It was a typically cold and wet London morning when Rita Ora, the only artist to clinch three consecutive UK No.1 hits in 2012, bobbed up to Rankin’s studio. Hard work and talent have won the 22-year-old pop star significant praise among her industry peers, and her huge personality has elevated her to superstardom. “Oh, thank you,” she says affably, when I mention her fame. “I think it’s because I have always sung what I wanted to sing; said what I wanted to say; and dressed the way I wanted to dress. The difference is in believing in something.”
Upon arrival Rita is reticent, but as the shooting progresses, we enjoy her lively and witty high jinks, and she’s extremely polite from start to finish. She heads straight to glam, deciding to have her extensions removed, “This is my au naturel,” she says post-removal, scrunching her glossy coiffure. “It’s great. I’ve washed my hair; I’ve felt my scalp. And it feels amazing.”
While Rita is preparing for the shoot, her best friend, and arguably the fashion world’s biggest model right now, Cara Delevingne, turns up. Much to everyone’s shock and delight, she dances into the studio, rapping as she goes, in a way only The British Fashion Council’s “Model of the Year” can whilst still maintaining her allure. Within minutes, still jogging on the spot, Cara agrees to appear alongside Rita in the music video we’re about to film. “Having the most beautiful woman in the world in your video can’t be bad,” Rita declares.
2012 was the year that changed Rita’s life. After being signed to Jay-Z’s label, Roc Nation, she featured on DJ Fresh’s hit “Hot Right Now”, which was shortly followed by the release of her own singles, “R.I.P.” (featuring Tinie Tempah) and “How We Do (Party)”, both of which appear on her album ORA, which also hit the No.1 spot last summer. However, with fame comes tabloid interest: “This year has been pretty crazy for me. My life has changed, and it comes with the good and the … I wouldn’t say bad … but it is something that I’m not used to: seeing my name in the newspapers.”
“Incredibly,” she tells me, “the last time I checked I had 2.7 million followers on Twitter.” That means an insanely large amount of people are interested in Rita – an appetite that will inevitably be fed by the tabloids, whether it be a commentary on her private life, or, through lack of material, unparalleled non-stories, like comparisons made between her and Rihanna.
Only a middle-minded person could have grasped such an analogy; to everyone else the similarity was simply: female, successful, music. What a shame young and successful role models can’t be more broadly championed in the UK.
Naturally, Rita isn’t fazed: “People are interested in my life; I don’t really understand it. The only time I worry is if my mum and dad phone me up and say, ‘Rita, it’s bad.’ If they’re hurt, that’s the only time I’d actually care, but [other than that] it’s white noise,” she says, flicking her hand dismissively.
Rita comes from a very tight-knit family: “My upbringing was kind of strange,” she explains. “I’m from Kosovo. I moved to London when I was one, and I lived in a three-bedroom house on a council estate in Ladbroke Grove with my mum, dad, brother and sister – I shared a room with my sister until I was 18.” “Then I got signed. And I finally had my own place, which was in a different city [New York], and it was about ten times the size of my [family] house.” It was then that Rita wrote her first album. “I recorded it when I was 19. Now that I’m 22, and I have grown, I listen to it, and it sounds old, even though to other people it might sound very new. It’s basically [a reflection of] how I felt when I was 19: being signed to such a professional figure and the pressure of it. I was very excited, so there were a whole bunch of emotions. It was pretty cool to be able to make an album at that age.”
She’s currently working on writing her second. “My next album is about me being 22, growing up in this industry really fast, and being in a really shitty relationship, and all the shit I had to deal with. ”Is there any one person she can thank for her career? “My mum helped me get to where I am today. If she hadn’t put my name down at the funfair for the open mic when I was 12 years old, I wouldn’t be here.”
Rita has an incredibly honest, at times droll, turn of phrase: “My mum not only is the most gangster woman,” she says, “but she’s also funny, crazy, real and probably the nicest superwoman on the planet,” she continues. “My mum made me feel anything is possible, even when she got sick. No one ever thinks his or her mum is going to get sick, right? Everything I do, I do it for her. She’s been through a lot. She suffered breast cancer, but now she’s good…” Rita trails off…
Sharing her mother’s compassion, Rita is all for female empowerment, “There has been a female prime minister in my country. There are successful females everywhere: heads of companies, those owning their own businesses – and not just in the music industry but everywhere; they succeed just by doing what they can do, which is being equal, and being hot and glamorous at the same time,” she giggles. “I think it’s amazing. In fact, we have a power over men that I think they’ll never understand.”
