ARTICLE: MIRELA SULA
MAIN FEATURE PHOTOGRAPH: RINALDO SATA
VERA ORA was born in Kosovo. She left her country in 1991 because of the political situation, together with her husband and two daughters, Rita, at the age of one and Elena aged three. Her son Dan was born in 1997. Vera graduated in medicine in Russia and worked as a GP in Kosovo but during the first years in London she dedicated her life to her children.
Later Vera decided to invest in her career and started to learn the English language as well in order to apply to the General Medical Council for her license to practice as a doctor. After that Vera decided to specialise in psychiatry and in 2005 she started to work as a psychiatrist for NHS mental health services where she is currently practicing. Vera is also the Ambassador of the project ‘Empowering Albanian Speaking Women’ led by the Shpresa Programe and Solace Women’s Aid.
Vera is now famous not only for her achievement as a professional woman but also as a very successful mother – and proud of her younger daughter, Rita Ora, for the global success she has achieved as a popular singer and now judge on the BBC One hit show ‘The Voice’.
Born Rita Sahatçiu in 1990, her surname was the hereditary profession of her family – Sahatçiu means watchmaker in Albanian. Her father decided to give her the name Ora, meaning ‘hour’ because it was easier to say and remember.
“Rita has always felt a kind of sensation within herself, as if she felt in her heart that what was written was in her destiny and therefore never stopped believing that she would become what she always dreamed of” says Vera as she recalls Rita’s childhood years. With this sort of energy, she began to demonstrate her genius immediately in her school circle.
Her talent was spotted by her teachers who suggested to Rita’s parents that a child like her deserved investment. At that point in time, Vera had not started full time work yet because her medical degree was not recognised in the British health system, while her husband Besnik worked at a restaurant. Moreover, she still did not feel very confident with the English language. So, as the years went by, she dedicated her time to raising her daughters.
“Rita has always felt a kind of sensation within herself, as if she felt in her heart that what was written was in her destiny and therefore never stopped believing that she would become what she always dreamed of”
Despite the financial strains they may have had in the beginning, like every migrant, they decided to send Rita to a private school, where entry was very competitive and the most talented children in the country studied. Rita gained quickly the grades she needed to be admitted to this private school and thanks to her personality she managed to integrate herself very quickly in the environment of this enormous institution that produced artists every year.
When she enrolled at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, one of the most famous schools in Great Britain in the field of arts, the couple had to think carefully – the annual tuition fees of this school were very high, something that very few migrants could afford. But Vera and her husband did not think for too long. They believed in their daughter’s talent and one way or another they were foreseeing her fame in the future.
That is where the road to fame began for Rita – always determined to move forward and achieve success. Rita was noticed as a child by her teachers, her friends and even by the artists that visited her school from time to time to recruit talented young children for their projects. Rita, who not only through her admirable talent but also her vivacious personality, possessed the ability to make lots of friends and became a part of important artistic circles.
At school she was close friends with Money, daughter of the famous English singer Mica Paris. The two of them, ever present in many activities from a young age, gained role parts in films, theatrical plays and sang in various concerts.
Vera’s influence on her daughter, Rita
Rita’s path would take a turn on a beautiful spring day, when along with her mother, they went for a walk in the park. It was a festive day and the local artistic groups had organised a festive concert outdoors. Rita, as Vera and her father say, was a child that never stopped singing. You would find her singing at any place and time. Her father had fitted modern music equipment in her room, so she and her sister would lock themselves in that room singing and experimenting with music. Rita also sang regularly, before her fame, at her father’s pub, the Queens Arms in Kilburn.
Rita felt a vibration the day that she was walking in the park with her mother. “How I wish I could get on that stage and sing a song too” she told her mother. Vera spoke to the organisers and suddenly Rita found herself on the stage of the park singing. The reaction was astounding. The public was stunned by Rita’s performance, but luck was also on her side that day, in that park. After she finished singing, two music agents approached her and offered Vera an appointment opportunity with a music record company. These agents were out and about to discover new talent and found just what they were looking for. Since that day, many things began to change in Rita’s life.
With her parents’ support, her adventures towards music continued until she quickly gained approval in the international music market. Rita was lucky to have the chance to be involved consistently in music clips and projects, but she had not achieved the highest point of her breakthrough yet until the day she met Jay-z, the famous international artist and producer, and his wife Beyonce, the modern day diva.
Today, Rita’s fame has surpassed across the borders and together with her name she takes along her identity and origin. At a point in time when the Albanians were a subject of talk because of the movie “Taken”, Rita’s magic and art overshadowed that negative image and instead established a good name for her people. Art has always had the power to heal fragile relationship and has served well to promote a country’s culture and values. The young daughter of the Sahatciu family seems to have come to this life right on time, on her own “Watch” and her markers have begun to point towards a brilliant future.
How do you remember your arrival in London?
My husband Besnik had experienced the beauty of London while studying for his English language degree, in 1986. Back home in Prishtina, he was planning to build his life after graduating from university in his own country. His father, the famous film director from Prishtina, Besim Sahatciu, had given his son the opportunity to study in the West. Upon his return, Besnik would continue to be actively involved in many activities, part of a lively circle of known artists in Prishtina. Later he met Vera who had just returned from Russia after completing her studies in medicine.
Besnik was in love with London and had often spoken to me about this magical city. Hence I was eager, just as much as Besnik, to pack my suitcases and visit this city and its streets where my husband had spent some of his youth. So our adventure with London began with this desire. It was 1991 when together with our two little girls, we came to London and ended up staying longer than we planned to ultimately give our children an opportunity to showcase their talents.
When did you discover Rita’s talent and how do you recall that time?
