Neuroscientist and Hackney resident Emeli Sande on her Frieda Kahlo tattoo and dropping out of medicine school
Before the summer, Emeli Sand� was well known for her debut single Heaven and her stunning backing vocals on Professor Green’s heart-wrenching hit Read All About It.
But since her appearance in not just one Olympic ceremony but both the opening and closing extravaganzas, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter and Hackney resident has become the hottest thing in pop.
“I was speaking to a taxi driver last night and he had never heard any of my music but he knew who I was because of the Olympics,” Emeli, from Aberdeen, told the Gazette.
“People know my name because of it. Anyone who comes and speaks to me about my music has a story to tell me, so it’s really great in that sense – but, for me, fame is secondary to making music and progressing as an artist, so that’s where my focus is,” she added.
Emeli who uses her middle name instead of her real name Adele because of her namesake’s growing popularity when she was starting out, loves making music so much, she gave up studying medicine four years into the course to pursue a career in music.
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“It was the biggest risk I had ever taken because there was no guarantee that packing my stuff and moving to London would work out, but I knew that it was just something I felt really strongly about,” she said.
“I was leaving a stable career and I’d worked very hard getting to medical school and all the rest of it, but I graduated at that point with a degree in neuroscience, so I felt that my years hadn’t been wasted.”
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She has loved music since a young age, finding it “cathartic” and a “big relief”.
“It’s like a diary, you just put everything down, and now it’s great other people want to hear your thoughts. It’s my own little world that I can always create,” she said.
Just about everyone in the pop world seems to want to work with her – she has written for the likes of Rihanna, Leona Lewis, Cheryl Cole, Tinie Tempah and Susan Boyle.
She believes the key to a good song is using honesty and emotion.
“What I mean by that is that if there’s any pretence and you are going in with an agenda to write something to be cool, it will never be as good as if you just write something for yourself,” she says. “I usually go and try and clear my mind and write the first thing I think without analysing it too much.”
She is unable to choose which of her songs means the most to her.
“I really love a song called Crying. But every song has a special meaning.
“Heaven was my breakthrough song, so it will always be special to me; that’s how I introduced myself as a solo act. It’s like trying to choose from three children – I just don’t know,” she laughed.
The Olympic opening ceremony saw her singing a moving version of Abide With Me, and she found it nerve-racking to be involved in something so huge which would be broadcast to the whole world.
“Before going out performing I felt nervous like I’d never felt before, but once I was out there it was such a strange feeling for 80,000 people to suddenly go quiet. It was very surreal,” she said. “I didn’t feel relaxed, but I definitely felt quite calm singing it.
“To work with Danny Boyle and Kim Gavin was a real honour and to see such a small idea come to life and become such a massive thing – for me it was inspiring just to show that everything starts with an idea, really.”
Other inspiration comes from strong female characters. She admires the honesty of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s work so much, she has a tattoo of her on her forearm.
“It was the first time I had seen a woman being completely open and raw in her art, especially because they were self-portraits,” said Emeli.
“She wasn’t glossing over the blemishes and you see what she went through as a woman and how strong she had to be.
“She gave me strength as a woman; and how she made ugly parts of herself really beautiful and very strong, that’s what inspired me.”
Emeli moved to Hackney eight months ago with her husband Adam Gouraguine, whom she wed in his native Montenegro.
The couple love the area and are regular visitors to the Hackney Picturehouse cinema in Mare Street and London Fields, which is near their home.
“I really loved east London since I moved down from Scotland, but other places don’t have that community vibe. We just wanted something that was quite creative, but where there’s real life going on and it’s not just too posey or too arty,” she said.
Emeli has signed up to her local gym, Energie Fitness in Reading Lane, and she found her regime of building her stamina helpful while on a UK tour in November.
“You are running around stage, but it’s more just waking up early and getting on a bus at the end of the gig; after a while it can bring you down. We have just finished the tour and I felt a lot more ready to go,” she said.
“The owner Nancy is a really good representative for the gym. She is full of energy and positivity. It just has a really good local feel to it.”
Emeli’s plans for the new year include a visit to Zambia where her father, Joel Sand�, comes from.
She has only been once as a child, but many family members who are also very musical still live there and she wants to get to know them.
“I think African music has inspired me probably more than I think because my dad would always listen to Zambian music on long journeys,” she said.
“It’s not fancy, it’s not over-produced it’s not too polished, it was just that rawness and those harmonies which have definitely stayed with me from when I was young.”