NOTABLE WELSHMEN AND WOMEN
A LIST of famous Welsh people on the Visit Wales website focuses on the world of entertainment. “From legendary crooners and icons of cinema to cutting-edge comedians and one of the finest poets ever to grace the page, Wales has produced abundant talent in entertainment,” they state. Here are those well-known personalities, who have all achieved world-wide fame.
The Cardiff waitress who hit number one. A true music icon, Shirley Bassey went from Cardiff waitress to global megastar within a few years, scoring Wales’ first number one in 1959. Decades of hits and awards later, her most recent performances have included singing one of her James Bond theme songs at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Hollywood star with roots proudly in Wales. From The Darling Buds of May to casino heists with Brad Pitt and George Clooney as her accomplices in Ocean’s Eleven, Catherine Zeta-Jones is a Welsh celebrity who rarely misses a chance to voice her affection for her homeland. Her middle name comes from a boat docked in her native Swansea.
Famous Welsh singer who stormed America. Starting out in beat groups around the dusty clubs of South Wales, Tom Jones was born in Pontypridd as Thomas John Woodword. His first hit, It’s Not Unusual, launched a superstar, and by the mid-1960s he’d won a Grammy Award in America. His charisma and unmistakeable crooning still fills stadiums.
Brilliant actor raised on Welsh drama. Starting out alongside Vanessa Redgrave and going on to impersonate Tony Blair, Michael Sheen’s distinctly Welsh fire has won him dozens of awards. Born in Newport, his early days on the boards saw him co-found his own theatre company and perfect his skills at the National Youth Theatre of Wales.
Vocal prodigy with Cardiff beginnings. In 1998, while she was being lauded as The Voice of an Angel, Charlotte Church’s incredible talent was still being nurtured in Cardiff. Having become one of the world’s most loved classical performers, these days she’s reinvented herself as an indie-rock singer. A popular personality with proud Welsh roots.
Comedy star who started on BBC Radio Wales. We know him as a hugely successful television and stage favourite, but comedian Rob Brydon’s path to fame began at college in Cardiff and on Radio Wales. Glamorgan born and Port Talbot raised, his character in much-loved show Gavin and Stacey took him back to his South Wales roots.
Internationally popular classical singer. You might not be surprised to know that Katherine Jenkins’ earliest operatic emergence saw her win the Welsh Choirgirl of the Year during her time with the country’s National Youth Choir. Her astounding voice has made Jenkins Britain’s most popular classical singer – the girl from Neath has enjoyed stratospheric success.
Acting genius sparked by a Welsh icon. After meeting fellow future icon Richard Burton in their native Port Talbot, Anthony Hopkins took the wise decision to indulge his desire for drama. More than 50 years after graduating from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, he is simply one of the greatest actors of all time.
A literary giant of the 20th century. Born and raised in Swansea – where the Dylan Thomas Theatre puts on a great show almost a century on – this hugely popular writer was arguably the most important poet of the 20th century. A fascinating personality, he was regularly known to frequent the pubs, cinemas and promenades along the coast.
Great actor who loves the Welsh language. One of Britain’s most charismatic performers, Rhys Ifans was raised in the North Wales Borderlands and attended a Welsh language school before starting out on television in his home country. A powerful actor with an impish sense of humour, he’s gone on to feature in everything from Harry Potter adventures to Spider-Man blockbusters.
Such a list, of course, only scratches the surface of well-known Welsh men and women throughout history. Even a list of ‘The 50 Greatest Welsh Men and Women of All Time’, as compiled by WalesOnline in 2014, left many scratching their heads over surprise omissions. As author of the piece David Williamson freely admitted, this was an exercise which was “doomed from the start”.
Among the absentees were household names of the 20th Century, like Tommy Cooper, the fez-wearing comedian who fused the musical hall tradition with absurdism with inspired results and Oscar-winning actress Catherine Zeta Jones, “who displays a comedic and dramatic range few of her generation can match”. Not only that, but Cardiff-born Gareth Bale was still writing his name in footballing history as a global sensation and the world’s most expensive player, who joined Spanish galacticos Real Madrid for a staggering £85m fee. His Wales predecessor Ryan Giggs sneaked in at number 50 on the WalesOnline list.
Of those who made the list, topped by political icon Aneurin Bevan, Williamson remarked: “It is, of course, debatable whether you can determine whether Gareth Edwards is ‘greater’ than Hywel Dda or Roald Dahl. But we have enjoyed puzzling over the different ways each of these men and women have inspired Wales and the world. It is often a mark of the truly great that they command admiration not just for getting to the top of their field and enriching their times, but that they did so with passion and a sense of adventure.”
50 Greatest Welsh Men and Women of All Time (WalesOnline, July 2014)