Emeli Sandé: ‘Cutting my hair was the starting point of embracing myself’ | Life and style

The 80s weren’t easy for my parents. My mum is English and Dad is from Zambia, where he’d been a top engineer, but he couldn’t find work after moving to the UK – he was a window cleaner for a while. It was an honourable job, but he was always trying to find a way out.

Scottish nature is stunning. We moved to Aberdeenshire when I was four and at weekends we’d take a picnic and an inflatable boat to the River Don. You take those moments for granted as a kid.

Everybody’s a musician in Zambia. Visiting family there gave me a deeper understanding of myself. It was so alien being brown in Scotland. Culturally, I didn’t fully fit in either place, but for many mixed-race people that’s the life you settle with. You have to be a citizen of the world.

Mum and Dad knew I loved music from a young age. We couldn’t afford tickets to Cinderella, so Mum cycled to work instead of taking the bus until she’d saved enough money. I watched The Little Mermaid again and again, and my dad wrote out all the lyrics of Under the Sea, so I could practise singing.

My partner and I met when we collaborated on a track for my new record. Having her knowledge as a classical pianist was beautiful. Slowly we got closer… and here we are. It’s so nice to have a piece of music to mark how we met.

Coming out this year taught me that you have to be yourself. I’m lucky to live in a place where I can announce my relationship with a woman.

Everybody is spiritual. When I was younger I read the Bible and tried to find faith there. Now I think on a wider scale.

Rihanna told me she liked my hair and I was so starstruck, I literally couldn’t speak and just stared at her. Next time, I’ll have a script ready.

Receiving an MBE for my services to music was a proud moment. There’s rejection and hardship before you break into this industry, so recognition at any level is always lovely.

Cutting my hair was probably the starting point of embracing myself. We try to control the natural things about ourselves because we’ve been told to be something else. Every part of my life now is authentic and it feels so refreshing.

My mum has always said that you can’t please everybody and have to let go now and again. It’s a relief to let life flow.

Pigeons scare me. I had a face-off with one once, and the pigeon won. It spread its wings, made the loudest sound ever and I fell and twisted my ankle. Everyone in my family laughs about it.

Emeli Sandé’s new album, Let’s Say for Instance, is out on 6 May on Chrysalis Records

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