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
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