Last year was a big breakthrough for Rita Ora, who dominated the charts. Duncan Seaman spoke to her ahead of a Yorkshire visit.
As one of the breakthrough British pop singers of 2012, Rita Ora enjoyed a remarkable trajectory last year, with three consecutive number one singles in the UK and a chart-topping album.
Such was the appeal of the Kosovo-born, London-raised artist, she was invited on to The X Factor as a guest judge and returned to give a showcase performance in the final in December.
Her eye-catching outfits also earned the 22-year-old a place in the pages of British Vogue.
Expectation was certainly high at the start of the year, generated by her association with hip-hop superstar Jay-Z, to whose record label, Roc Nation, she signed as a teenager. A guest vocal on DJ Fresh’s half-a-million selling smash Hot Right Now sealed Ora’s status as a star-in-waiting.
But even she admits the success of singles such as R.I.P. and How We Do (Party) and their parent album, Ora, was greater than she could have foreseen.
“Yeah, it panned out better than I expected,” she says. “It went by so quick, I could not believe it. I was very happy with the way it turned out.”
She seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the attention.
“I had a great time – one of the best times of my life. It changed my life forever. I’m really proud of it.”
But will it be hard to better it in 2013? “It’s going to be interesting; it’s going to be fun. We will see.”
Ora certainly seemed destined to perform. “My first show was when I was 14, but I started singing when I was six,” she says. Being on stage, in front of an audience, felt natural. “I loved it. I really felt at home. I was not nervous at all. It was where I belonged, where I was supposed to be.”
The hook-up with Jay-Z’s label came when she was 18 years old. “I was in and out of a lot of deals and A&Rs,” she explains. My name was on a lot of people’s mouths for a great reason. Roc Nation heard of me. They contacted me and I flew out to New York the next day. That’s the sped-up version.”
The rapper and his wife, R&B star Beyonce Knowles, have very much taken the Londoner under their wing. “They’ve been really nice and supportive, understanding,” says Ora. “They can understand me more than anyone. It’s really nice to have their support.”
Ora’s debut album took three years to complete, aided by well-known writers and producers like Stargate (Rihanna, Katy Perry, Shakira), will.i.am and Kanye West.
“It was a great process of me and a few writers. It turned into a great journey.”
This year comes her big launch in the USA. She’s hard at work on a new album. “It’s going to show a more realistic side,” she says. “I’ve grown up a lot since [she recorded Ora]. I was 18 then, I’m 22 now. It’s going to be very experimental; it’s why I loved music in the first place.”
The writing and recording will be squeezed in between tours of Britain, Australia and Europe. She’s not worried about her workload.
“It’s going to be fun. What else do you do? This is the time when you need to work. It’s going to be hard but we are going to do it.”
Another focus is her ambassadorial work for Kosovo. She was born in Pristina when the country was annexed to Yugoslavia but moved a year later with her parents to London when Slobodan Milosovic began persecuting ethnic Albanians.
Kosovo is now independent but is blighted by poverty, which Ora is determined to change. “I think it’s not only important for me but important for the world to realise when a country like Kosovo is poor and no one’s doing something about it. If you can become a voice and focus people’s minds, then you should,” she says. “It’s my main focus for 2013.
She sees her role “expanding not only with my own country but also with my [chosen] charity, Unicef. It’s one of the few charities that help Kosovo. I’m working with them a lot on youth employment and youth centres. No one realises how much hunger affects the population. It’s a big plan – I have to make people aware.”
On lighter matters, she says she would “one day” love to create her own fashion collection “but not right now”.
“I have so many things I would like to do first. It’s all about timing – the right time and the right way of approaching things.”
Fast track to fame of a singer born to perform
A graduate of the famous Sylvia Young Theatre School, Rita Sahatciu Ora’s rise has been meteoric.
Her album debuted at Number One, and the first three singles, Hot Right Now, How We Do (Party) and RIP went to number one, making Ora the artist with the most Number One singles of the last year. She was nominated for three BRIT Awards, including Best British Breakthrough.
Ora is at O2 Academy, Sheffield, Feb 1, York Barbican, Feb 12 and Leeds O2 Academy, February 13. Tickets for Leeds on 0844 477 2000 and for Sheffield and York www.ticketweb.co.uk.