Her stunning ethereal music is everywhere and she has some mega-famous fans. But what’s the secret behind this artist’s success?
The young singer grew up in unusual surroundings and began writing her own music as a child. Birdy was discovered at Open Mic UK in 2008 and signed her first record deal at the age of 12. Since then she’s become six-time platinum, multimillion album-seller.
Read on to find out exactly how Birdy got her breaks and what the path to stardom looked like for this unique, soulful singer.
How was Birdy discovered?
The daughter of a writer and concert pianist and related to an iconic star, Birdy had music, lyrics and fame in her genes. Add to this, her innate talent and the time and space (and availability of a great piano) at her disposal growing up and so one of the finest artists to come out of the UK emerged. Birdy stands out from other artists thanks to her unique sound, unusual performance style and modest image.
She refuses to conform to the trends of the industry and live a high profile celeb lifestyle, instead, allowing the focus to remain on the music. Her songs are timeless and appeal to all ages, which is why they’ve appeared on major TV commercials and movie soundtracks.
How did Birdy get signed?
Birdy was discovered when she won the Open Mic UK competition in 2008 at the tender age of 12. From her initial audition, she was spotted instantly by the judges, as being a huge raw talent with a mature soulful sound that belied her years. She shone through rounds of competitive auditions and a tough regional final with 22 competitors, many older than her.
However, Birdy was victorious, landing the under 18’s title in the live final on 29 November, during which she played keyboards and sang her own song: So Be Free. After winning the competition, she was signed by Atlantic Records (the UK subsidiary of Warner Music Group).
But her journey toward a mega career and her passion for music started several years before this…
Where did Birdy grow up?
Birdy’s childhood has often had an impact on her writing, performance style and branding and was a period of her life she describes as ‘wonderful’. She grew up in the beautiful New Forest, in an ancient mill house belonging to her maternal grandfather. Inspired by these surroundings, Birdy has said that her home and the surrounding scenery contributed to the cinematic sound in her music
Her upbringing was very bohemian and arty, in a home which may have been stunning but was crumbling. Her aunts and uncles lived in properties in the grounds, so she was able to run wild in the private 1500 acres, ride horses and swim in the lake with her cousins. With beautiful paintings on the walls and a lovely old Bechstein piano, it was like a modern-day Downton Abbey – although Birdy has commented that it wasn’t a posh existence and that life wasn’t grand, rather very freeing and expressive.
What is Birdy’s real name?
Birdy’s birth name is Jasmine Lucilla Elizabeth Jennifer van den Bogaerde. Her nickname, Birdy, was given to her by her parents. This was because as a baby, she looked like a little bird when taking food from them.
The nickname came in handy as a stage name for Jasmine as she grew older. She’s the daughter of the Honourable Sophie Patricia and Rupert Oliver Benjamin van den Bogaerde, Lord Teynham, and is the great-niece of the actor Sir Dirk Bogarde (who changed the spelling of his surname for his film career).
What school did Birdy go to?
Her education took place at Durlston Court Prep School in Barton-on-Sea, followed by Priestlands School, a mixed state academy in Pennington, Hampshire. After this, she attended Brockenhurst College in the New Forest, for the sixth form – although she left before taking her A-Levels, in order to concentrate on her meteoric music career.
Birdy learned to play the piano at the age of seven (much of her learning was done by ear), encouraged by her professional pianist mother, and began writing her own songs at eight. Birdy also plays the guitar, feeling much more comfortable on stage with an instrument, than without.
She says she was fortunate to have supportive friends during these formative years as a schoolgirl:
“I was also really lucky in that all the kids from my school were so supportive. When things happened – like chart hits or awards – it was like it was a celebration for all of us. No one was mean or jealous.”
She counts her early musical passions as soul artists like Aretha Franklin and Etta James and says she grew up with her family listening to artists like Tracy Chapman and Jeff Buckley. With a melancholy to many of her songs, Birdy has commented that listening to classical work from composers like Chopin affected her interesting sound.
Birdy – Open Mic UK winner
Birdy may have won Open Mic in 2008, but she had entered the competition the year previously, as an 11-year-old, singing KT Tunstall’s The Other Side of the World. As she was so young, she was advised to return a year later, which she did – and the rest is history. Here she is at the grand final:
Birdy spoke to Festivals for All about how entering Open Mic UK changed her life and attitude toward her ability as a singer:
“I really wanted to do it. And I queued up on the pier for hours in Portsmouth. But I was a year too young. I knew I was, I just hoped, maybe… It was just something I loved doing – I never really thought I could do it, it was just my dreams. It wasn’t until [that contest] that I thought I was good enough to do it. Before that, I’d only been doing it for my family.”
