Entertainment & Arts

Pop on a budget: Introducing Ria Ritchie

Ria Ritchie
Image caption Ria Ritchie studied alongside Ed Sheeran at the British Academy of Music

After being spotted by Plan B, Ria Ritchie is popping up on national radio before she has even secured a recording contract. The pop singer tells the BBC about her unconventional rise to fame.

It's a sentence to make your heart sink like a shoe in a yoghurt. "With over 10 million views and 35k subscribers, Ria Ritchie is nothing short of a YouTube phenomenon."

Justin Bieber walking into a revolving door is a YouTube phenomenon. This surprised kitten is a YouTube phenomenon. Alarmingly, even the Peanut Butter Jelly song is a YouTube phenomenon.

There are hundreds of bedroom-based singers racking up page views on YouTube who will never trouble the charts.

The difference for Ria Ritchie is that Brit award-winner Plan B stumbled across her YouTube channel and got in touch.

The rapper was searching for Duffy's single Warwick Avenue, as he had just hired the video's director, Daniel Wolfe, to film the promo for his next single.

"He was on a tour bus on the way to Southampton," explains Ritchie, "and my cover of Warwick Avenue was listed down the side.

"He clicked on that, and then he clicked on my channel to see if I'd written anything - and that's what made him get in touch with me."

Image caption Plan B achieved mainstream success with The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Minutes later, an email zinged into Ritchie's inbox. It began, rather humbly, with the sentence: "Hello, my name is Ben Drew, although you might know me as Plan B."

"He said he thought I had a lot of potential and he'd like to help me out," Ritchie says.

A week later, she carried her guitar into his rehearsal rooms in Hackney.

"All he said was 'teach my band your song', and then he walked out," she recalls.

"After we'd finished playing it, he just said how good he thought it sounded. A week after that we started writing songs together."

Those songs have yet to see the light of day, but Ritchie has been making waves nonetheless.

Earlier this summer she duetted with dreamstep producers Disclosure on the club hit Control, which earned her a first play on Radio 1, while her new single Something About You has been heavily featured on sister station 1Xtra.

Not bad for a singer with no recording contract.

"I paid for the Something About You video myself," she confesses. "It cost about £1,500. Normally, you're lucky to get a video for ten grand."

The money came from a publishing deal with EMI, which Ritchie has been "spending carefully" for the last two years.

"It's all about cutting corners as much as you can," she says.

For example, the canary yellow vintage Triumph convertible which features in the video was arranged through her brother's best friend, whose father owns a classic car showroom.

"Favours and friends, that's all it is" she says brightly.

University drop-out

Ritchie was born 25 years ago in Lowestoft, Suffolk, best known as the birthplace of cartoon rock buffoons The Darkness.

"A lot of people slate it," she says, "but it's just a nice seaside town."

She is the youngest sibling in a close-knit family. One of her brothers is hotly-tipped actor Reece Ritchie, currently filming his first lead role in Desert Dancer with Slumdog Millionaire's Frieda Pinto.

"My nan keeps scrapbooks of our achievements," she says. "We've got one each".

And, while the siblings get competitive over page counts and twitter followers, they are hugely supportive of one another.

Image caption The singer's brother Reece (right) starred in BBC series White Heat

Without the intervention of her eldest brother Ross, Ria might never have pursued music, having initially enrolled to study sports science at university.

"I went to my first lecture, on muscle biopsy or something, and I wasn't interested in it," she says. "All I was doing was sitting in my room and playing guitar."

After 10 days, Ross came to visit and realised his sister wasn't happy.

"We went for something to eat and he said, 'why don't we just go? You should do music, that's obviously what you want.'

"So I went back to my little room in halls and packed up my whole life and put it in his car and went. I didn't even say goodbye to anyone."

Fortuitously, an email arrived the next day inviting her to audition for music college. Her tutor later put her forward for the British Academy of Music, alongside another of his pupils - Ed Sheeran.

If it seems like a fairytale, it's only because time is compressed in the retelling.

"I'm chomping at the bit," laughs the singer, five years after uploading her first YouTube clip. "It's had a natural momentum, though. I'm happy with how things are going and I don't want to jinx it."

The chunky piano chords and 1990s drum loops that propel Something About You have earned Ritchie comparisons with fellow pop star Katy B.

Image caption Despite her independent success, Ritchie is still hoping for a record deal

But while Katy B's Mercury-nominated album rose from the underground dubstep scene, Ritchie admits her song was inspired by Ce Ce Peniston's club classic Finally.

Writing sessions for her debut album are continuing with Plan B; Craze and Hoax, who co-wrote Heaven and Next To Me for Emeli Sande; and The Nexus.

The latter, who were responsible Lana Del Rey's National Anthem, are fronted by former Fame Academy winner David Sneddon.

"He was telling me he enjoyed doing the Fame Academy thing," she says, "but they were telling him what kind of songs to write. Now, he just loves being able to write what he wants."

Sneddon has proved a useful foil for the up-and-coming singer. "Because he can sing really high - so if he hits a note, I can usually do it as well."

I wonder if Ritchie ever considered pursuing the TV talent show route herself. "I did," she laughs. "I went in for X Factor years ago.

"I don't know if a lot of people know this, but you have to have about four auditions before you even get seen by the main judges. I got to the fourth round and, basically, they sat me down and they wanted a story, a sob story.

"I didn't know what to say. My mum and dad are really supportive? I hurt my toe once? They sent me a letter after that chat and said they didn't think I was suitable.

"It was a knock back, definitely. But then I got that email from Plan B."

Something About You is out now. Ria plans to release her debut album in 2013.

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