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Emeli Sande: ‘Last year was surreal’

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“It’s been quite a year,” laughs Emeli Sande, with not a little dose of understatement.

Exactly 12 months ago, the singer was introduced to millions at the Brits, where she picked up the Critics’ Choice award for up-and-coming new artists.

Her debut album, Our Version Of Events, went to number one the same week, and the Scottish singer has barely paused for breath since.

She sang at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics; married her long-term boyfriend in Montenegro; and rounded off the year with a headline concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

The 25-year-old is also the front-runner at this year’s Brit Awards, with a total of four nominations.

Ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony, she looks back at the highlights and lowlights of a “surreal” year in the limelight.

Playing at the Olympics was the most nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done.

I’d never felt that nervous before anything – an exam, a show, anything.

Singing Abide With Me was the worst, because I’d done so much research into how it was written, and what it meant to people. It was one of Ghandi’s favourite songs, so I really felt a huge responsibility to deliver it correctly… and to remember the words!

The reaction to the opening ceremony was a huge relief.

When you’re involved in something that big, you just don’t know how people are going to respond. You could feel everyone was nervous about what the press was going to think, and how it would be perceived. So the reaction was wonderful. I was ecstatic the performance went well… and that I didn’t fall over!

I’ve watched it back once and it feels like, “oh, is that me?”. It’s such a surreal thing to see yourself perform in front of billions of people.

I like making my fans cry.

It sounds mean, but when people cry to your music, it feels good because you know it connected. Something about the lyric or the melody has really got in there. If anyone ever tells me they’ve cried at a show, then I’m quite moved and touched by that.

I can’t believe I got to play the Royal Albert Hall so early in my career.

Two years ago I opened for Alicia Keys and I remember stepping out and thinking, “Whoa, imagine if you could sell this place out yourself”, and I thought maybe in five or six years it would be possible. So that was a really great night, a real summary of how the year had gone.

My whole family was there and my friends had come down from Scotland – but the party on stage was probably better than the after-party! After the adrenalin goes down, you just want to go home. But I remember really enjoying being on stage, and that’s not something you can guarantee every night.

Meeting your idols is a huge honour.

I was in America recently for Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy Party and I met Joni Mitchell. For me, that was a huge moment in my life because she’d been such an inspiration when I was a kid. To have her sitting there while I performed – she’s a legend, I was really starstruck.

I spoke to her afterwards and she was everything I hoped – very gentle, very intelligent. Just amazing.

I wouldn’t have dared go up to her without some kind of invitation – but luckily a producer I’d worked with knew her and said, ‘Joni really wants to meet you’. So I was summoned and I went over. I wouldn’t have had the guts to go over myself.

Not every interview goes according to plan.

I did an American interview and he opened it up by saying, “So, you’re an immigrant’s daughter?” I was like, “Oh, my goodness”.

The whole interview was like that. It was very strange but I didn’t give him the reaction he wanted.

The music industry moves very slowly.

I was surprised at how long it takes from the moment you write a song to get it onto radio. It’s quite frustrating. You get so excited by a song and you want everyone to hear it right away. But to do it right, you have to have a plan.

Sometimes it is tempting to just put it online and say, “here you go”. It would be great to put out some free music that’s about what I’m thinking right now, instead of what I was thinking eight months ago.

Free time is a distant memory.

There’s a lot of downtime that’s not really downtime. Half an hour here, half an hour there.

It makes it very difficult to write new music. You have bits and bobs but you can’t get anything that’s cohesive. I’ve got ideas and lots of voice memos, but I need to have some solid time set aside. So as soon as we’ve done this European tour, I’m going to spend a lot of time writing.

When you become famous, you get a lot of free gifts.

Oh God. There’s so many lotions and potions that you get for free! My husband Adam gets really annoyed with it cluttering up the house, but I insist I absolutely need it.

The biggest benefit of my job is the travel.

I could travel before and I loved doing it. But when people know your music, you connect very quickly, because they open up to you and tell you so much about themselves. Getting to meet people in their country, as opposed to being a tourist, has been the most incredible thing.

Straight after the Brits, I’m playing at Elton John’s Oscar party.

He’s been such a big supporter ever since the album came out. It’s amazing to go out there – and I’ll probably be singing with him as well. I have no idea what song… If I had to choose, Rocket Man would be cool. I can’t wait.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to pinch myself…

…But it’s been a lot!

It’s the longest year I’ve ever had. Fully packed. Things I would have dreamt of doing in four years, I’ve crammed into one. It feels quite manic. But you want to go as fast as you can, I guess.

Emeli Sande will perform at The Brits ceremony, which is broadcast on ITV at 20:00 on Wednesday, 20 February. Her new album, Live At The Royal Albert Hall, is out now.

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"I hope we start seeing forever, instead of what we can gain in a day.I hope we start seeing each other, 'cause don’t we all bleed the same?"

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