Rita was only six when she started to engage in the school cultural and artistic activities. It was not easy because life in a foreign country is always unknown. Nevertheless, we could see the infinite opportunities arise for out little girls and consciously or not we had already decided not to return to Kosovo for a while. It would not be easy to return, noticing the way our children were brought up and treated here in London, in nurseries, schools, courses and different activities. This was an opportunity that we could not deny to our little girls.
we came to London and ended up staying longer than we planned to ultimately give our children an opportunity to showcase their talents.
However, the option of returning to Kosovo was always open and we considered it until the Kosovo war in 1999, when we finally realised that the dream of living again in Prishtina had gone. Meanwhile, Rita was being brought up in an environment of peace, love, well-being and encouragement to move forward. In this reality, Rita was showing all her potential and her abilities were always improving.
What does being the mother of a big star like Rita Ora mean to you?
It was my wish and my aim which was accomplished and it is a big satisfaction to know that Rita is doing the job that she loves.
When did you realise that Rita is talented and with a big vision?
I realised it when Rita was at primary school, when she started showing talent and determination to do what she loves, which is music. We made an effort to give her the chance to do what she loves, but no one can predict or be sure of what the future holds.
Your family is now very well-known and the Albanian community follows you with admiration. How are you experiencing the fame of your daughter Rita?
I am experiencing Rita’s fame as would any other parent, and we are really proud of Rita. Her success has brought infinite happiness to our family. It is like a miracle that we are experiencing in a magical way. Now, Rita does not just belong to our family but to all Albanians. Her fame has surpassed all expectations and it gives us an incredible pleasure.
What were the biggest challenges that you faced when new to England?
The biggest challenge for me was to learn the language that I could not speak at all. Also suddenly being alone with my husband and my children in a completely new society. Another major challenge was to continue my career as a doctor in London.
What support has your husband given you in your career and your life?
When we first came to London he encouraged me to make every effort to pass the required medical exams in order to practice as a doctor in England. It is a huge satisfaction that the hard work we have put in as a family towards our efforts to succeed in a completely new environment, society and culture has paid off. Even more satisfying is that our younger daughter Rita has exceeded all our expectations by becoming one of the best known artists in the UK and the world.
How do you remember Rita when she was little?
When Rita was little she was a vivid child and different from other children her age because she always wanted to be in the centre of attention. Either with her voice, acting like movie characters, or with her outfit, she was always attracting attention to herself. She was unpredictable and always able to attract people and receive what she wanted.
Can you share a story from Rita’s childhood that you hold in your memories?
Rita was a child that was writing her story every day. Being the little one, as she was born after Elena, she knew that the family was under her orders. That is also why since she was little and we discovered she was talented, Rita was sent to best school and we watched her in all of her activities.
Apart from her talent, Rita also has a strong and special personality; What did you notice about her character while Rita was growing up?
Yes, this is true. Since she was little, Rita had a very special personality. Despite being intelligent and full of ambition, she was also really humble, simple, loving, happy and able to find the silver lining in everything. Rita really loved her friends and still has excellent relationships with her old friends. Although being very busy she always finds time for friends and gatherings. She shares with them the success and joys of her career. Rita has a desire to succeed and she is not calm until she achieves what she wants.
Regarding Rita’s friendships, does that include friends from Kosovo?
Yes, they are all a group of childhood girlfriends living in London. Rita and Elena (Rita’s sister) had a big group of friends from Kosovo and Albania. We as Albanians also had many family friends that are Albanian and our children also always meet together. They have celebrated the new year or birthday parties together and we always tried to accompany our children and attend social events. This way we always tried to gather our children together so they could know other children from the Albanian community and this is a merit of all the Albanian community in the UK.
Studies show that childhood plays a very important role in the personality of a human being. To what extent or degree did you as a parent influence Rita to be who she is today?
We tried to give our children love and good manners, the sense of understanding between right and wrong and encourage them to pursue their dreams and offer them the best education we could possibly offer.
How are Rita’s relationships with her siblings? How do you remember them during childhood?
Elena is our older daughter, and she always tried to please Rita, as she was crying until she had achieved what she wanted. For Rita there was no turning back. We as parents were always saying to Elena “Elena, leave Rita alone as you are older than her, try to please her, please”. Now we sometimes do feel a bit guilty that we always asked Elena to tolerate Rita, because Elena was little herself. I remember Elena saying “why is it always me to let her have her way?”.
But these are normal things between siblings, and of course with the passing of time their sisterly love is a lot stronger and is still being reinforced continuously. They were inseparable as children (playing together, sleeping together, cuddling, loving and fighting), and now as grown-ups as they are always together and supportive of each other.
Our youngest son Doni was born when Elena was nine and Rita seven. They always loved their brother very much and gave each other unconditional love and the three of them have an excellent relationship with each other. Even though Rita is famous now, their relationship did not change at all, and it continues to be more beautiful and strong.
How do you, as Vera Ora, manage with the fame and being requested? Has your life changed at all?
No, I would not say that our life has changed at all. Our life continues to be the same, following the same rhythms as before. My husband and I are both very busy with our daily jobs. Of course people do congratulate us for our daughter’s success. What has changed is that we get to meet showbiz people, that before we only knew as public figures, or could see on the TV.
Elena, is also involved with Rita’s managing group so the sisters are all the time together. Their life has changed in many dimensions, but our life has not, it has remained simple in our daily activities. This gives us joy. The important thing is that our duty and mission as parents has been successful and like every parent would, we are extremely happy for our daughter’s achievements and are enjoying bringing up our boy that is still young and lives with us.
What would be your message for every woman who will read this interview?
To focus on a good education for yourself and your children, which I believe is the way forward to achieve our dreams, to never give up and to believe that in life everything is possible.