SALLY Barker, finalist on The Voice, has had a phenomenal 2014.

After winning over viewers on the hit BBC1 show, she is squeezing in a trip to Dorset this month to perform at the Purbeck Folk festival ahead of a solo tour.

SHE took us all by surprise on The Voice. And Sally Barker took me by surprise by calling completely out of the blue after I emailed her office to request an interview.

Forty five minutes of engaging conversation later, I can honestly say that the woman who stole the hearts of a nation through her performances on the BBC1 show is as warm and multi-layered as her singing voice.

Sally Barker’s hauntingly beautiful voice in her blind audition for the talent show left the most stoic of superstars, Sir Tom Jones – and an entire nation – in tears.

The Welshman went on to mentor Sally all the way to the final of the show, telling her she has ‘the most beautiful voice that has been on this show so far’.

Pipped to the post by London teenager Jermain Jackman, Sally, 54, eschewed a commercial recording contract and is currently doing what she loves most – gigging across the country.

As a folk singer for much of her career and founding member of all-female folk group The Poozies, the Leicestershire mum is returning to those roots for the Purbeck Folk Festival next Saturday.

She said: “I wanted to come to the festival because there are so many artists performing there who I admire.

“I’m a big fan of Eddi Reader and I love going down to the south coast.

“I’ve done a lot of camping in Lyme Regis with the boys – we used to have a really small caravan we would tow around Dorset.”

Sally recently performed at the Larmer Tree Festival near Salisbury where she was reunited with Sir Tom.

They also duetted together on his home turf of Colwyn Bay, Wales.

Sally said: “There were 14,000 Tom Jones supporters there all screaming for Tom and there were even a few Sally Barker supporters!

“I was walking round among the audience to see what it was like and people stopped me so many times for ‘selfies’.”

Sally was persuaded by her two sons to audition for The Voice after suffering a period of ill health.

She sailed through the pre-audition stage, the blind audition, the battle round and the final stages.

Viewers admired Sally’s strength of character, whose back story of being widowed at the age of 42 was continually aired by BBC producers. But it was that life experience and deep sadness entrenched in her voice that moved viewers to pick up the phone and vote.

Her performances of tracks such as Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and Both Sides Now made her joint favourite to win the show.

Sally said: “I was thrilled with how things went on The Voice. I was oblivious of the effect I had. I gave myself a media black-out and wouldn’t Google myself.

“I was getting on with it and I was very zoned out. The first time I really knew anything about it was when my son told me I was one of the favourites. I think it was this summer when I realised it had quite an impact on people.”

Despite not winning the show, Sally was offered a recording contract.

She said: “I was offered a recording contract with Universal and they wanted me to do an album of covers. It was my instinct not to take that deal.

“I’m a singer-songwriter as much as a singer.

“I said goodbye to the huge cheque. They wanted to record it straight after The Voice and do it while people remember me.

“I could have shot myself in the foot, but this is the way I am.”

But nearly five months on from The Voice, it would appear as though Sally certainly hasn’t been forgotten by the great British public. Her rendition of Olly Murs’ Dear Darlin’ became the best-selling single from the show, charting 15 spots above Jermain Jackman’s version of And I Am Telling You.

Sally’s album Maid in England, recorded with her old record company in Germany, will be re-released at the end of September, including extra tracks To Love Somebody and Dear Darlin’.

She then plans to release a new album next year and is hunting for a record label that is the right fit for her. Sally hopes she has paved the way for more mature contestants to enter talent shows.

She said: “I think people are interested in seeing older people. It suggests that my perspective is a different one to someone who’s about 20, who hasn’t lived this longer life with a wider perspective. I think my life experience adds something to my voice and gives me a much wider range.”

As we end one of the longest ‘chats’ I have had with a front cover star of The Guide, we discuss our mutual experience of living in Leicester and studying at De Montfort University.

Sally is one of the most genuine and friendly people I have ever interviewed, showing a real interest in me as an interviewer, rather than a cog in the wheel of a publicity machine.

I can’t help thinking that with her own winning formula of that voice and charm in abundance, not winning The Voice may have been the best thing that could have happened to Sally Barker’s singing career.