Search International Hotels
Rita Ora: 'You're hot'. Photograph: Luke MacGregor/Reuters
Rita Ora dives on to a sofa, flashing glittery fingernails decorated with £50 notes. On a normal day you'd notice these straight away, or if not you'd definitely notice the hair – a haywire mass of peroxide blonde. But today your attention is diverted by what she describes as her "Technicolored Wotsit-looking jumpsuit".
Some people work hard at being a popstar, but it comes annoyingly naturally to this 21 year old. Were we not banned by the Guardian's Department of Bad Puns, we'd say she had a real Ora about her. She's certainly as upbeat as they come, and with good reason. Her guest vocals on DJ Fresh's Hot Right Now became the first ever drum'n'bass number one back in February and she's now gearing up to release her debut solo album after signing to Jay Z's Roc Nation label. Looking at the collaborators she's worked with already – Drake, Chase and Status, Stargate – you can see why some people have her pegged as The Next Rihanna (TM).
"I don't think there will be a next Rihanna," she says. "But I think [Jay Z] definitely sees me as someone who could be as big as Rihanna. She's a superstar now but they first knew her as a small-island girl – and they want to repeat that success."
Ora feels a kinship with Rihanna – both have become pop stars from unlikely places, but instead of Barbados Ora life started in Kosovo, although her family moved to London when she was a baby. Her first musical loves were Spiceworld and Celine Dion – earlier today she bought a vintage T-shirt with Dion's face on – before she graduated to reggae from her local Notting Hill shop (Bounty Killer, Sizzla, Beanie Man) along with "artists who were not afraid": Hendrix, Bowie and Gaga.
She has had a few dabbles with pop stardom. These involve guesting on Craig David records and appearing on Andrew Lloyd Webber's Eurovision: Your Country Needs You! in 2009 (she pulled out, realising it wasn't for her) but she's not embarrassed by any of this. Instead she seems to absorb everything that comes in her path with a breezy confidence, as if waking up and recording a song written by Drake – which she did for her debut UK single RIP – was as natural as, say, making a cup of tea.
She does admit to being starstruck when meeting Jay Z for the first time. She had no prior warning so was unable to "prepare to have the heart attack before I had the heart attack. I shook his hand and my belly felt like it was about to throw up." Even chilling with Shawn Carter, however, came naturally after a couple of hours: "It was like I knew him for years. He's so welcoming and humble and genuinely helpful and caring when it comes to music."
Her self-assuredness no doubt comes in part from attending the Sylvia Young theatre school – whose alumni include Amy Winehouse and Dionne Bromfield. "There were so many people in the building that all wanted the same dream," she says. "It was a building of energy filled with hunger."
This sounds to me like a recipe for everyone hating each other but she shrieks "No!" and says: "There were so many different vocational subjects that everyone could do a different thing. There were people who loved musical theatre, for instance, but I never really had that [adopts stage-y voice]"Laaaaaaaaa!"
I wonder what it was like for Ora to work with Drake – in one interview she talks about having had a crush on him.
"Oh yeah, used to! Not that I still do!" she blushes, before saying somewhat unconvincingly: "I just was a fan of his music. And he sings songs that make women feel good about themselves."
Feel good about themselves? Aren't lots of his songs about empty sex, cheating and guilt?
"Oh, you don't understand," she replies. "Women love an honest man. An honest man that isn''t afraid to say "men get hurt too". And a lot of men don't admit that."
Is that an honesty she's trying to replicate in her music?
She says so, definitely. She describes RIP – a synthy, dubstep-flavoured banger – as "such a woman anthem, it sent out a message to say: 'You're hot, tell your man that you're hot.'"
As for How We Do (Party) – a drinking anthem aimed at the US market – she has said it covers that moment when you "wake up in the morning and want to take another whisky shot."
"When did I say that?" she says, looking confused.
Er, it's in your official biog!
"Oh!" she says, and her big eyes go bigger. "Well, I'm just talking about how to get over a hangover!" She looks worried. "I don't drink every morning!"
I wonder if the reference to Tanqueray gin was a nod to Winehouse, who referenced the brand in You Know I'm No Good. But Ora's response – "That's just a specific whisky" – suggests that the honesty in her songs is perhaps more of a musical one. Not that this matters. Grand personal statements are hardly necessary for breaking the pop market at this stage. What matters is big hooks, smart style and an arresting personality – three bases that Ora has more than covered.