On the cusp of possibly the biggest moment of her life, the release of her debut album, Freya Ridings was facing the heart-in-your-mouth panic of realising she had potentially lost all the ideas she had worked on for its follow-up.
It was Glastonbury, somewhere in the haze of the Pyramid Stage, and suddenly, her phone was gone, voice memo recording app, all her new work and all.
“I almost died,” she says. “All new material. It’s like basically my whole second album. Well, potentially.”
Performing on the John Peel stage, after founder Michael Eavis had named her in an interview as one of just two acts he had to see (placing her in esteemed company alongside headliners The Killers), the singer thought about a shout-out to the packed tent: “Like, ‘has anyone seen a sparkly iPhone?'”
Luckily, the good folk of Glastonbury came through, and the phone was handed in. “Two days without it and I hadn’t backed it up. I just misplaced it somewhere and we went round looking for it everywhere. But someone handed it in, so it was lovely. Thank you, God!”
Future work back safe and sound, Ridings was able to return her concentrations to the present; her eponymous first album, released as the clock struck midnight into Friday.
I meet Ridings just hours before, at the YouTube Space headquarters in central London, where she is about to record a new video. It is her second day here, having performed her album in its entirety live for a handful of fans the night before.
In her dressing room ahead of the video shoot, scheduled to be wrapped in just an hour or so, she greets everyone with a warm hug and a megawatt smile, fizzing with excitement, saying she will be waiting up to see the reaction when the record drops.
YouTube has played a big part in the singer’s success; from covers played in her bedroom to her recent singles, in the last year, she has amassed more than 50 million views around the world. Coinciding with her album launch, she has just been named YouTube Music’s second Artist On The Rise, a “dream come true” which means extra support on the channel and its social platforms – as well as some pretty huge billboards in London, LA and New York.
“I didn’t honestly realise what a big deal it was till… we were in a meeting and everyone was like, ‘this is the massive billboard’. I was like, ‘whaaat?'”
Ridings can barely contain her excitement. “It’s honestly one of those things that as a child growing up in London, you see tube posters and billboards, you get very, very used to it, but you never think that your face is going to be on one of them. It’s a lovely thing that people like old friends and family members, they’re sending me photos and being like ‘I saw you’.
“And it just suddenly makes something that doesn’t feel real, feel real, and it’s like ‘oh my God, this is serious’. And it just makes you want to sort of give as much back as you possibly can.”
The album is the culmination of years of hard work. Growing up severely dyslexic and unable to read music, Ridings says she was written off as a songwriter by her teachers. It only made her more determined, she says, and she learned to play both the piano and the guitar by ear. She still can’t read a note.
“I think everyone has those kind of knock-backs. For me it was because I love music so much, and being told I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t read music was this moment where you just have to find that inner rebel and find that fire and be like, I’m gonna do it by ear… people literally wouldn’t teach me other people’s songs because I couldn’t read the music.
“But I think sometimes the roadblocks make you take an interesting diversion to another place. I’m hugely grateful for that now and I think holding the album is just kind of…” she looks at the CD in her hand, takes a deep breath. “It’s just absolutely insane. It feels like everything up until now has been building to this moment and it’s like I just could not be more grateful.
“When I first started writing songs, I was almost quite embarrassed that I couldn’t read music and I still to this day don’t really know what chords I’m playing, I don’t know the name of them. For me it’s much more about… it comes from a kind of subconscious, a deeper place, and it’s more about a sort of feeling.
“It’s been almost like half therapy, half work, to write this album because you have those moments you feel like you’re never gonna get past, the heartbreak or the loneliness or the pain, and then you write these songs and you do… and then suddenly you’re in front of 20,000 people at Glastonbury singing these songs back with you, and you’re like ‘how is this real?'”
Ridings is tall, with long red hair and porcelain skin, and she grew up in a family she describes as “the opposite of cool, we care about everything”. As a result, she spent years alone at school, trying to escape bullying.
Those experiences shaped the album she has in her hands.
“Going to school, sort of not realising that caring about things was going to make me stand out and make me weird, and I think also being a redhead and being tall, bigger than the other kids… Anything that makes you different at school makes you a target.
“I just… 14 years, complete isolation. And it was crippling… it was just completely being on my own every lunchtime. And so for me finding the piano rooms was like this one way that I could tell my story. You know the way you tell your life story to a friend? I just told mine to a piano.”
That life story is now being listened to by fans all over the world. Ridings wrote all 12 songs on the album, making her the first female artist to have an entirely self-written top 10 hit since Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill returned to the charts in 2012. “It’s like a time capsule of my life,” she says. “All the songs are sort of pins in the map of my life.”
Following its release, the album rushed to the top of the iTunes chart, ahead of Ed Sheeran. Critics are calling Ridings the new Adele, and Taylor Swift has recently sung her praises on social media, after she performed a cover of her song, ME!. Not bad for the girl who was dismissed by her teachers.
Adele, she says, is “like a beacon idol” of mine. “Growing up in north London as a young girl, seeing someone also born in Tottenham go and do what she did. And also seeing a pop star being so genuine… as a little girl It fills you up with this fire. Like, I can write my own songs, I can play them. So when people even put me in the same sentence as her I’m just like, I can’t even deal with it. That’s too much of an honour, really.”
And Swift’s tweet? “I kind of screamed and jumped up and down a bit. It seems crazy for her to even know who I am.”
Ridings says several times that she couldn’t have got here alone. “For me, having the indie label who believes in me and having the friends and family who helped me. It’s incredible, the amount of love and support.”
Speaking of her family, Ridings is the daughter of actor and musician Richard Ridings, best known for Fat Friends, but who parents may well recognise as the voice of Peppa Pig’s Daddy Pig.
As it happens, Peppa Pig also released her debut album on Friday.
“I didn’t know that was happening until I saw on Facebook the other day and was like, no freaking way. Obviously my dad’s in the show and I’m a huge fan.”
Competition? “I think it’s lovely serendipity.”
Ridings’ biggest hit, Lost Without You, provided the soundtrack to a break-up in an episode of Love Island 2018, eight months after its initial release, and suddenly it was everywhere. Now platinum-selling, it hit the top 10 on seven separate occasions during a six-month run in the top 40, and is now approaching 200 million streams.
Luckily, Ridings is an avid fan.
“Oh my God, I was just so honoured to be a part of it. And also I love the editors of that show. I think they’re brilliant.
“I feel for the girls so much [this year] because I think we’ve all been there and had those moments of heartbreak, but they actually have to live with their exes, that’s too much. I almost want to air drop a piano into them, or at least a ukulele, just so they can do something.
“You never think anything’s gonna actually come from it,” she says of her own Love Island musical debut. “So when you’re sat there and you’re looking at a platinum disc on your wall, for a song you wrote on your own, it’s like this is getting crazy, man. It’s all crazy.”
- Freya Ridings is YouTube Music’s latest Artist On The Rise. Her debut album, Freya Ridings, is out now