Ella Henderson returns: ‘My teenage life was mental’


Ella Henderson

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Ella Henderson

“Everyone thinks I went into a hole… never to return. It’s been too long.”

Ella Henderson’s fans have had a long, patient wait for new music.

After a second album that was hinted at – but never materialised – she’s finally back with her first solo material in five years, her Glorious EP.

She says there have been “ups and downs” over the years – which is probably an understatement considering all that’s happened since her appearance as a 16-year-old on the X Factor in 2012.

“A lot of my life as a teenager was mental,” she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat, on a break from rehearsals for an upcoming London show.

Back in 2012, a 16-year-old Ella was one of the stand-outs of that year’s series of X Factor and, despite not winning (James Arthur was the champion), she was soon signed by Simon Cowell’s record label Syco.

Then came a number one single (Ghost – an absolute banger) and a number one album, Chapter One.

But her record deal came to an end pretty quickly afterwards and she found herself unsigned.

“There were moments of self-doubt and insecurity and I’d be lying if I said I woke up every day happy.”

At that point, she took some time off and went to Austria.

“I went to this health farm place. I came off social media and I put my phone away. There were no TVs around me. I just met people and created solid relationships.

“I actually took a notebook and wrote down who I am and who I think I am. I couldn’t remember the last time I ever sat down and like, actually gave myself self-affirmation.”

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When I ask about the second album that never was, she jokes there were about “five” that never saw the light of day.

“I wasn’t ready,” she says. “I had to go on a bit of self-journey. I wanted to take time and live and become a young woman.”

Ella guesses she’s written about 350 songs for this new era of her career and one of them – Young – definitely raises a few eyebrows.

With lyrics such as “we’re already outdated” and “we don’t need another man to be taking our choices”, it may be a not-so-subtle dig at the way the music industry can chew up and spit out its singers.

She says the song was borne of personal experience and came from a “place where I was going through a spell of anxiety”.

Now 23, she says she’s ready to open up about everything that’s happened over the last few years and “all the pressures I put myself under”.

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Ella isn’t dismissive of her X Factor past – “I wouldn’t be here without it” – but says the thought of doing the show now “terrifies” her.

“I can’t believe I did it. I was 16 years old. It’s a bit like the Hunger Games. For example, my nephew’s growing up and I’d never let him be judged live on TV.”

Ella thinks she coped with the pressure at the time because she had no fear and “you don’t realise what you’re actually doing”.

“I look at it now and think, ‘How the hell did I put myself through it?'”

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The X Factor class of 2012: James Arthur, Jahene Douglas, Rylan and Ella

One of the major turning points was when she met the four guys who she now calls her “brothers” – Rudimental.

The band signed her to their record label, Major Toms, and took her on tour with them.

“They just took me into the family like their little sister. Going on the road with them has just been so good for me. And you know, I hadn’t performed for 18 months.”

She says there was “an instant connection” and doesn’t think they knew much about her X Factor background.

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“Anyone who’s seen a Rudimental show will understand what that energy is like. Those boys have a lot to do with the fact I came out of my shell again.”

As a result, she’s been carving a bit of a side-hustle in the world of dance.

As well as Rudimental, she’s collaborated with Sigala, Sigma and Jax Jones, appearing on his current single This Is Real.

“We wrote that song five years ago, but never had the chance to release it.

“I am in a happy place right now,” she says.

“I mean… I’ve been up since four in the morning so let’s see how I am by three this afternoon.”

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