When Darius Campbell sang opera with a staggering rendition of 'Nessun Dorma'

18 August 2022, 13:29 | Updated: 18 August 2022, 14:06

The ITV series Popstar to Operstar in January 2010,saw a famous singers from various backgrounds be trained by professional opera singers and give weekly performances in front of a live studio and TV audience.
The ITV series Popstar to Operstar in January 2010,saw a famous singers from various backgrounds be trained by professional opera singers and give weekly performances in front of a live studio and TV audience. Picture: ITV

By Giorgina Hamilton

Darius Campbell may have been known as a popstar, but the singer amazed the world when he became an opera star a blew his critics away.

It was 2010. Apple had just released the first iPad, Lady Gaga had stunned the world with her now infamous meat dress, and across the pond, eight famous UK pop stars begin the daunting task of training to be opera singers.

The ITV series Popstar to Operastar in January 2010, saw famous singers from various backgrounds get trained by professional opera singers and give weekly performances in front of a live studio and TV audience.

Blur's Alex James, The Saturdays' Vanessa White, McFly's Danny Jones, Shakespears Sister's Marcella Detroit, Kym Marsh, Jimmy Osmond, and Bernie Nolan were all competing to be the best singing star on the show, but it was one pop star who stood head and shoulders above the rest.

The 2010 series saw the then 29-year-old Darius be trained and judged by some of the most famous names in the operatic, classical and pop world.
The 2010 series saw the then 29-year-old Darius be trained and judged by some of the most famous names in the operatic, classical and pop world. Picture: ITV
Mezzo Soprano Katherine Jenkins, Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón and tenor Alfie Boe were mentors to the singers, sitting on the judging panel alongside Vanessa-Mae, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Meat Loaf.
Mezzo Soprano Katherine Jenkins, Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón and tenor Alfie Boe were mentors to the singers, sitting on the judging panel alongside Vanessa-Mae, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Meat Loaf. Picture: ITV
Darius Danesh Campbell, famous for his Britney Spears cover of 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' stunned the audience with his operatic voice, ultimately winning the entire show and plaudits even from his fiercest critics.
Darius Danesh Campbell, famous for his Britney Spears cover of 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' stunned the audience with his operatic voice, ultimately winning the entire show and plaudits even from his fiercest critics. Picture: ITV

Darius Danesh Campbell, famous for his Britney Spears cover of 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' on Simon Cowell's Pop Idol in 2001 and his subsequent smash hit single 'Colourblind', stunned the audience with his operatic voice, ultimately winning the entire show and plaudits even from his fiercest critics.

The 2010 series saw the then 29-year-old Darius be trained and judged by some of the most famous names in the operatic, classical and pop world.

Mezzo-Soprano Katherine Jenkins, Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón and tenor Alfie Boe were mentors to the singers, sitting on the judging panel alongside Vanessa-Mae, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Meat Loaf.

The 8-week show was presented by Smooth Radio's Myleene Klass – a classical musician and superstar pianist – and sister station Classic FM's Alan Titchmarsh.

A young Darius, aged just 29 at the time of the series, saw his singing voice strengthen and improve week-on-week until it was so sensational that even the judges found it hard to find anything to critique.
A young Darius, aged just 29 at the time of the series, saw his singing voice strengthen and improve week-on-week until it was so sensational that even the judges found it hard to find anything to critique. Picture: ITV
His version of Puccini's 'Nessum Dorma' – a song the inimitable Pavarotti made his own after popularising it in the 1990s – blew everyone in the studio away. A new opera star had been born.
His version of Puccini's 'Nessum Dorma' – a song the inimitable Pavarotti made his own after popularising it in the 1990s – blew everyone in the studio away. A new opera star had been born. Picture: ITV

A young Darius, aged 29 at the time of the series, saw his singing voice strengthen and improve week-on-week until it was so sensational that even the judges found it hard to find anything to critique.

His version of Puccini's 'Nessun Dorma' – a song the inimitable Pavarotti made his own after popularising it in the 1990s – blew everyone in the studio away. A new opera star had been born.

Whilst it wasn't Darius' first brush with opera, it was certainly the first time the world had talent his talent so seriously.

During his teen years, Darius had a non-singing role in the Scottish Opera 90s production of The Trojans and he also performed in a production of Carmen at Covent Garden Royal Opera House.

After becoming an overnight star in Popstars in 2000, he returned a year later in Pop Idol, and eventually finished in third place behind Will Young and Gareth Gates.

Darius turned down Simon Cowell's offer of management and instead signed with producer Steve Lillywhite, and July 2002 saw him release his famous single 'Colourblind' which was certified gold.
Darius turned down Simon Cowell's offer of management and instead signed with producer Steve Lillywhite, and July 2002 saw him release his famous single 'Colourblind' which was certified gold. Picture: Alamy
In later years Darius would go back to the stage with starring role in Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (pictured) and was seen in the West End as recently as 2016 in Funny Girl opposite Sheridan Smith.
In later years Darius would go back to the stage with starring role in Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (pictured) and was seen in the West End as recently as 2016 in Funny Girl opposite Sheridan Smith. Picture: Alamy
Darius Campbell attending the Olivier Awards, at the Royal Opera House in London in  April 2016.
Darius Campbell attending the Olivier Awards, at the Royal Opera House in London in April 2016. Picture: Alamy

Darius turned down Simon Cowell's offer of management and instead signed with producer Steve Lillywhite, and July 2002 saw him release his famous single 'Colourblind' which was certified gold.

However, the star's love of opera and performance never left him and Darius continued to pursue a career on stage.

He took on the role of Rhett Butler in Trevor Nunn's Gone with the Wind, which ran at the Gillian Lynne Theatre from April 2008.

Just months after winning Popstar to Operastar, Darius landed his first major opera role in Carmen at the O2 Arena in London, playing the principal role of bullfighter Escamillo.

In later years Darius would go back to the stage with a starring role in Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and was seen in the West End as recently as 2016 in Funny Girl opposite Sheridan Smith.

Tributes have poured in from stage and screen since it was announced on August 16, 2022, that he was found unresponsive in his apartment in Rochester, Minnesota.

TV presenter Nicki Chapman, who was a judge on Popstars while Darius was a contestant, described him as "a true gent with a kind soul and a mischievous twinkle in his eye".

"There will only ever be one Darius Campbell Danesh," she added.

Myleene Klass made a statement of her own, giving insight into Darius' kind nature: "At the end of the auditions, I remember Darius buying a huge bouquet of red roses and kindly distributing them, one by one to every person in the room as he knew how we were all feeling," she said.

"We know how exceptionally talented he was but he also had the kindest, warmest demeanour, a true gentleman... Darius, you were taken far too soon. Thank you for your friendship, your talent and your love."