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Date with Kate

Date with Kate: Emeli Sandé

26th February, 2017

Emeli Sandé and I at Din Tai Fung World Square


Emeli Sande has topped 4½ million album sales and written songs for Rihanna, Alicia Key and Katy Perry. The Scottish singer recently released the long-awaited follow-up to her debut album Our Version of Events, which was Britain’s biggest-selling album of 2012, beating Adele’s 21. Sande, 30, talks to me about fame’s highs and lows, why she doesn’t use her first name, and the best advice she received from Alicia Keys.

What are you doing in Australia? 

I am promoting my music and it’s my first time here.

What was your first break in the music industry? 

I started as a writer, so I feel like that is how I got my foot in the door, but my big break as an artist, I featured in a song called Diamond Rings with [British rapper] Chipmunk – that was my first top 10. And then when I released a song called Heaven – that was my first ‘OK, I’m here by myself’. So when Heaven came out, I felt like I got rolling.

Have you always wanted to be an entertainer? 

Yes – since I was a kid I used to listen to Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Nina Simone. I just always knew I wanted to be a singer. I studied medicine. I would have loved to have done that as well, but music was always my big passion and my one big dream.

Do you prefer writing or performing? 

I think you have to have an equal balance because sometimes you’ve been in the studio so long with the same people and you’re over-thinking a lot of things – but equally, I love them both.

Do you have a pre-show ritual? 

I try and just get everyone to chill out because we rehearse so much and then people can get a little bit nervous before going on stage, so we just try to chill. I like incense; we have a little prayer before going on stage, just try to get in the zone.

You are based in London. What is a typical day for you there? 

Well, I have a studio in my basement, so usually I wake up, listen to what we did last night. I don’t know, but I live in Shoreditch, which has a lot of bars, restaurants. So yes, I’ll hang out there and make music most of the days.

What was your childhood like, growing up in Scotland? 

Quite quiet and very peaceful. I could spend time focusing on school and music because it wasn’t a big city to distract you from anything. So looking back, I think I did take it for granted how beautiful the scenery was and how beautiful the whole thing was. But then, as you get older, you start to realise you are pretty lucky.

What has been the biggest change in your life since finding fame? 

Travel. So far we have been in Uganda, Los Angeles, and now we are here, and that is just this year. So I feel so lucky I can see different cultures and people. That is the biggest change.

What is the best and the worst thing about being famous? 

The best thing is hearing stories about what the songs have meant to people. It is always just a great reminder to keep doing what you’re doing. And the worst thing is, I usually look really scruffy and a bit, like, downtrodden, so when people recognise me, some people are like, ‘You look so much like Emeli Sande’, and I’m like, ‘I am her!’ [laughs].

Is it true you decided against using your real name Adele Sande, due to Adele’s growing success? 

Yes, I didn’t have to but I did feel like I wanted my own name, and she was really like big then even … My grandmother’s name is Emily, so I kind of feel like I am representing that. She is the original Emily Sande in Zambia, and now I get to spread it a bit further.

Have you got used to people calling you Emeli? 

Yes, my mum and my sister still, and everyone that knew me before, call me Adele, but I kind of feel like it helps me get into entertainer, work mode.

You have collaborated with amazing singers and producers; who have you enjoyed working with the most?

Naughty Boy, I love working with him. Labrinth was amazing when we did Beneath Your Beautiful. Alicia Keys, I have been a fan of hers since I was about 13. So I went to New York to work on her album a few years ago and it was so surreal, like we were on this rooftop and she was showing me her whole life in New York.

Who is on your bucket list to collaborate with? 

I would love to write a song for, and even perform with, Beyonce. I would love to work with Kanye West.

What has been your biggest career highlight so far? 

There is a songwriting award in the UK called Ivor Novello. When I was growing up, I was like: that is an award I really want to get and work for. So when I got that for Clown and Next To Me, that felt like a really good achievement. Singing for the [London] Olympics was amazing.

What was that like? 

Pretty nerve-racking, but it just felt so amazing to be part of something so poignant, and it was such a big thing to be a British culture representative in that way – kind of an honest reflection of London and Britain. It was a really important moment that I’m proud of.

What has been your biggest pinch-me moment? 

Performing in front of the Obamas and Carole King – they were literally sitting there and I was singing an Aretha Franklin song with some of Aretha Franklin’s original band. So it was always, like, pretty mind-blowing.

Do you plan to come back to Australia? 

Yes, if this trip goes well and everyone likes the performance I would love to come back.

What has been the best advice you have been given? 

Once, a couple of years ago, I rang up Alicia Keys – she has kind of become like a mentor to me, like a big sister that I could call and ask questions. She said, ‘Emeli, I’m going to tell you something Oprah Winfrey told me … Oprah said, ‘I had spent my whole life searching for something and finding it in me’ and at the time I was like, ‘OK, hopefully I will understand what that means’ … Unless you take time to really work on yourself and build your own self-confidence and self-love, then you are kind of always going round in circles. I feel I fully understand it now.

