Entertainment & Arts

'I threw up twice': Rita Ora on her Oscars ordeal, the X Factor and new music

Rita Ora
Image caption Rita Ora: 'This album is really driven by female empowerment'

Pop star Rita Ora is back with new music, after multiple delays to her second album. She talks to the BBC about why she pushed the record back, and what she hopes to bring to The X Factor.

"I'm just shaking thinking about it."

Rita Ora is reliving the moment she performed, alone on a vast stage, at this year's Oscars.

"I've never been that scared in my life," says the pop star. "I threw up twice."

Her song, Grateful, eventually lost the best original song trophy to Glory, from civil rights drama Selma - but Ora is philosophical about it.

"Everyone knew they were going to win," she says. "Just being on that stage was enough for me... My Instagram followers went up by three million."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption 'I was petrified,' says Ora of her Oscar ordeal. 'I didn't want to fall off stage'

The Oscars is just one of the extra-curricular activities Ora signed up for last year.

She played Christian Grey's sister in the Fifty Shades movie, launched a clothing line with Adidas, and replaced Kylie Minogue as a coach on The Voice.

Then, two weeks ago, Simon Cowell poached her from the BBC to become a judge on the next series of The X Factor.

"When I got the call, everything happened so quickly," she says. "I was very honoured, it was a huge compliment."

The 24-year-old will appear alongside her old friend Nick Grimshaw, bringing a new dynamic to the show after 12 years.

"We want to have fun doing it and make it a show that's fun to watch," she says, but adds they have "a serious job of finding someone with incredible talent".

Image copyright ITV
Image caption Rita will join Nick Grimshaw and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini on the X Factor panel

But what about Ora's own music?

It's more than a year since her last single, I Will Never Let You Down, gave her a fourth number one in the UK.

At the time, she talked about the imminent arrival of her new album, enthusing about songs called Get A Little Closer, Testosterone and Champagne Kisses - a collaboration with Prince

Then… nothing.

Complications arose when Ora split from DJ Calvin Harris, who allegedly banned her from using the material they'd written together.

To this day, she is unsure whether I Will Never Let You Down can appear on her album - although the labyrinthine rules of music copyright mean she can still perform the track live.

But, whatever you do, don't suggest her album has been delayed.

"This whole 'album delayed' scenario is not true at all," she pouts. "I didn't want to put it out because it didn't feel right. Everything I recorded wasn't good enough."

The album is now due in September. Ora says she knew it was finished when she recorded her new single, Poison, a fiery foot-stomper about backstabbing boyfriends.

"It's not about any one individual," she stresses. "It's inspired by my experiences and my relationships with anyone that you know of and who you don't know of."

Image copyright Roc Nation/Columbia
Image caption Poison's video is based on Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick's relationship, as depicted in the film Factory Girl

The singer is keenly aware that her relationships have become a talking point. As well as Harris, she's dated Bruno Mars, Rob Kardashian (Kim's brother) and is currently seeing Ricky Hill, son of fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger.

Interviewers bring up her love life "all the time", Ora sighs.

She understands why - "because my relationships inspire my music" - but finds the level of scrutiny uncomfortable.

"It's the way they focus on it which is the problem," she says. "There's no need for judgment, or making people feel bad for their personal choices.

"If a normal 24-year-old girl was doing what I'm doing, no-one would have a problem.

"I'm just sick of women being judged and having fingers pointed at them."

She's thrilled that fellow pop star Ariana Grande wrote an open letter demanding that women be valued for their accomplishments instead of "who they're dating / married to / attached to, having sex with (or not)."

"It's good she wrote that," Ora enthuses. "I feel like I should have done it too but, for some reason, I kept it to myself. I guess that's one of the reasons why Ariana felt she had to do it.

"It made me think 'do you know what? I'm going to speak out about that too, because I suffer from it as well.'"

Accordingly, the big theme of Ora's album "female empowerment and sticking together".

"People will be like, 'Wow, she actually spoke about that.'

"I want it to have a meaning."

Image copyright Record label
Image caption The singer's new album will be her first full release in the US

Ora was born Rita Sahatciu in Pristina, in what is now Kosovo. She was named after movie star Rita Hayworth by her parents, a doctor and a businessman.

In 1991, the family fled Slobodan Milosevic's brutal regime and made a new life in London. Ora's mother Vera waitressed while retraining as a psychiatrist, while her father Besnik bought a pub. The star can pull a pint to this day.

She attended Sylvia Young Theatre School as a teenager but says student life was not for her.

"I was that student who's never disrespectful, but a nightmare. You'd never expel me but, God, you'd put me in detention."

She completed A-Levels to keep her parents happy ("they're very traditional") but was already forging a singing career, performing with Craig David and Tinchy Stryder and even auditioning for Eurovision.

Her big break came when a producer at Jay-Z's company Roc Nation heard her work and flew her to New York. Within days, she had a record deal, sealed by a handshake from the man himself.

Ora's debut album was finished by the time she was 18 but, much like her new record, it was shelved and re-recorded.

Listening to her story, you get the impression that the singer - so frequently pictured falling out of nightclubs with Cara Delevigne - has inherited her parents' work ethic.

"I am disciplined," she concedes. "When I work, I don't go out. Or if I do, I don't drink."

Image copyright Record label
Image caption 'My approach to music has changed immensely. I grew up.'

She talks about "strategy" and media "narrative" with an air of authority. And she's refreshingly aware of how she fits into the pop firmament.

"Some people are album artists and they're great in their fields. Take Sam Smith and Adele - they're crushing it. But I'm a 360 type of artist. It's about the physical appearance as much as the music. Madonna did the same. She used her visuals as a weapon For me, there's nothing wrong with that."

There's no desperation to appear "credible", either. After raving about the experimental new albums by Jamie xx and Kendrick Lamar, she rejects the idea of doing something similar.

"You've got to pick your lane. I've picked mine and I'm proud of it. I love my pop music."

It's that combination of smarts and determination that allows Ora to juggle jobs in TV, film, fashion and music.

"If you can do a bit of everything why wouldn't you?" she says. "I've been trying to do this my whole life, so to finally be able to do it, I'm not going to stop now."

So, nerves aside, don't rule out a second appearance at the Oscars. Not least because Ora wants to get her hands on another gift bag.

"They're as good as they say!" Ora laughs. "I kept that one for myself, but I try to give the bad ones to other people."

"Once I got one that had pants made out of wool. Who wears wool pants? I don't know."

Poison is out now. Rita Ora's album will follow in September.

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