How Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason's Life Has Changed Since Performing at the Royal Wedding

Bob McClenahan
Bob McClenahan

At just 20 years old, Sheku Kanneh-Mason is taking the world of classical music by storm! The British cellist (who's now often referred to as "Cello Bae") has quickly garnered worldwide praise and recognition after winning the 2016 BBC Young Musician competition, releasing his first album, Inspiration, and, of course, performing at Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's royal wedding in May 2018. I got the chance to chat with Sheku after his spectacular performance with the Havana Chamber Orchestra at Festival Napa Valley on July 13 — we talked about everything from the royal wedding to his latest album, and I can honestly say he's one of the sweetest, most down-to-earth people I've ever met.

Despite the fact that Sheku has become quite a celebrity in his own right, he's clearly unfazed by the fame and just truly enjoys doing what he does, which is playing the cello. "Classical music and the cello have always been a part of my life," Sheku said. "It's always been my goal to share it with as many people as I can." After speaking with him, I totally understand why Meghan and Harry selected him to perform at their wedding. Maybe he can perform at mine next? See what else Sheku had to say ahead!

Bob McClenahan

POPSUGAR: This is your first time in the US. What do you think of Napa Valley so far?

Sheku Kanneh-Mason: I've really loved being here. It's such a beautiful part of America, just the scene, the food, and the wine. It's nice to be somewhere sunny since I live in London, where that rarely happens.

PS: In addition to tonight's performance, you previously performed at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center. How did you get involved with Festival Napa Valley?

SKM: About a year ago, I was asked to play, and I, of course, looked up the place and the festival and was really excited to come here. It's a great fit with what I'm doing now, and I'm glad it worked out.

PS: You've been playing the cello since you were 6. What was it about the cello that attracted you?

SKM: When I first heard a whole orchestra playing, I was particularly attracted to the sound of the cello, and I just wanted to play. I've always enjoyed the sound of it, and at first, it was just a hobby. As I got older, I grew to love it more, and it became something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I'm very lucky to be able to do the thing I love.

Bob McClenahan

PS: It's been a little over a year since you performed at the royal wedding, and you were obviously one of the breakout stars. How has your life changed since then?

SKM: It's been really, really nice. It was such a good opportunity to be able to perform for so many people. What I enjoy most is performing and sharing music that I've been working on and that I love with as many people as I can. Playing at the wedding certainly gave me that opportunity.

PS: You were personally chosen by Prince Harry to perform at the royal wedding after he heard you play at a previous charity concert in London. What was it like to get a phone call from Meghan inviting you to perform?

SKM: It was definitely a surprise. I was just very, very excited when I found out that I was going to be playing. It was something I was looking forward to for a while.

PS: Did you say "yes" right there and then?

SKM: Yeah, I did. Luckily, I was free.

Bob McClenahan

PS: What was it like performing at the royal wedding? Were you nervous or excited?

SKM: I was excited. I've always enjoyed performing, so I don't tend to get nervous.

PS: What was your favorite moment?

SKM: Just getting to play was my favorite part. It was such a beautiful setting and lots of amazing people were there as well. It was great.

PS: Was there a specific song that you were excited to perform?

SKM: Yeah, the first piece I played ("Sicilienne" by Maria Theresia von Paradis). It's by a female composer from the 18th century, and during that time, there weren't very many. It's a beautiful piece of music, and it was special to celebrate the fact that it was written by a woman.

PS: Did you get to stay and enjoy the wedding after the performance? Did you meet anyone exciting? I saw the Clooneys and Beckhams were there.

SKM: Yeah, I could see them while I was playing, but I didn't stay after. I went home and relaxed.

PS: How was your royal wedding performance different than tonight's performance and your previous ones?

SKM: Every performance is different and every audience is different, and that's one of the most special things about music. It's never going to be the same, even if I'm playing the same piece of music, it's different each day. There's always more to discover and the spontaneity of it is really special.

Bob McClenahan

PS: You released your debut album, Inspiration, last year. It charted No. 1 on the classical charts in the US and the UK. Can you tell me who or what inspires you?

SKM: I wanted to record an album that was really about all the things that have inspired me to be the musician I am. That's why the album has such a range of different pieces and different styles of music. When I was younger, cellist Jacqueline du Pré inspired me to practice. She was such an amazing musician, and I wanted to be like her when I was younger. She died much before I was born, so if there were any videos or recordings out there, I would watch them.

PS: What has been your favorite performance to date?

SKM: One of my favorite performances was at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, which is a very historic hall and lots of people have played there. It has amazing acoustics, and I really enjoyed that performance.

Bob McClenahan

PS: At just 20 years old, you've already accomplished so much. You were the first black winner of the 2016 BBC Young Musician Competition; you released your first album; you performed at the royal wedding; and you just made your US debut. Have you had your "I've made it" moment yet?

SKM: I don't know. I always feel there is more to learn and more to discover. I don't think there is a high point necessarily, it's a constant journey with destinations on the way.

PS: What's next for you?

SKM: Lots of other performances around the world, and hopefully, I get to record some more things as well. I don't have any specific plans for that yet, but it will definitely happen soon. Classical music and the cello have always been a part of my life, and it's always been my goal to share it with as many people as I can.