Life According To Rita Ora

Wear your heart on your sleeve, own your mistakes – and don’t be a snob about fashion...

Rita Ora - Grazia - Jason Hetherington

by Laura Antonia Jordan |
Published on

'I'm very normal and try my best to stay that way.’

Usually, when a celebrity insists that they’re ordinary, I would advise you to treat it in much the same way you would a man who makes a point of what a nice guy he is –with a hefty dose of scepticism. Unless that is, said celebrity happens to be Rita Ora.

Ora doesn’t know how not to keep it real. Frankness is one of her superpowers. But if she is ‘very normal’, the York Notes of her bio are anything but. The most ever Top 10 singles for a British female artist. More than 10 billion streams. Over 16 million Instagram followers. One Oscar-winning husband. Film parts and primetime TV gigs (The VoiceThe X FactorThe Masked Singer). Red carpets and front rows and... well, you get it.

Still, she’s a straight shooter, a sharer. ‘I don’t know how to answer things without it coming from my heart,’ she tells me when we sit down to talk in a west London studio on a washout February afternoon. ‘But that’s why I enjoy communicating with people, because they also feel comfortable talking to me. I like to be a very honest, trusting, open person.’

Down-to-earth and up for a chat, the 33-year-old comes from a remarkably unguarded place. She makes for easy, open and warm company. I’m not surprised Ora’s friends say that, when they go out, she could talk to a wall. ‘I just like knowing people’s stories and understanding people,’ she says. ‘I don’t care who it is or where they’re from.’

Her love of a natter sparked Ora’s successful Primark collaboration – the third collection is out this month. She was out in LA one night when her friend pointed out some people from Primark HQ across the bar. She absolutely had to go over and talk to them ‘as a fan’, Ora says – she wanted to tell them what the brand meant to her growing up. ‘It ended up becoming this real emotional night. It’s an unspoken language, I guess, Primark. You can always rely on it. It’s that trusting friend.’

When she first partnered with the retailer, she could tell people were cynical about the move. But if you want Ora to do something – tell her she shouldn’t. ‘It really winds me up when people try to limit you,’ she says of stay-in-your-lane naysayers.

Besides, she’s never been one for following the script – this is the woman who wore a prosthetic spine with, yes, a Primark dress to last December’s Fashion Awards – instead she, and her tight-knit team, simply ask: ‘OK, Rita, do you really stand by this?’ Of course she gets scared, feels the itch of impostor syndrome, but her drive overrides that.

The Primark partnership is also illustrative of how Ora seems completely devoid of snobbery. She wasn’t worried about it diminishing her own luxury fashion credentials. ‘It’s more about the respect that I have for high fashion and the respect that I have for high street fashion and combining the two,’ she says, adding, ‘I felt like maybe it could be a really cool opportunity for somebody who has experienced things like the Met Gala and done high fashion campaigns and rubbed shoulders with the best fashion designers of all time to do something that connects to the world I grew up in.’

Rita Ora Grazia
Photo: Jason Hetherington. Rita wears shirt, £16, skirt, £10, shoes, £12, and belt, £3, all Rita Ora x Primark

Born in Kosovo in 1990, Ora was just one when her Albanian parents took her and older sister Elena (equally charming, she helps manage her little sis) to live in London (brother Don arrived later). It was a loving upbringing, if not one of material privilege. Given her roots, how does the current, often negative, discourse around refugees and immigrants make her feel? ‘It’s so much bigger than my opinion,’ she says cautiously, adding, ‘there is also incredible opportunity and I think I’m a great example of that. I’ve had a really lucky, incredible upbringing that now I’m lucky to speak for others who don’t have a voice and have a dream.’

Today, Ora possesses the kind of fame that extends beyond her fanbase and seeps into the wider culture. People have opinions of Ora. In more than a decade in the public eye, she has been something of a gossip mill fixture. ‘I wear crazy clothes, I guess; I speak the way I speak, I have an opinion; I wear my heart on my sleeve and I guess being famous and wearing your heart on your sleeve is very entertaining!’ she laughs.

But why the fascination does she think? ‘I guess it’s because – well, I’d like to think – it’s because I’ve been very transparent since I started. I think people know what I am like now. They kind of get who I am. I’ve been super-vocal about my upbringing, where I’m from, how I talk,’ she says.

Coverage hasn’t always been positive – sometimes it’s fair (she’s fallible) and often not. How does she survive that scrutiny? ‘I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t care. Do I overanalyse myself because I’m in the public eye? Yes, 100%. But I try not to take it personally – that’s where I’ve made the shift.’

Still, although she thinks that ‘your messy twenties are meant to be messy’ Ora’s thirties did call for a change of tack. ‘I just felt like I needed to start looking after me. I was groggy all the time. I wanted to feel awake and that my brain was switched on.’ It also called for a change in how she saw relationships. ‘What makes me go...’ she lets out an exaggerated groan, ‘is when people pour so much responsibility into somebody else to make themselves feel how they want to feel. That’s a disaster, a car crash. You’ll always be unsatisfied. I was that person. And I sometimes still do expect things from people and get disappointed. That’s natural. But your standards and levels? You’re the only one who can meet those.’

It was when she came from that place that she got together with New Zealand actor and film-maker Taika Waititi. The couple had been friends for five years before Ora realised, ‘Hold on a minute, you’ve been there the whole time. Everyone would say, “When you know, you know,” and I never believed it. But genuinely when I decided to take that leap, and it happened, it was like, “This feels right, it feels safe.”’

It was she who proposed (the pair married last year in a tiny ceremony in LA. ‘We just winged that whole wedding. There was zero planning’), telling him, ‘We’re getting married. He was like “What the hell is going on?”’ she laughs. ‘Just go with it!’

Despite being a very happy newly-wed – ‘Our worlds really click. We just vibe’ – refreshingly, Ora refuses to airbrush her past. ‘My love life’s been colourful, to say the least,’ she laughs. ‘But how wicked is it that we can make those choices for ourselves? We’re so lucky to be able to control that part of our lives – some women don’t even have that choice. I learned from all those choices and all those decisions.’

Today, there’s a calmness and wisdom to her. ‘You never feel satisfied in an industry like this. Even if you’ve won all your awards and you’ve achieved everything that you wanted to, now what? It’s never enough. We really have to feel OK in ourselves,’ she says. ‘You have to make sure you’re doing it because you love it’.

So, what’s next then? Some time in her second home, New Zealand, and she wants to keep creating, making, doing things her own way. She’s keen to flex her acting muscles more. ‘My dreams are very unlimited: film, music, design more clothes. I’ve always checked in with myself. Am I enjoying this? I think that’s really important. I love making music, I love being on TV, I love talking to people.’ And, she adds, ‘I love seeing that I can still touch people. Don’t be fooled, these young kids are smart – they know when you’re not being real.'

Shop the Rita Ora X Primark collection

Photographs: Jason Hetherington. Styling: Molly Haylor. Hair: Karla Q Leon at Saint Luke Artists using Color Wow. Make-up: Sofia Tilbury at Charlotte Tilbury. Hair Assistant: Ana Torres. Make-up Assistant: Melina Bismpiki. Nails: Michelle Humphrey at LMC. Photographer’s Assistant: Alfie Bungay. Digital: Andy Mayfield. Stylist’s Assistant: Gavrielle Weiss. Style Intern: Nneoma Iloeje.

Top image Rita wears [left] top, £2, earrings, £2.50, ear cuff, £4.50 for 2, all Primark [right] jacket, £36, Rita Ora x Primark; briefs, £19.50 for 10; ear cuff, £4.50 for 2, and ring, £4.50 for 4, all Primark.

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