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Emeli Sande: I didn't know if people wanted more music from me

Emeli Sande tells Lucy Mapstone how she was affected by fame and that she hopes to channel euphoria through her new album

New strength: Emeli Sande has returned to the music scene
New strength: Emeli Sande has returned to the music scene

It's perhaps hard to believe, but Emeli Sande almost quit making music a while back over fears that people had had enough of her. With a degree in neuroscience under her belt, the singer-songwriter nearly stepped out of the spotlight to focus on her more academic side after becoming one of the UK's brightest young artists.

"I always like to keep life moving and fluid, and I didn't know if people wanted to hear more music from me because they'd seen me everywhere," she says.

"I kind of got the impression that maybe it's time for me to try another profession. There was a time I wondered, 'Well, is my music needed? Do I want to be doing something that's useful with my life?'"

Shrugging, she adds: "There was a point I considered it ... but I'm happy I got over that."

If you were around in 2012, there is no doubt you'll have seen or heard Sande at some point. Since her rise to fame a few years earlier, collaborating with the likes of rappers Chipmunk, Wiley and Professor Green and producer Naughty Boy, 2012 was the year that things skyrocketed.

Having won the Critics' Choice Award at the Brits, and then the British female solo artist gong, her debut album Our Version Of Events topped the charts, jumping back and forth to number one throughout the year. The album shifted more than 1.3 million copies in the UK alone by the end of the year, making it the biggest-selling record of 2012.

She was also almost a permanent presence thanks to her performances at both the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics along with a number of other high profile events, including a performance at the White House for Barack Obama the following year.

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Things were going so incredibly well for this rising star, and in 2016 her second album Long Live The Angels peaked at number two, her trajectory not slowing down despite the feelings that she had been overexposed early on into her career.

Perhaps not wanting to seem ungrateful for her achievements thus far, Sande is obviously overwhelmed and humbled by the triumphs she has had, but she does acknowledge that they came at a bit of a cost. Describing herself as an "introvert" - despite her remarkable voice and power to entertain an arena full of people, or a global audience of millions - the 32-year-old admits that she struggled with the level of fame that came as part of the package deal.

"I'm naturally quite a quiet person, and music has always been my voice - that's when I give myself full licence to be as loud and dramatic as possible," she says.

"But it was just trying to work out, 'Okay, people know who I am. Does that mean that I need to be a different person?' At the beginning, I was like, 'Well how do you be a famous person? And do they want different things from me?'

"You start doubting yourself but then, slowly over the years, I've realised that it's better if you're just yourself and you have to learn your own pace and work out what is going to be a healthy way for you to work. At the beginning, I was quite insecure as I'd never been the popular girl at school and had this attention. Now I realise I don't have to change, it's lovely because I view fame and attention so differently."

Sande says that at the age of around 27, she was at a "dramatic crossroads" in her life having worked tirelessly through her early 20s. She needed a bit of a break, she says, because she had not had a chance to self-reflect.

And, although she does not specifically mention it, it was around this time she divorced her partner of 10 years and her husband of two, Adam Gouraguine.

She says: "It was around then that I really felt a need to figure out my identity. That happens for a lot of people around that age."

Reflecting on her difficult times, she continues: "It's hard. You have a lot more clarity in retrospect, but at the time I don't think I realised the fierceness of it.

"Looking back, as I regained myself and the things I love to do and my energy and confidence, I realise how different I was a few years ago."

Long Live The Angels dealt with her personal battles and her divorce in part, but Sande has really put her newfound confidence and feelings of being more grounded into her third record, Real Life.

The record was also partly inspired by a trip to Zambia a few years ago to meet her father's family, helping her to understand her mixed race heritage better than she ever did before.

Having grown up in a tiny village in Aberdeenshire, where she admits she internalised feelings of being marginalised, it was a thoroughly "transformational" exercise that helped her to understand what it means to be a black woman.

"The main themes on the album are freedom and survival, and I wanted the message of love to run throughout every song," she explains.

"And I feel like each one really reflects me now as a woman, as an adult, and I've been very honest and transparent with the lyrics because I want people to truly relate to it and for there to be no facade in the music.

"That's the only way you can truly connect with the listeners. The making of the album came at a point in my life where I really felt like, 'Wow I'm really getting to know myself. I'm really beginning to accept and love myself in a new way that I've never felt before'."

As well as hoping for the record to reach people who have ever felt disenfranchised and to help them feel uplifted, Sande says she hopes it can serve as a kind of tonic to the current political and societal unease.

"I really wanted it to be uplifting and I wanted it to bring hope and just a breath of fresh air," she notes.

"Sometimes the air and the atmosphere feels very polluted, and our politics for one is crazy. There's a lot of darkness around, I believe, right now, and I just think people need a bit of refuge.

"Music was always my refuge. Growing up, if I felt invisible, music would make me feel like a giant and there's a real euphoria with music. I really wanted to try and channel that."

Emeli Sande's album Real Life is out today

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