Inspiration to stardom
Rita Sahatciu – or Rita Ora as she is better known in Britain’s entertainment industry – is a hugely talented and equally as successful singer and actress. Now, she holds a name that everyone, everywhere has heard of, but her start in life didn’t come so smoothly.
Ora was born in Kosovo in 1990 – a time which saw great conflict begin to bubble under the surface.
By the time she had turned one, the tensions between Albania and Serbia had reached breaking point and major violence was beginning.
As events unravelled quickly around him, Ora’s father, Besnik Sahatciu, made the life-changing decision to uproot his family of five and flee their home in Pristina in search of refuge. However, the crisis surrounding the country meant that airports, boarders and train stations were closing, subsequently trapping people in the country.
In her biography, Hot Right Now, Ora used the word “lucky” to describe her family’s escape, “we were the last flight out of Pristina” she said.
It was 1,661 miles away, in London’s Notting Hill where Mr and Mrs Sahat.iu set up home and continued to raise their three children – Rita, Elena and Don – safe from what eventually spiralled into the Kosovo War of 1998-99. However, upon landing on English soil, and before setting up their new lives, Rita and her siblings were temporarily put into a children’s home while her parents’ status was reviewed.
Ora may have only been an infant at the time of her family’s refuge, but she would go on to spend her subsequent years battling the challenges that refugees are so often faced with, including harsh stereotyping and lack of opportunities.
In an interview with the Evening Standard, she remembers: “That word [refugee] carries a lot of prejudice […] when you put anyone into an alien environment, where other people aren’t completely comfortable with them being there, they are automatically going to be defensive. It’s the rule of the jungle, right?”
Her turbulent upbringing was something that very nearly saw her go down an entirely different path to the one she is on now, with her parents fearing she would end up on a downward spiral towards the all too familiar path of drug and alcohol abuse.
Fast forward to 2015 for a brief moment though and her refugee status came into focus and was shone in a positive light as she was named an Honorary Ambassador of the Republic of Kosovo. In her speech she thanked Britain for its refuge but said: “I will always have a special place in my heart for my home town and Kosovo.”
Back to early Ora, and it was at the age of 17 that she began to put her negative past behind her and think more seriously about her future and pursued her passion for singing. With her Sylvia Young Theatre School education in tow, she started out by performing at open mic nights, as many musicians have done before her.
Between the years 2007-2010 it seemed like she would make the breakthrough she so clearly deserved, having signed with record label, Roc Nation, and making cameo video appearances for the likes of Jay-Z and Drake. But it wasn’t for another four years until she really made a name for herself.
Turning to YouTube, the social media platform that has become a career-starter for many, Ora was uploading covers of songs which eventually caught the attention of DJ Fresh who was on the look-out for an unknown female vocalist to feature in his new song Hot Right Now.
Hot Right Now is arguably the single that everyone remembers Rita Ora for. It smashed its way to the top of the UK Singles Chart peaking at number one. And, leaving everyone desperately wanting to know more about DJ Fresh’s fresh talent, it was the leg up into the industry she needed.
She certainly didn’t waste any time making her next move as soon after her breakthrough she released a number of solo hits – R.I.P and How We Do both claimed her number one spots in the UK Singles Chart. Having tested how her music was being received, it was time for her to unleash a debut album on the world.
An artists’ debut album is often make or break, but Ora, as the album was titled, rocketed to the top of charts and was followed by three nominations for the 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards, a mini US tour, followed by her very first UK stadium tour which was a sell-out, plus a further three nominations for the 2013 Brit Awards including British Breakthrough Act. So, it’s safe to say it was make rather than break for this singer.
Countless songs (Black Widow, For You and Girls), performances (BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Isle of Wight Festival) and brand collaborations (Adidas, Rimmel, DKNY) have come since but in 2015 she was the surprise that nobody in the film industry saw coming when she confirmed her part in the three three-part movie franchise, Fifty Shades of Grey. She played Mia, the sister of protagonist Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan.
Despite raving about her pursuit into acting, and with no doubts that we will see her again on our screens, conversation always, somewhat naturally, reverts back to music for Ora, and when recently speaking to The Guardian, she said: “People, everyday people, do jobs from nine to five that I don’t think they wished for when they were kids. I love everything I’ve done as a woman and as a businesswoman, but my whole life and passion and fulfilment in my heart has always been about my music.”
Two albums, 17 awards and four films down the line and Rita is no longer known as a refugee from Kosovo, but the global sensation with a real knock-out voice.
But, in a time where refugees are still making negative headlines, it’s important that we don’t forget Ora’s poignant backstory, which portrays a story of how one refugee turned it all around to prove the world wrong.
And, while she is dominating the music, and film scene and is said to be worth an estimated $19 million, a minute in her company and you will still find, in her words, “just a normal person from West London.”