Open Mic UK helped her realise her own talent and took her from being an unknown singer-songwriter to a major player in the industry. After winning the competition, she recorded her first songs with Gareth Henderson in River Studios – as part of her prize package. This led to her being offered a publishing contract with Good Soldier Songs Ltd, run by Christian Tattersfield, chairman of Warner Music and then being signed to Warner/Atlantic. This enabled her to write for two years and develop her music. In 2011 she released her first full album, Birdy. She told BBC Radio1 that the Open Mic UK competition was, “Such a cool experience.”
She wowed the Open Mic Uk judges from the off, who all agreed she had something really special. Making an impression at the audition stage of any competition is so important. Chris Grayston who first discovered the young talent said:
“When we first saw Birdy it was obvious that she had a rare talent! For someone so young she had maturity beyond her years and I’m delighted that we were able to give her help to take the first steps towards what I’m sure will be a fantastically successful career.”
Birdy – YouTube
Two years after winning Open Mic UK, Birdy released her debut single, a cover of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love. She chose the song, as her aunt, a Bon Iver fan, had recommended it to her and worked on it by herself, at the piano. Following its first radio airplay, Skinny Love quickly went viral on YouTube. She was only 14 years old. It then charted across the globe and she now has her own YouTube channel.
How did Birdy get famous?
Skinny Love made Birdy a household name, with TV appearances and mainstream radio plays following. Since then she’s heightened her profile by recording four studio albums, playing Glastonbury, performing to 80,000 at the Paralympic opening ceremony in 2012 and singing in front of the Queen. Her fans include Jennifer Lawrence, George Clooney and Ellen DeGeneres.
And her songs have appeared on the small and large screen, ensuring everyone knows her tunes. At the 2014 Brit Awards, she was nominated for Best British Female Solo Artist. Birdy may have found fame, but it’s not something she courts with an extravagant celebrity lifestyle. Instead, her understated vibe adds to her air of mystery and earthy appeal. She explained her approach to The Telegraph:
“I’ll occasionally get strange glances, but generally speaking, I get left alone. I don’t think I would cope otherwise, I was a shy kid when I started and I never wanted to be out there doing lots of promotion or going on TV shows and things. I just wanted to let my music speak for me.”
The young singer almost always appears on stage behind a large piano, something that has been with her throughout her journey to fame and adds to her sense of mystique.
Being able to write her own music ensures she’s credited not only as an artist but as the performer too. Her tunes have been used on the soundtracks for Vampire Diaries, Being Human, The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars and Brave (the latter earning her a Grammy nomination for the song Learn me Right, co-written with Mumford and Sons).
Her tracks include People Help the People, Let It All Go (a collab with Rhodes) and Wild Horses. She also featured on Sigma’s track Find Me, on Passenger’s Beautiful Birds and on David Guetta’s I’ll Keep Loving You.
Birdy – Wings
While she made her name recording a cover (albeit in her own inimitable style), she is renowned as a talented songwriter. Her heartfelt numbers, such as the mellifluous Wings which captures the feeling of being overwhelmed by love, have caught the hearts of many and helped continue her star status.
She explained her writing methods to The Independent:
“My songs have always been mostly personal, but I’d love to be brave enough to dig a bit deeper. I find the music that moves me most has always come from a very real place. I write all the time; I’m not sure where it will end up. I’m inspired by so much, but I want to take the time to get it right. I want the next album to be honest and personal.”
Despite being famous, she still experienced pre-show nerves before live shows. But having worked with the same band for years has helped her to feel calm and relax ahead of gigs.
Birdy proves that it’s never too early to begin writing, playing and singing. Many successful artists began creating music from a very young age. So if your child shows interest in composing and song, it’s well worth giving them resources, space and time to explore it. And if you’re a budding young musician, be willing to develop your own unique style, take some artistic risks and see where your songwriting can take you.
- Who won 2019 Open Mic UK?
22-year-old Natalie Lindi from north-west London won Open Mic UK 2019 at the O2’s Indigo, with her own song Give it Time. Reuel Elijah from Cardiff won the 2018 competition. He sang his original number Nah Tek Body and has since been signed with Independent and Play Play Records.
- What age is Birdy?
Jasmine, aka Birdy, was born in Lymington on the 15 May 1996 a year after her parents married, making her 23 years years old now. She has two younger siblings Caitlin and Jake and half-brothers named Sam and Moses.
- How can I make money online singing?
YouTube, Spotify and Soundcloud are all very popular platforms for artists. It’s hard to build a profile and get noticed, but if you do, there is the potential to make money from streams, downloads and advertising (if you have enough followers).
Do you sing Birdy covers or have a similar style and aspire to make it in the music industry? Post videos and links to your performances in the comments below.