My chat with British singer-songwriter Ella Henderson took place in the most English atmosphere we could create here in Toronto, the Windsor Arms’ tea room (of course!), where it is completely normal and somewhat mandatory to wear a fascinator. It really couldn’t have been more perfect. After we got over the initial giggles that choosing the perfect hat induced we were able to get right to business. Ella is all business. It is easy to forget that the hit-making singer is only 19-years-old. Her single Ghost went platinum this summer in the US. She is beyond her years in her confidence (not an ounce of nervous energy) and when she speaks you’d think she has been in the business for decades. She just gets it. And that is why I am absolutely sure she is someone who is going to have a big influence on the future of music.
Here is my conversation with the incredibly talented Ella Henderson:
Congratulations on the success of your album.
Thank you very much. It’s a very exciting time, it’s crazy busy. I’ve been up for 6 hours already today.
Did you come straight from the UK?
No, I’ve been in the States for a month nearly. Started in Germany, then we went to New York, L.A., Miami, Washington. Then we headed over to here and then Montreal tonight and tomorrow. And then I fly back to see my family.
And then you start your UK tour with Take That?
Yeah, just after spring, I’m supporting Take That, which I’m excited for. They’re huge in the UK. They’re constantly reinventing themselves. To be involved in a tour like that. The experience I’m going to gain from it is priceless.
Is this your first major tour?
Yeah, it’ll be my first major tour. I’ve only ever done the X-Factor tour when I came off the show three years ago. That was a crazy whirlwind.
What do you think the transition has been like from being a normal person to a celebrity?
I don’t think I have changed. I’ve just grown as a person because of what I’m experiencing. I do the exact same things I loved to do before. Whether that’s me and my dog, or it’s me going for a walk by the river where I live. I come from a family with older brothers and sisters and my mom and dad. We’re six altogether and I was so used to all of us sitting around the table and having dinner at least once a week. So whenever we’re together we do that. We’re trying to do all those things as if nothing’s really changed except I’ve got this incredible career ahead of me.
With a song like Ghost, I never expected it to do what it has done. Ghost led me. It wasn’t the other way around. And that was the craziest thing. It sent me literally to the other side of the globe and back.
Do you think people judge musicians from reality show competitions, like the X-Factor?
I definitely feel that a lot of talent shows get boxed off into this category that it’s not real talent, it’s not raw talent. You go through a machine and are popped out the other end like a little doll. That’s why I say that route was never my plan.
My plan was always to leave school, and live in a flat with some friends in London. To have a 9-to-5 job while I got as many gigs as I could. Keep writing and eventually in my early twenties, head over to a record label and hopefully sit down and let them hear one of my songs. That was my plan the whole time.
But I woke up one day and knew that the audition was on. All I had to do was go along and sing, and see what happens. And I never thought I was the right kind of girl for it. I thought they wouldn’t be interested in someone like me.
I read that an important piece of advice you got from Simon Cowell was to “just enjoy it”. How important was that to you and is it ever a struggle?
It was really nice to hear those words coming out of his mouth. Especially someone like Simon Cowell. First of all, to have his belief, and then for him to have him say, “I want you to enjoy it.” Because you know, he’s witnessed it himself and he’s at a point probably now where he’s had so much experience that he knows what works and he knows what doesn’t.
I think everybody has days when you have to get up at like 3am, and you’re questioning, “Why am I doing this?” Then I remind myself, what a lucky position I’m in. But I think everybody in life experiences that.
What’s your favourite beauty advice that you’ve learned along the way?
Lots of water. Water and sleep. I can tell if I’ve had three hours of sleep because I wake up and go sit in the makeup chair and we have to put on a lot more concealer than normal. And that’s horrible, to be at the age of 19 and to feel like you look like an old woman.
What is your routine when choosing “your look” for the red carpet?
My stylist is incredible from back at home. We’re always constantly sending each other little WhatsApp messages of what I like or what I’ve seen in a magazine. Last year I was really into jumpsuits. So this year, I’m hoping to evolve from that and try to transform my style into something different this year.
On top of the style, do you have a piece in your closet that you can’t live without?
Probably my little black Hermes handbag. Well, that’s not an item of clothing but my handbag is my pride and joy. It’s the one thing that my mum got me when everything was going really well and it was to say she was really proud of me. It’s traveled the world with me.
In Ghost you sing about kind of a past relationship that haunts you. Do you have any outfit choices that haunt you from your past?
Definitely. I once went out and thought it was okay to wear a bright blue one-piece with a yellow beanie hat and trainers. It was a terrible, terrible mistake.
Is your next single Mirror Man? Can you tell us a little something about that?
Mirror Man for me is one of my favourite tracks from the album and it represents someone that’s completely in love with themselves and can’t love anybody else. It’s about the most self-centered person I’ve ever met. So it was fun scripting the music video for it and collaborating with music director Colin Tilley. He’s done so many amazing videos. We had a black panther on set. It was really cool.
I know it’s like choosing your child but is there one song on the album that love the most?
Probably the song Yours. Yours is a track that was never meant to go on the record. It was the last track I wrote and I actually took a track off the album and replaced it with Yours. And how it happened, there was a guy that has a YouTube channel called JoshRecord and I was a fan of his. I would watch his YouTube clips. He’s an amazing writer. My A&R person from the label was saying to me, “Oh I think he doesn’t live far from you.” And I said, “Give me his number then and I’ll try to arrange something.” I rung him and he said “I’d love to.” I went around to his house, which is like 15 mins up the road. We had a cup of tea, and we really got along. It was a summer’s day. We sat outside and he made me this amazing salmon salad.
We ended up just sitting down and writing something that was personal going on in my life right there and then. Even though it was the first time I met him, he was just a cool and chilled out guy. He was a lot like me but the guy version.
I ended the album with the track, Missed, which is my X-Factor audition song. So to actually incorporate Yours into the album was really nice because it was like a start and a finish song.
Is it easier to write about love lost than falling in love?
I don’t know. If you compare Yours to Beautifully Unfinished, they both came very naturally and they’re both about scale-end opposite things. If I’m feeling it, I write it down straight away. And half the time it’s just to clear my head. I don’t think it’s going to be a great song. I just think I need to let it out. It’s my form of therapy. That’s what songwriting has always been to me. I pull away and go sit at the piano. That’s my way of dealing with things.
Do you think that women are pinned against each other in the pop industry?
Yeah. There’s a certain level of being competitive and then there’s just being rude and ungrateful. You always got to have a sense that you’re here to do it for you and you want success from it. To see your name next to Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift’s album, that’s just amazing for me. We should just embrace each other because everybody is so different. I look at the females in the industry, and I just take inspiration from them. Beyonce, she’s just flawless in every aspect. Katy Perry, she’s the queen of pop. Ellie Goulding, I feel like she’s grown massively in the industry.
Speaking of other celebrities, do you ever get starstruck when you meet them?
I will, when I meet Beyonce.
What would you say?
I don’t know what I would say, I would probably start singing Crazy in Love to her. I don’t know, God knows.