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

I hope I have a couple more albums and hopefully have some kids. I hope I would have spread my music around the world. I would love to have it as far and wide a


WE WENT TO Din Tai Fung, World Square

WE ATE Pork Dumpling / Xiao Long Bao; Vegetable and Pork Jiao Ze; Vegetarian Jiao Ze; Crab Meat and Roe with Pork Dumpling

WE DRANK Lychee Mint Freeze

Photography by Edwina Pickles


Date with Kate


11th September, 2016
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 04: Kate Waterhouse poses for a picture with Caroline O'Connor during a 'Date with Kate' on August 4, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Fairfax Media)

Caroline O’Connor and I catch up for cake and coffee at Fourth Village, Mosman


Caroline O’Connor has performed on Broadway and London’s West End, danced at the Tony Awards and played Nini Legs in the Air in the Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge. The performer, who was born in England and grew up in Sydney, has been awarded for her roles in Chicago, West Side Story and Man of La Mancha. She is back in Australia playing two roles in Dream Lover, the musical on the life of Bobby Darin, alongside David Campbell as the American crooner. O’Connor, 53, chatted to me about what’s on her bucket list and shares her advice for anyone aiming to be an entertainer.


Tell me about your roles as Polly and Mary Douvan in Dream Lover.  

I will be playing Bobby Darin’s grandmother. And then also the mother of his first wife. So there will be two totally different characters, which is going to be amazing fun for me.

Is it difficult to transition into two different roles? 

I don’t think so. I did Bombshells: I played six different women from the ages of 15 to 53. My whole career has been based on playing characters anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever done a role where I’ve played someone like myself. I’ve never used my own accent … I’ve just always created a character, who talks a certain way or a certain speed or a certain accent.

How did you prepare for these roles? 

Well, the best thing is that these people were real and that always makes it easier. When you play a fictional character, you have to just come up with stuff yourself and then believe in it. [When the people were real] it’s just discovering if she dressed well, if she didn’t, if she came from a poor family, what the fashion was like at the time, if she was a happy person, if she was a very sad person. So I get to do all that research, read the autobiographies and really try and find out about these women and bring them back to life.

What attracted you to the roles of these two women? 

I think the fact that I’d get to be challenged, as an actor, to do two diverse women. I adore musicals. I think that they’re sometimes underrated as far as the demands of a musical are concerned …  It’s [much harder] to go from dialogue to a song and song to dialogue than it is just to do dialogue.

You are a singer, a dancer and an actress. Which of those genres do you prefer the most? 

I’ll always be mad for dance because that’s how it began for me. But I have to say, the older I get, the more I realise that whenever I’ve worked … I have to inhabit that person and become her. If I’m going to be Fanny Brice, a comedian, then I have be inhabit that physicality of her being a comedian and also vocally use the accent, use the personality of the person.

How did you start in dance and musical theatre? 

My parents came from Ireland [so] they sent me off to Irish dancing classes. That’s how it started. And then, by the time I was 15, I went to Dublin, I got third in the world for Irish dancing … I auditioned for Oklahoma when I was about 20 and I got into the show [and] I thought, ‘This is where I’m meant to be.’ I feel so fortunate because a lot of young people, that doesn’t happen to them, where they find the job that they love.

You’ve been called the queen of musical theatre. What has been your biggest achievement to date?

After Dream Lover, I’m going back to Broadway to do my third Broadway show. It is going to be Anastasia, which is based on the animated film Anastasia.

You have worked on Broadway and the West End. What has been your most challenging role? 

I did Funny Girl about 17 years ago and when they rang up and said, ‘Do you want to do it again?’ I thought, ‘Oh gosh, that’s hard.’

Why is Funny Girl so hard? 

It’s a really big role. I sing 11 numbers and she is off-stage just for literally maybe 30 seconds at a time.

What was it like to part of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge? 

Doing Moulin Rouge was a really big deal because I had never done a film before that.

What did you learn from your time on set? 

Camera angles, how you get a person worked up and ready for the scene. It was fabulous. It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had.

What was it like working with Baz Luhrmann? 

He is incredible and the most amazingly supportive and inspiring person when you’re on the set with him. He is just so excited about it all. It’s wonderful. You can see how much he adores what he does.

Were you excited to hear that Moulin Rouge is heading to the stage? 

So excited to hear about it because, to be perfectly honest, since we made the film, I always thought it would be the perfect vehicle as a stage musical – it has all the ingredients to make a brilliant stage musical, so it’s incredibly exciting. I just wish I was 20 years younger so I could be in it again!

Will you be part of the production? 

I should probably think not, unfortunately – unless I get a comedy cameo somehow! I would be happy to give any advice or any help if anybody would like to have any, but I will definitely be in the audience.

Is there a role or a character that’s on your bucket list? 

I really want to do more plays, but I should have to just wait and see if that’s going to happen. I would love, love, love to do shows like Hello Dolly and Mame – classic shows. I’d love to do a play called The Lion in Winter and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. They’re two I’d love to do. [And] I think I’d like to [teach] master classes or something.

What would be your best piece of advice to someone starting out in the industry? 

People will take criticism or direction personally, rather than professionally. They can’t help it, their ego gets hurt. But I think that’s one thing I try and say to students is when you get a ‘no’ or you get corrected, you’ve got to realise that it’s about the work, it’s not about you personally … The other would be to not plan anything – you can’t. You never know what they’re going to produce or what’s going to come up next, you’ve just got to go with the flow, expect the unexpected and be prepared for whatever might come up.



WE WENT TO Fourth Village Providore, Mosman

WE ATE Vanilla and Chocolate Cannolis and Raspberry Ricotta Cake

WE DRANK English Breakfast Tea and a Flat White.

CAROLINE WORE a Carla Zampatti jacket and silk blouse from Marcs

Photography by Daniel Munoz


Dream Lover opens on September 22 at the Sydney Lyric theatre; from $69.90.