What Katie did
KATIE MELUA WAS A BREATH OF FRESH AIR WHEN SHE ARRIVED ON THE MUSIC SCENE IN THE EARLY NOUGHTIES. SHE TALKS TO LUCY MAPSTONE ABOUT HER 15-YEAR CAREER AND PUTTING TOGETHER HER NEW ULTIMATE COLLECTION ALBUM
KATIE MELUA is inexplicably modest for someone who has experienced so much success. Fifteen years on from the release of her charttopping debut Call Off The Search, the Georgian-British singer – who has sold 11 million albums – reckons she just got lucky.
“I think it’s a mixture of extraordinary luck and just luck in meeting the people that I met,” she says, reflecting on her career.
“My producer and collaborator at the time always insisted on getting the most amazing musicians and on pretty much everyone playing live.
“And I realise now that that’s really rare, because that kind of music didn’t always have the guarantee of being super successful. It was always pop and R&B and dance music. That’s why I feel really lucky.”
Katie, 34, who has just released a compilation of her greatest hits along with two new tracks to mark her past decade and a half, certainly broke the mould when she arrived on the scene in 2003.
Her charming jazz- and folkinflected voice was a breath of fresh air for the music scene.
Debut album Call Off The Search, released when Katie was just 19, was a number one in the UK, spawning hit singles such as The Closest Thing To Crazy.
Her follow up, Piece By Piece in 2005, also hit the top spot and two years after that, third effort Pictures made it to number two.
At one point, Katie was named one of the richest stars in Britain under the age of 30. She was the best-selling UK female artist for a couple of years and her albums went platinum across the world.
But the heady heights of fame and the stress of keeping up with it all took its toll and, in 2010, Katie spent six weeks in hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown.
Two years ago, Katie said it was the “best thing” that had ever happened to her.
Now, she describes it as her “crunch time”, but adds: “What has arisen out of all of that is a great collection of work that I’m super proud of.
“All the crazy schedules, the crazy promo, the creative politics – which is always there – and those things you struggle with, actually in amongst that I look back and go, ‘These are great songs, great recordings I’m really proud of, and I can’t wait for what’s to come next’.”
Perhaps Katie’s no-nonsense outlook on life, from her triumphs to her low moments, is down to her upbringing.
She was born in Georgia, where she lived for most of the first decade of her life, around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Speaking of her childhood in the country, she remembers that times were difficult, due to lack of electricity and the political upheaval.
But she also fondly reminisces about the fun times: of climbing to pick blackberries, of swimming in the Black Sea and of living with a large crowd of family members.
“We lived with my dad’s family; my grandparents, two uncles on dad’s side, mum and dad, plus we had two friends of relatives staying because Georgia is very communal,” she recalls.
“This was in about 1991/1992, because of the Soviet Union breakdown. The infrastructure of the country had really suffered, but because of always being outside, always with nature even in the city, I loved it.
She is also glad to have then spent some of her formative years in the UK – first in Belfast, to which she moved at the age of eight with her family, and then in London.
“I’m grateful I got to realistically live in Georgia, see the life and experience it as a kid there, and also be raised in the UK,” she says.
“In Georgia during that period, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do what I’ve been able to do in the music industry.
“I’m really grateful to have had those two world views.
“When you looked ahead, about what you might do for a living in Georgia... I loved singing, I started to sing from a very young age. But didn’t seem to be much hope back then.”
Her birthplace is incredibly important to her, as Katie is to her compatriots.
“I find it remarkable to have done so well out here, but in Georgia it’s kind of magnified.
“Georgians really look up to artists from the west. Everyone in Georgia grew up on the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Black Sabbath. It means a lot to them that one of theirs has kind of done alright in the music industry.”
She’s definitely done alright, as her back catalogue proves.
Collating her body of work for her Ultimate Collection was, she says, “like looking at a photo album”.
“You know, when you’re a teenager and you think, ‘I’ve got really big thighs’, but then you look back and go, ‘Actually, I shouldn’t have worried about it.’
“When you put together a collection like this and you’re looking back on something you did five/10 years ago, there were quite a few moments where I went, ‘Actually, this is really good, and it seems to have lasted’, and it surprised me.”
For some artists, a greatest hits offering might signal the end of a career but not for Katie, something her fans will be delighted to hear.
“I’m doing a lot of writing at the moment, we’ll see what ends up surviving,” she reveals.
“There is so much work to be done, as far as I’m concerned, on just making records. I’ve got a lot of stuff to keep working on.
“I think I’ve only just begun, to be honest.”
Katie Melua may be releasing a greatest hits album, but she is also looking to the future