When Jaz Ellington’s baby son Brandon made a dramatic arrival into the world five weeks before his due date, he was so tiny, he weighed “not much more than a bag of sugar,” says his musician dad.
“I could just hold him in the palms of my hands,” adds The Voice star as he proudly cuddles his now four-week-old son close to his chest on the hello! photoshoot. “But look at him now, he’s perfect. And he wasn’t even supposed to be here until next week.”
Jaz and his wife Kirsten, who is also a singer, have named their firstborn Brandon Elijah Sol Ellington, but add that Jaz’s The Voice mentor Will.i.am was influential in choosing one of his middle names.
“During the show, he was like, ‘Why don’t you call him Duke, no… Soul?” recalls Jaz, mimicking the Black Eyed Peas frontman’s soft Californian accent. “I thought, ‘That’s nice,’ so Sol is one of his middle names, thanks to Uncle Will.”
Does little Brandon have a good set of lungs, like his parents?
“Oh yeah,” Jaz, 27, and Kirsten, 29, answer in unison. “I think he takes after Kirsten, though, because she has a louder voice than me,” says Jaz with a smile. “She can hit a high frequency.”
When she was 34 weeks pregnant, Kirsten was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and admitted to hospital. “My blood pressure was going up all the time, the numbers kept doubling, and when it gets that bad it can affect your organs and cause distress to your baby,” she says.
Doctors decided to induce Kirsten one evening, giving her steroids to help with Brandon’s lung development. The following afternoon, she was still in labour – and in a lot of pain – when doctors realised the baby’s heart rate was dipping.
“It got to the point where they said, ‘We’ve got to get him out,’ and at that stage it all got real,” says Jaz, who’d hurried back to London from a gig in Lincolnshire the night before. “Kirsten got rushed into theatre for an emergency Caesarean and she was freaking out.”
“I didn’t want to have a major operation,” she admits. “I was thinking, ‘What if I can feel it?’ I was in a real panic. All these thoughts go through your head and I felt like I’d let him down by not being able to carry him.”
Jaz was by her side in Lewisham Hospital, south- east London. “They put up the screen and I was thinking, ‘What can I say to try to get her to stay calm?’” says Jaz. “Before I could work out what I was going to say, they were like, ‘Congratulations, you’ve had a baby boy.’ It was so quick.”
Jaz was handed his son first. “He had his eyes wide open as if to say, ‘What’s going on?’” he adds with a smile. “It was amazing.”
The singer then handed the little boy to his overwhelmed wife. Kirsten says her first emotion on
seeing her son was relief.
While Brandon, who weighed just 4lb 2oz at
birth, was healthy, he still had to spend his first two weeks in an incubator.
“They just wanted to keep an eye on him and make sure he could maintain his own body temperature,” explains Jaz.
This meant that the pair could only hold their son during allotted times in the neonatal intensive care unit. “As soon as we walked in, he would ecognise my smell or he would hear our voices and he would start crying,” says Kirsten. “He knew who we were straight away.”
Kirsten is feeding Brandon a combination of breast milk and premature baby milk that will help give him extra nutrients. “The nurses really encouraged me to have skin-to-skin contact,” she says. “So I feel like we bonded immediately.”
While forging a relationship with Brandon was plain sailing, it took Kirsten a while to recover from his birth. “The next day, I woke up and I couldn’t move my neck and I had these shooting pains in my head,” she says.
She was diagnosed with spinal leakage caused by her epidural and her blood pressure was still high. Thankfully, she was discharged from hospital a few days later, but says she found it difficult to return home without her son.
“She was very emotional,” says Jaz. “She was saying, ‘I can’t do it, I’m too far from him.’”
Kirsten visited the hospital every day until Brandon came home and now proudly reports that he is “a really good baby”.
“It’s easier than I thought it would be,” she smiles, before pausing and adding: “But not easy.”
Kirsten, who attended all of the Voice shows while she was pregnant, says that melodies are already part of her son’s life, which is perhaps to be expected given his heritage – Kirsten and Jaz met when they were both performing live five years ago; they married in 2011.
“When music is on and loud, that’s when he is calm,” says Kirsten, who’s on maternity leave from her job teaching music and singing in schools.
“And Jaz can settle him better than I can at the moment. As soon as he goes to his daddy, he’s asleep. If this child can’t sing, we’ll be very surprised,” she adds.
Jaz has taken three days off since his baby was born. “There is something called paternity leave, isn’t there? That doesn’t really count for me,” he jokes. As well as performing live, Jaz has also been working with “loads of producers”. He is also still in touch with Will.i.am.
“He’s a very busy man, but he meant what he said about working with me.” Indeed, Jaz and his children’s choir, which appeared on the BBC1 talent show with him to sing the Beatles song Let It Be, have already put some vocals to a track that Will.i.am is producing.
Jaz had been an early favourite to win The Voice – when his blind audition was broadcast, his rendition of John Legend’s Ordinary People sparked a Twitter trend and caused the song, co-written by Will.i.am, to rocket back into the charts. However, his departure in the semi-finals may have been a blessing in disguise.
“A lot of people think if you don’t get signed up straight after you do these shows, you’ve messed up,” he says. “But I do believe that if I’d signed up straight away I might be singing Luther Vandross covers and recording stuff I didn’t want to do. I’m not saying all record companies are like that, but now I’ve got more time and can be more creative.”
Jaz, a former singing teacher, has already had interest from music industry executives in the US, and he admits he would like to live in the States.
There’s no denying that he has had an “incredible year”, but his success has not been achieved without perseverance. He auditioned for The X Factor in 2009 but was rejected at the bootcamp stage with no explanation. Kirsten has also revealed that record companies turned him down, telling him that he needed to lose weight.
What motivated him to continue? “Singing,” he says simply. “It’s all I know how to do. Without sounding clichéd, music keeps me going.”
Kirsten hopes that her singing career will also benefit. “With Jaz being successful now, it gives me more opportunity to pursue the things I want to do. Sometimes, life can get in the way of what you want to do,” she says.
Would she audition for The Voice? “I wouldn’t mind,” she says. “I couldn’t have done the last show while I was pregnant, but you never know what the future holds. We’ll see…”
In the meantime, there’s their new family to consider – specifically, how big it will be. “I would like four children,” says Jaz.
“We said we’d wait until we had this one and see,” counters Kirsten with a smile. “But after all the pain and drama, now he’s here it just melts away and I’ve put it into perspective. His birth was a frightening experience, but now Brandon is here, it’s not important any more.”
Adds Jaz: “Brandon is our greatest acheivement.”