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Gareth Malone tells of Devon move to help set up Military Wives Choir

Renowned choirmaster Gareth Malone has said he did not realise what he was getting himself into when he moved his wife and new baby to Devon to work with the first Military Wives Choir.

He said the experience more than five years ago enabled him to relate more closely to what the singers were going through as they sang in support of men in the Forces.

Speaking on the Christmas Day episode of BBC Radio 4's Desert Island discs, he told Kirsty Young: "I didn't realise what I was getting into.

"It was very tough on my wife (Becky Malone), but it was ultimately what these women were going through, so it helped me to understand them and them to understand me."

Describing his decision to accept the group's invitation as "very difficult," he added that he felt it would be a "tough" and "grown-up challenge".

The choir's first single, Wherever You Are, made it to Christmas number one in 2011, but Malone revealed he first considered Paul Mealor's Now Sleeps The Crimson Petal.

He picked the track as one of his chosen discs.

Malone, 41, also picked George Butterworth's Is My Team Ploughing, the song he performed at his grandmother's funeral in 2008.

"I have never had a more powerful experience of that actual pain and inability to sing," he said. "My father joined in, but that made it worse."

The choirmaster and broadcaster began his television career in 2007 on the BBC show The Choir, an opportunity which he said he "jumped on" because of his "need to be in charge."

But he admitted the move from singing in a choir to being in front of a camera was a "wrench," adding: "I remember having real pangs...I badly missed it."

Moving from London to Bournemouth with his parents as a child, Malone made his mark on those around him from an early age and described how he was "not what the boys at school thought was safely male".

His younger self, he said was "a bit sheltered ... part Lord Fauntleroy", and "must have seemed odd".

But after growing up in a family of performers, with his parents meeting at an amateur dramatics society, he described how he felt singing to be a "visceral communication" all people are capable of.

"I feel sorry for people who limit (their singing)," he continued. "You need to use the instrument. If you don't spin the hard drive often enough it's going to crash."

But he also revealed that he plans to take a six-month career break in the new year to "consider what it is I want to do next", after an intense year that became "a drain on emotional resources".

Concluding his appearance on the programme, he said he would relish the opportunity to be cast away because he loves to be alone, but asked for the luxury item of a piano with some sheet music.

"I would be happy to swim out to rescue the odd music book," he finished.

:: For the full programme tune into BBC Radio 4 at 11:15am on Sunday.

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