When her par­ents de­cided to swap one small war-torn coun­try for an­other, Ge­or­gian-born Katie Melua pitched up in North­ern Ire­land at the age of eight – without a word of English. Twenty years on, the plat­inum-sell­ing singer says she’s taken the best el­eme

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From the Falls Road to fame

Kete­van ‘Katie’ Melua was born in 1984 in what was then the Soviet Union. She moved with her par­ents and brother from Tbilisi, Ge­or­gia, to Belfast when she was eight, in the wake of the Ge­or­gian Civil War that en­sued af­ter the col­lapse of Com­mu­nism. Her fa­ther, Ami­ran, a heart spe­cial­ist, took a po­si­tion at the pres­ti­gious Royal Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal. Her mother, Ta­mara, is a qual­i­fied nurse. While liv­ing in Belfast, Eastern Ortho­dox-raised Katie at­tended Catholic schools; her younger brother, Zurab, on the other hand, was ed­u­cated in Protes­tant ones. The fam­ily moved to Lon­don when she was 14, where she went on to at­tend the Brit academy of mu­sic. Her 2004 breakthrough song, The Clos­est Thing To Crazy, paved the way for plat­inum al­bum sales and the fol­low- up smash Nine Mil­lion Bi­cy­cles. Katie mar­ried su­per­bike cham­pion James Tose­land last yyear.

What is your very y ear­li­est mem­ory?

Danc­ing with my grand­dad in the flat my fam­ily shared in Ge­or­gia. It was as dur­ing the days of Com­mu­nism. I was as about three, so I was danc­ing on his feet, and it was to the he theme t u ne of a govern­ment kids’ ds’ pro­gramme called Wa­ter­melon, about out how great Ge­or­gia was and how won­der­ful were our wa­ter­mel­ons. It’s a happy mem­ory, al­though a few years later Grand­dad had a heart at­tack in the flat, which was aw­ful.

What sort of child were you?

Con­fi­dent, en­er­getic. I used to put on shows and make my par­ents watch and pay me in sweets. We lived on the fourth floor of an apart­ment build­ing; there were lots of kids and ev­ery­one got in­volved with their neigh­bours’ lives. For a child it was a very warm, happy en­vi­ron­ment, de­spite the fact civil war was rag­ing and we had no elec­tric­ity.

When did you last feel re­ally happy?

Today I re­hearsed a con­cert to cel­e­brate my 10th an­niver­sary in mu­sic. I have brought over a Ge­or­gian choir, and to per­form with them was just in­cred­i­bly nos­tal­gic and up­lift­ing, like my past and present have been com­pletely united.

What has been your big­gest achieve­ment?

Grow­ing up, one band I com­pletely loved, who to­tally influenced me, was Queen. In 2005 Brian May and Roger Tay­lor asked me to play with them in front of Nel­son Man­dela. It doesn’t get more un­be­liev­able than that. We per­formed Too Much Love Will Kill You; the whole thing seemed sur­real.

…and yy­our biggestgg dis­ap­point­ment?

Be­ing so small. I’m 5ft 1in. I don’t feel small; I feel I should be at least a good few cen­time­tres taller.

WWhat are you best at?

Fac­ing my fears. I do adrenal ine sports, not be­cause I love them, but be­cause I’m scared. I jump from planes, but the most dramatic thing was a con­cer t in the Nor­we­gian sea. I did sur­vivals train­ing and med­i­cal tests, then we did a ter­ri­fy­ing drop in this cap­sule to the seabed, where I per­formed.

What would you like to be bet­ter at?

Sports. I’m mar­ried to a sports­man. He’s good at ev­ery­thing, but if I had a few ten­nis lessons, I’m sure I could beat him.

What is your worst char­ac­ter trait?

In­de­ci­sive­ness. I’m a floater — I swing from side to side. I grew up in Com­mu­nist Ge­or­gia, then as a teenager off the Falls Road in Belfast. I thought I’d be a politi­cian, but I would have been aw­ful, as I al­ways see ev­ery side.

What or who do you dream about?

I have a re­cur­ring dream about be­ing late for lessons at school. I was a real geek. I was pretty much al­ways top of the class, es­pe­cially in physics, chem­istry and his­tory. The dream must be my in­ner swot pan­ick­ing.

The worst thing any­one has ever said to you?

My mother al­ways says, ‘What are you wear­ing?’ She says it so much, it does get to me. She’s very glam­orous and I’m a bit of a tomboy, so I’m a dis­ap­point­ment to her.

Who would you like to say sorry to?

When I was 15, I did a ouija board with my friend Rachel. I pre­tended words were spelt out and she was re­ally badly af­fected by it, un­til a year later she found out I’d made it all up. She still doesn’t speak to me. I’m sorry, Rachel.

What is your most trea­sured pos­ses­sion?

My bed. I’ve bought all the best pil­lows, du­vets and mat­tress cov­ers in goose down and Egyp­tian cot­ton sheets. I spend so much of my life in ho­tel rooms and on tour buses, my bed is my beau­ti­ful lux­ury.

What was the best night of your life?

Play­ing the Mon­treux Jazz Fes­ti­val last year, watch­ing MIA af­ter­wards then Lana Del Ray, and drink­ing and par­ty­ing all night. I can’t do wine, but I’m Ge­or­gian, and we have a drink called chacha — very strong vodka — so I can drink a sur­pris­ing amount of spir­its.

Your most em­bar­rass­ing mo­ment?

In­sist­ing to my man­ager I’d never played Wem­b­ley and then him prov­ing to me that I had. How can you for­get that?

Tell us a se­cret about your­self.

I’m se­ri­ously into gar­den­ing — I grow hy­drangeas. I’ve even taken classes.

Your most un­for­get­table mo­ment?

Sit­ting next to Nel­son Man­dela for a photo. He was hi­lar­i­ous and kept jok­ing how he’d make our boyfriends jeal­ous.

What was the last TV show you loved?

Out­num­bered. The kids are hi­lar­i­ous and the par­ents so stressed. It just seems very real.

The most fa­mous per­son in your phone?

Gary Bar­low — but I’ve never called him.

What was the last book you read?

The Fast-Start Guide To Play­ing Pro Poker by Sam Brun­son. I love poker and went for a few lessons with Sam.

What was the last film you saw?

The Great Gatsby. Beau­ti­ful, but I want to read the book as I wasn’t sure of the mes­sage.

What is the last thing you want to say?

My new al­bum is very re­flec­tive, very di­verse, and I think it’s my best ever. Katie’s lat­est al­bum, Kete­van, is out now on Dra­matico; visit katiemelua.com

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