Belfast Telegraph

Rita Ora: It's so cute to see Prince Harry happy... I'm still waiting for my invite to sing at the wedding

Rita Ora is back with a catchy single and a new mission - to save the elephants. Phoebe Luckhurst meets the singer

Rita Ora can't decide if turning 27 means she's still an ingenue or approaching pension age. "I don't know how to feel about it," she says, mock-anguished. "I am young - but feel like I'm not." She pauses. "You know the iconic 27 club? Well, if we make it through 27, we'll be alright."

Frankly, Ora seems unlikely to fall foul of rock 'n' roll's definitive cautionary tale. For a start, the hangovers have started to hit her ("I used to be able to go out, wake up and not really have a hangover - now it takes two days to get over one"), but more importantly she's revving up for a new chapter. In March, she'll release her first album since 2012's Ora, the long hiatus largely down to a contractual falling out with her former record label Roc Nation.

Her latest single, Anywhere, the second from the as-yet-unnamed album, is number two in the charts - she estimates it is about "200 copies" off the top spot. Your Song, the first song from the new record, is a collaboration with ginger troubadour Ed Sheeran and was released over the summer, peaking at a promising number seven, and the album tour will start in May 2018. When we speak, she is in Moscow for a performance.

Granted, though, the break from music hasn't been a sabbatical. For the past five years she's been presenting (turns for The Voice, America's Next Top Model, The X Factor), acting (notably, playing Christian Grey's sister Mia in Fifty Shades of Grey) and collaborating with brands including Adidas and Tezenis.

"I've grown into this 360-degree artist, which I am very proud to call myself. It's modern." But she also found the break from music "frustrating" and she's excited to be back.

Plus, there are further good omens for the year ahead. For a start, her 27th was Ora's "best birthday ever". She spent it in Kenya, lodging with Masai tribes, and witnessing the work of the Kenya-based conservation charity Space For Giants, for which she is now an ambassador. Space for Giants secures elephant habitats, protects herds, campaigns to end the ivory trade and educates communities about living side-by-side with elephants.

The whirlwind trip to Kenya was "incredible". "I saw the wild animals and how they lived - it was a different perspective," she says.

"Based on that, I really started to care about how they lived. All my childhood memories of wild animals are from zoos, where they were in our habitat. My eyes opened up in such an amazing way."

She "didn't think twice" about getting involved. "I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to shine a light on something so important. People should know more about what's going on in the world."

She's been offered roles with other charities but Space For Giants struck a chord. "This for me is so special because I experienced it first-hand, and now I'm just really attached to it for the rest of my life."

The charity's founder and CEO Dr Max Graham, is thrilled to have Ora's support. "Rita can mobilise the positive power needed as she possesses humility, compassion and an infectious warmth. She is the persuasive and positive influence we need."

So this is her first formal role - though she gained informal experience of philanthropy this summer as an agitator for the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Ora is a local: a Kosovan refugee who grew up with her parents, brother and sister, near London's Portobello Road. She was one of the first high-profile people on the scene in June.

"It completely broke my heart. As soon as it happened I was there on the site, saying, 'Get anything you can and get down there'." She hopes to make it down to some of the events planned to support victims during December. "The community effort was really inspiring. Seeing everybody come together was like the lightning that came out of the darkness."

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Rita Ora

On a similar theme, Ora is also supporting a Christmas Appeal in aid of the Felix Project's Help a Hungry Child. During December, the food waste charity will give out food donated by supermarkets and wholesalers to pupils at London's most disadvantaged primary schools. A telethon will take place on December 7. The campaign resonates with Ora's philosophy on Grenfell. "I'm up for doing anything to help my community," she says.

Activism is a pressing element of Ora's new chapter. She was inspired by the #MeToo movement and how it steeled women in solidarity with each other. "It's such a beautiful thing to see people using their voices and standing up. It's mental how many people think about the same thing and never talk about it."

She had her own experience of being a vocal trailblazer this week, when she spoke on Australian television about her decision to freeze her eggs in her early twenties. "I found it so amazing how many women related to me, and sent messages saying, 'It's amazing you're speaking out about this'. I felt good that I was able to help girls to feel that they're not alone. Why not use my platform for something that can help other girls?"

What then of the woman of the week, Meghan Markle? "I'm so happy," she laughs. "It's so cute to see Harry happy. Whatever makes him happy, I'm happy." Does she fancy her chances at performing at the wedding? "I'm still waiting for my invite."

She downplays her chances of a Christmas number one too. "Fingers crossed. You know how Christmas is - all the legendary Christmas songs resurface. I'm just looking forward to celebrating it."

The day itself will be spent in the countryside with family, and then she's off skiing for the first time. "Wish me luck. I've never gone skiing before. I have a feeling I'm going to be eating a lot of snow." Not very rock 'n' roll.

Rita Ora's new single, Anywhere, is out now. Her second album will be out in March next year

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