Miss, I need to skip PE because I’ve got a trumpet lesson.”’ She played in Royston’s brass band, alongside Richard on his tuba, and for the National Youth Orchestra.
At Hills Road, she was so focused on her future and the post A-level scholarship she’d already won to Guildhall that she didn’t bother making friends. Alison had decided very young – at the age of nine, when she first heard the Swedish trumpet soloist Hakan Hardenberger (with whom she later studied) – that she wanted to be a soloist, not a bit-part in some orchestra’s brass section. While there’s a musical rapport when we’re playing, there’s no bonding.
Overall, she comes across as a woman who’s so in control it’s exhilarating to see.
‘I’m really loving being a single mother,’ she agrees. I’m not looking for my life to be different to what it is now. Besides, I haven’t got time to watch the episodes of Mad Men waiting for me on DVD, let alone go on a date.’She says her job has made her formidably independent. You always know that on the outside, for the long game, you need to exude confidence and positivity.
He was trying to keep this child alive and he couldn’t.
‘He’s a gentle person, but he also has this incredible drive and charisma, which he doesn’t always show in day-to-day life, but really uses on stage. If someone was to describe my personality, they would also be describing the way I play the trumpet, and vice versa.’ (She once said, ‘The trumpet is extrovert and physical, and many girls are too.’ Is this a self-description?
Since the break-up of her relationship with Edward Gardner, English National Opera’s charismatic 37-year-old music director, she’s been a single mother to their son Charlie, who’s not yet two.
At the same time, she’s been moving into a home of her own in Dulwich, South London, as well as flying to the US to complete a three-week concert tour and recording a new album, Seraph: Trumpet Concertos, which includes some of the most technically challenging music ever written for the instrument.‘I had to practise on the day I moved into my new house, because I was about to hit the US.
After Guildhall she spent a year at the Paris Conservatoire, which trained her as a virtuoso rather than an ensemble player. We chat about how orchestras transform into a continuous nomadic party when on tour; Alison says the reason is their need for strong bonds. The closest it comes is a polite handclap when I’m introduced to them, but you can practically hear what they’re thinking: “Are you any good?
‘You wouldn’t believe their stamina: a concert of the highest quality, partying till whatever hour, back on the bus at seven in the morning. If you’re not, we’ll let you know.” It’s not, “Oh, that person must be scared, let’s give her support.” The judging is very cool and detached.