Rita Ora came from nowhere to release three No 1 singles and a chart-topping debut album. She is currently on a UK tour. Here she talks to Andy Welch about her stunning rise to fame.
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 worked, and Ora’s subsequent two singles, RIP with Tinie Tempah and How We Do followed Hot Right Now to No 1.
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? 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 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 the only thing I was ever interested in was singing. Ever since I was little, like six or something, it’s all I’ve wanted.”
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. There were a lot of promises, but nothing came of them. The important thing is you believe that it’s going to happen.” Ora says of her second album.
“I’m very excited about some of the people lined up, I can’t say who they are yet.”