Music

Rita Ora: It's important to remind people I came to the UK as a refugee

Rita Ora discussed her journey and the importance of positive refugee stories, in an exclusive Big Issue interview with Norman ‘Fatboy Slim’ Cook

Rita Ora performing at Heaven in 2023. Photo: @hogieaaa__

Rita Ora performing at Heaven in 2023. Photo: @hogieaaa__

Rita Ora has discussed her experiences as a refugee and the importance of positive refugee stories, in an exclusive interview in this week’s Big Issue in which she and DJ/producer Norman ‘Fatboy Slim’ Cook, discuss their new collaboration, Praising You, an update of Cook’s classic Praise You.

Ora and her family fled their native Kosovo in 1991 amid ethnic tensions and violence as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated and thousands of displaced people sought refuge in the UK and other countries.

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“At this point in my career – I’ve been in the game 10 plus years now – I felt it was important to remind the public, as well as myself, of the journey,” Ora said of her wish to open up “people’s perception of a girl like me coming from a third world country like Kosovo, and yes, being a refugee and coming into the UK and my dreams coming true.”

Ora emphasised the importance of cherishing the opportunities she has been given: “If I didn’t have the opportunity to move to London and my parents didn’t make that brave change, I wouldn’t be able to sit here and talk to [Norman Cook], one of my heroes. And on top of that, make music. I say to myself every day, I’m so fortunate and so grateful. I know I deserve it because I work really hard. But there’s a lot of kids like me from where I’m from that it doesn’t really happen for. So I never take it for granted.”

The pair discussed the value of sharing uplifting refugee stories in the current political climate, in which refugees, especially those arriving on small boats, are a political football. It’s a climate exemplified by the recent passing of the UK’s Illegal Migration Bill, which has been criticised for dramatically curtailing the asylum system.

The UN refugee agency stated that the legislation would “extinguish the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly [such as on small boats] no matter how compelling their claim may be.” The home secretary, Suella Braverman, justified the bill by citing the financial and social costs of “uncontrolled and illegal migration”. The issue has been fiercely debated in the media, and was sent into overdrive when Gary Lineker famously compared the government’s policies to those of Nazi Germany.

“It’s incredibly hard to not be swayed when you see things being written every day,” said Ora. “It’s almost like because it’s written in the papers it must be the truth. But you have to remember there’s a lot of people that you might be listening to or that you watch on TV that have immigrant roots.”

Rita Ora has supported UNICEF UK since 2013, with a particular interest in their work with refugees. In 2019, she was made a UNICEF UK Ambassador.

Cook acknowledged Ora’s role as a positive example and highlighted the significant contributions of migrants to the UK: “There are so many people who come from a migrant background that contribute so much to their lives. That’s how this country was built.”

Rita Ora and Norman Cook on the cover of the Big Issue

Praising You by Rita Ora & Fatboy Slim is out on April 19, preorder here. Read the full conversation between Ora and Cook in this week’s Big Issue magazine, available from your local vendor from April 17.

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