Kia ora Rita Ora

She’s of west London originsbut Rita Ora has become an honorary kiwi since she fell in love with director Taika Waititi. The singer-songwriter superstar talks about settling in Auckland, her 8-guest wedding, and believing in the universe’s plans. 

My first meeting with Rita Ora takes place in quite exceptional circumstances. No matter how people perceive her – and best believe, they have varied views: a formidably piped pop star, the bubbly X Factor presenter, a semi-naked tabloid party girl or new wife of Academy Award-winning Kiwi director Taika Waititi – today she has left all her frills at home.

Ora, 33, is in London listening to the stories of women and children supported by Buttle UK’s initiative, Chances for Children, as part of the Evening Standard’s Winter Survival Appeal. The charity provides grants for children and young people who have suffered trauma and crisis. Many have escaped abusive situations. She is here “to discover stories and shine a light where I can on people who deserve a chance”, she says. And so the red carpet starlet is sitting in the playroom of a women’s refuge house, the largest in the city and currently home to 21 families. Kids’ paintings are blue-tacked on walls, little duffle coats hang on pegs and a wooden play kitchen stands on one side.

One by one, temporary residents slip in to share how they have come to be here. Ora, wearing a velvet tuxedo floor-length coat and white button down, is steely when required, jumps to jokes for light relief, sings to make small children smile and, at times, dabs the tears from her eyes. “You’re a fighter – the definition of bravery,” she says to one woman. “I love you,” she replies. “Thank you for coming here and recognising us.” It was an emotional but uplifting three hours, and Ora spoke with sincerity. Most asked her for a selfie to remember the moment.

I see her again a fortnight later, and it is a very different tale. She is draped over a stool, wearing a ShuShu/Tong ribbon cardigan and lace bra posing for this week’s ES Magazine cover shoot. Unfazed by the on-set hoo-ha, she recalls the significance of her visit. “All three women I met were so different, but they felt like they could hope again now. It can kill someone inside if you don’t have hope,” she says.

Her takeaway was the galvanised determination of the mothers she met. They reminded Ora of her own parents, who emigrated from her birthplace of Kosovo to London in 1991 to flee persecution. She sits back in one of the photo studio’s plastic kitchen chairs and takes a swig of her chicken broth before explaining the troubles of her childhood. “I had to fight a lot, even in school, to not be judged, be taken seriously and not looked at as someone different to everybody else,” she says. “I have been really vocal over the years about the importance of everyone being given a chance.”

It is for this reason she wants the negative rhetoric surrounding immigration to the UK to come to a halt. “I’m not a politician, but what I can do is just try and shine a light,” she says. “There’s a misunderstanding of people who just come to this country to try and get a better life.” She offers herself as a prime example: “Someone who made use of the incredible education and opportunities that come with moving here. Because of that, I’m doing my dream job and I’m super f***ing proud of it – I don’t even want to think about what it could have been like.”

Read the full article in Volume 2 of WOMAN Magazine, on sale until 27 May 2024. 

Photos: Rita Ora x Primark. 

Words: Joe Bromley, The Standard. 

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