Prior to the release of ORA, just after her first two singles, Rita was asked to appear on The X Factor, further securing her status as a household name. “I had a phone call from Simon saying, ‘Do you fancy being a judge on the panel?’ to which I replied, ‘No one’s going to want to hear what I have to say.’ But I said yes. It was so much fun. It was great to see all the contestants live.”
If her path had taken a different turn, would she herself have considered competing on the show? “If I had never made it,” she pauses, “which I kind of think I haven’t yet. I’ve still got a lot of work to do, but it’s a great start… I personally couldn’t have done it; it’s so tough singing in front of four figures, the crowd and the public. I would always keep just grinding, but I do understand why people do it.”
With such a focused outlook and having made that great start, she must have a lot of creative control over the Rita Ora brand. “When it comes to my look, my music and the videos I have 100 percent control over it,” she confirms. “If I make mistakes, have a little slip, I blame myself. But the Lycra clothes and the latex that you’ve seen me in this season, Cara [Delevingne] and I discussed them and brought them into reality.”
Having the ultimate say in her brand, Rita always judges her own work, and strives for perfection, but she does seek input from those she trusts. “I’m very critical of my own work. I always ask for an opinion, too. I ask my friends, ‘Does this sound similar to something else?’ ‘Have you heard anything like this before?’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Does this really mean this?’ I always need a second voice.”
Surely there must be “some” benefits to being a star both in the UK and the US. When I ask whether she ever uses her celebrity status to her advantage, she happily replies, “Ha ha, yes I do. If I’m in a queue at airport security, I’m like [she rattles her earrings, and does a cheeky nod]. Sometimes it works…”
Aside from the good times – fast track privileges at McDonald’s and free car parking, she jokingly adds – it must be annoying. What if she’s just having a down day? “Sometimes, when you’re on your own, walking down the street on the way to have your roots done; or in Whole Foods buying your vitamins, or flowers for your living room, and you get noticed…” she smiles. “You can’t complain, because that’s what you do. That’s something you have to deal with. It’s strange sometimes, when you want to eat your soup, and someone comes up to you, and you’re like, ‘Slurp, slurp, sorry, I’m just eating my noodle soup.’ It’s cool, though. I’ll never complain.”
Back to Twitter, she says, “It is the best thing that has happened in a long time.” But, there must be times it has its drawbacks? “I remember tweeting things that I shouldn’t have by accident. I know you can delete them, but if it’s out, it’s out.” She does, of course, interact with her followers, and when people tweeted her pictures of their concert tickets throughout her sold-out UK Radioactive Tour this year, she made sure she retweeted every single one of them.
Fellow The Hunger cover star Iggy Azalea was Rita’s support act when she toured the UK. “I met Iggy in America when I asked her to join me on my US tour. Then she flew out to the UK. I think she’s really cool; she’s got something special about her. [She whispers] And she’s hot and blonde.”
“We have a lot of fun together. She lives in the States, so it’s really funny when she comes here. I show her around and she’s like, ‘Rita, what’s that?’ And I say, ‘Iggy, that’s fish and chips.’” Way Perry, our fashion director, indicates that Rita can “put on her interview look”, her last of the day. A few minutes later she taps me on the shoulder, “Where shall we do the interview?” She asks, looking around for a quiet corner. She’s wearing a Victoria Beckham dress and Fendi shoes. “We’re filming it on set,” I say, “otherwise you could’ve worn what you liked.” At this point Rita’s laughing quite hard: “Well, I thought you were one of those editors. You know, the ones who will only interview you if you are in a look from head to toe.”
As we conclude, Rita talks of her evening ahead. “Cara and me are definitely going out tonight, yeah?” she nods to her best friend, who has been sitting next to me with her chin on my shoulder throughout the entire interview. Charmingly, Cara labels her assistance as “technical support”. (Whenever the light dimmed on the MacBook I was reading my notes from, she would touch the track pad.)
“We don’t really drink alcohol,” Rita continues [They both laugh; Cara is holding a bottle of beer]. “We’re off tomorrow, so we’re going to sit back and stroke the furry. Have you seen that film Get Him to the Greek with Russell Brand? That’s what we’re going to do tonight; we’re going to do a remake of Get Him to the Greek.”