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There's an aura about Rita
7:00am Saturday 2nd February 2013 in ShuttleXtra
Rita Ora came from nowhere to release three No 1 singles and a chart-topping debut album in 2012, and now she has two BRIT nominations to her name and is about to begin her first UK tour. The rising star tells Andy Welch how she's been "pinching herself" over her meteoric rise.
By Andy Welch
At the tail end of 2011, Rita Ora appeared in the video for Hot Right Now with DJ Fresh.
Before that, she'd only really been seen in a handful of online videos, but by the time of the song's official release in February last year - it went straight to No 1 and ended up selling more than 480,000 copies - she was one of the most talked-about singers in the country.
As an introduction, it clearly worked, and Ora's subsequent two singles, RIP with Tinie Tempah and How We Do followed Hot Right Now to No 1.
Meanwhile, her debut album Ora topped the chart, finishing the year with sales of around 240,000.
"That's definitely the most surreal thing that's happened to me," says the 22-year-old Londoner, on the morning of the Brit nominations. "The success of the singles, and the tour selling out within minutes of the tickets going on sale as well - all of last year was crazy."
Ora is getting used to "surreal". She was signed by Jay-Z's management company and record label Roc Nation in New York after Mr Beyonce himself called to request a meeting.
At the time she was at college studying for her A-levels and working in a trainer shop on Portobello Road in west London in order to pay musicians to play with her at gigs in the evening.
"I'd play anywhere - bars and clubs, in my dad's pub, just to be out singing," she says. "I guess Roc Nation heard about me just through people they know in the industry, called me up and asked for a meeting.
"It was a real pinch-yourself moment, and the meeting we had when I met Jay-Z was just unbelievable. It was so nerve-wracking, interesting, exciting and weird all at the same time. You know when you can feel someone's power? It was like that, you could just tell when you walked in the room that he was powerful and successful.
"It was so odd. I walked in, shook his hand and then we were suddenly having a conversation. Now it feels like we've known each other a long time. I get lots of advice from him. He's not just a great friend, but a boss and a brother. He's the man."
That is a rather simplified version of events, of course. Multi-million-selling artists and business moguls like Jay-Z don't just call 18-year-old singers in London on the off chance. Ora has pursued a career in showbiz from a young age and went to the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School in London.
"I loved the school," she says. "My choir teacher at primary school told me about the school. The audition was massively exciting, and I'm really proud of the fact I got in and went. I really didn't think I'd be good enough, but then the only thing I was ever interested in was singing. Ever since I was really little, like six or something, it's all I've wanted to do."
The transition from theatre school to a professional life as a performer was difficult, she admits, and there were a few bumps along the way.
"There are so many people leaving there each year as brilliant performers, plus all the other schools putting out the same amount of quality. I didn't want to go to another performing arts college after I'd done my GCSEs, although most of my friends did. I just went to a regular college and carried on writing my songs. I followed my gut, really.
"The first time I thought I might make it was when I was 14, when I was signed to a production company. That didn't work out. A year later, I was signed to a management company, but that didn't really work out either. There were a lot of promises, but nothing came of them. The important thing is you believe that it's going to happen eventually, and that keeps you going despite rejections and other things coming to nothing."
I catch up with Ora later that day at the launch for the Brit Award nominations, where it's revealed she's up for two awards: Best Breakthrough and Best Single, in which she has two songs on the shortlist.
"I went to the Brits last year and no one even noticed I was there, no one took a photograph or anything, and a year later I'm up for some awards," she says, while dodging the other journalists on the red carpet. Stories about her private life appeared in the papers that morning and she doesn't feel like talking to anyone.
"I don't think about it," she says of the non-music-related stories which generally concern her split with ex-boyfriend Rob Kardashian and rumours of romances with other people.
"It's not a distraction, and it doesn't faze me," she adds. "I have great people around me and I know the truth. The only time I have to take things into consideration is when my family are upset by something that's written. If they're hurt, then I'll take it seriously."
Ora was born in Pristina in the former Yugoslavia, now Kosovo, and moved to the UK with her Kosovar-Albanian parents when she was aged one, during the brutal conflict in the region.
She says the people of Kosovo have been hugely supportive of her, and she's "so proud" of her birth nation.
Family clearly matters. She took them to Dubai for Christmas and New Year, and when she had a well-publicised wardrobe malfunction on stage which left one of her breasts exposed, the first and only person she had to call was her mother, to apologise and promise it would never happen again.
Immediately after her UK tour, which Ora's currently rehearsing for, she has dates in Australia, and then mainland Europe. Between now and the summer she'll record her second album, and hopes to have it released by the end of the year.
"My first album was finished when I was 19, and I'm 22 now, so I have a lot more I want to talk about and say," she adds.
Ora's self-titled debut featured production from the likes of Major Lazer, will.i.am, The-Dream, Stargate and Diplo, but she promises the second album will see fewer writers contributing more.
"I'm very excited about some of the people lined up, I can't wait to work with them. But obviously I can't say who they are yet. Pop music's very secretive."
Extra time - Rita Ora
:: Rita Sahatciu Ora was born in Pristina, Yugoslavia, now Kosovo, on November 22, 1990.
:: She appeared in the British film Spivs in 2004.
:: Ora appeared on her first music release in 2007, guesting on Craig David song Awkward. A year later, she featured on Tinchy Stryder's Where's Your Love.
:: In 2009, she auditioned on Your Country Needs You to sing for the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest, but later withdrew her entry after appearing on a couple of episodes, saying she didn't feel ready.
:: With three No 1 singles during 2012 - two of her own and one with DJ Fresh - she was the artist with the most chart-topping singles last year.
28 - Manchester Academy
29 - Newcastle Academy
30 - Glasgow Academy
1 - Sheffield Academy
2 - Cardiff Great Hall
5 - Shepherds Bush
8 - Bournemouth Academy
9 - Birmingham Academy
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