Emeli Sandé felt “alien” growing up in Scotland

Emeli Sande performs on the main stage at T in the Park. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Emeli Sande performs on the main stage at T in the Park. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Share this article
Have your say

SHE’S one of Scotland’s most successful musical exports in recent years, but singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé says she felt like an “alien” growing up in rural Aberdeenshire.

The Brit Award winner, who sold around four million copies of her debut album, told a US radio show that she moved to London as soon as she could after feeling out of place for much of her upbringing.

The 26-year-old, whose father Joel is from Zambia and mother Diane is from Sunderland, grew up in the village of Alford, around 25 miles outside of Aberdeen.

In a revealing interview with New York-based radio station Power 105.1FM, she said: “I moved to Scotland when I was four. I felt very different growing up. We were the only black people there and that was very isolating.

“I needed something, and that’s where music came in. That became my world and the way I could connect with people. As soon as I could, I moved to London.”

When presenter Angela Yee stated: “You were like ‘Get me out of here!’ the singer laughed, adding: “Yeah, as soon as I could.”

When asked how she was treated, she said: “You were just different. You were like an alien. I didn’t suffer any racism, but I felt very different.”

Sandé, who performed at both the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics, denied her isolation was in her head, continuing: “You want to know how to do your hair, how to fit in. You want to meet people who like the same type of music as well. You want to feel you’re part of something.”


The singer, who seldom discusses her private life, also talked about the role her husband Adam Radojevic, a marine biologist, plays in her career.

She said: “He’s a scientist and I love having someone who is so far away from what I’m doing.

“It gives me perspective and he looks at things objectively. He’ll listen to my music and say either ‘nah’ or ‘yeah’. He lets me know what everyone out there is going to think.”

The singer-songwriter, who got married last year, said her husband never gets jealous when she meets fellow stars, such as rapper Kanye West, adding: “He’s cool. When he can be here it’s great, but he’s doing his own thing. He’s excited by sharks.”

Sandé, who sang at the White House in May, spoke of growing up in Alford in an interview last year.

She said: “As a family we experienced nothing negative, nor did I encounter bullying or racism, despite being the youngest pupil and the only black one until my sister Lucy joined me. We were made totally welcome.”

The former Glasgow University medical student added: “It was nice to grow up in Alford. There were no distractions, so I had to study or write songs. It was very calming.”

Sandé performed in front of her former teachers at two sold-out shows in Aberdeen in April.

On returning home, she said at the time: “Sometimes you can get caught up in the industry and want to achieve this, that and the other.

“But then going back to Aberdeen and remembering all the little bars I used to play, I thought it was so nice they supported me.”