As a young girl growing up in the small Irish town of Thurles in County Tipperary, Una Healy, like many children, had dreams and aspirations of becoming an international popstar. But whilst many people’s adolescent fantasies revolved around the superficial notion that finding fame, fortune and success would be the key to them achieving everlasting happiness and perpetual inner-peace, Healy’s wish for ‘fame’ was born out of something much deeper.
“From a really young age, music became like a form of therapy for me.” Una tells us as we meet virtually via Zoom one Monday morning in early March. “It was my way of escaping, and forgetting the world around me – even as a little girl, I’d find myself drawn in by different sounds and lyrics, and it helped me to express myself; it was everything to me, I just loved it!”
With her Mother an accomplishment guitar player, and her Uncle the legendary country music star Declan Nerney, Una’s upbringing – though traditional – was a truly musical affair, with the Irish native forming an emotional kinship with the art form that ran so deep, it would go on to become an unwavering driving force throughout the course of her adult life.
Inspired by all of the creative energy around her, it wasn’t long before Healy began to develop a strong desire to write and record songs of her own that, given the right kind of exposure, had the potential to resonate and connect with people all around the world, in the divine, sometimes unexplainable way, that only music can.
“When you hear a certain lyric that you can relate to, it makes you feel like you’re not alone doesn’t it?” Una says thoughtfully. “I remember I used to stay up late at night listening to music on my walkman, sometimes crying myself to sleep because I was so moved by what I was hearing – it was then that I knew, if I ever got the chance to make music of my own, I wanted it to be something that people could relate to and be moved by.”
Una Healy – ‘Sorry’
“When you hear a certain lyric that you can relate to, it makes you feel like you’re not alone.”Una on her love of lyrics, and the power they can sometimes possess.
“What you doing Saturday girl?”
Having spent the majority of her teenage years actively pursing her dreams of becoming a professional singer – working tirelessly on writing solo material and gigging at various pubs and clubs in and around Ireland, it was Una’s brave decision to move to London in 2007 that proved to be a real turning point, as it was there in the British capital, she would eventually find fame as one fifth of noughties girl band The Saturdays.
Famous for hits including Up, What About Us, Notorious and Higher, Una along with bandmates Frankie Bridge, Mollie King, Rochelle Humes and Vanessa White found themselves leading the charge of the pop explosion that revitalised the charts in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s.
“Do you know I have such fond memories of that time.” Una says as she reflects upon her days in the band. “In many ways I feel like we were one of the last real pop groups to kind of experience the music industry as it was, before the focus shifted more towards downloads, streaming and social media.”
“I love that we got to release CD singles, and create concepts and campaigns around every track we put out – it was all just so exciting to me, and for all of the girls, we had a great time and I know we’re all really happy that we got to be a part of that era of music. But things change, and we only miss that time because we feel nostalgic about it now, and what worked then, wouldn’t necessarily work now, so you always have to evolve and keep moving forward.”
The Saturdays – ‘What About Us’ (Official Music Video)
After 6 phenomenally successful years together, which saw them sell in excess of 5 million records worldwide and rack up 13 Top 10 singles and 5 Top 10 albums, the girls went on an indefinite hiatus back in 2014, with each of them branching off to explore different avenues within the entertainment industry.
In the years that followed Healy has worked constantly, managing to seamlessly establish herself as a solo artist and media personality in her own right, broadening her fan base and winning universal praise for her work on television (The Voice Ireland), radio (Bauer’s Country Hits) and in fashion (The Una Healy Collection).
In 2017 Una returned to the charts with the release her debut solo album, The Waiting Game – a beautiful collection of country and folk-influenced pop songs that served as the perfect musical showcase for Una’s talents as a truly gifted singer, songwriter and recording artist in her own right.
“I was nervous going solo.” Una admits candidly. “There’s a different kind of pressure when it’s just you standing there alone under the spotlight. But it’s been good for me, and I think that by switching things up and adopting a new sound, that’s totally different from The Saturdays, has helped me to really re-discover my own identity.”
Explaining further her love of country music and the reasons why she decided to make the crossover from pop to folk, Healy adds: “Country music is all about telling stories, it takes you on a journey and it speaks to your heart. Each song tells a tale, each lyric has a purpose, and there’s always message and a sense of resolution to them.”
“It’s the style of music I grew up around, and it’s the genre that I love to best write to and experiment with as a solo artist. Don’t get me wrong, it was always a lot of fun working on tracks in the studio with the girls, and I really enjoyed writing top lines over dance tracks – that’s a skill and an art form in itself, and maybe one day I’ll write a real country / dance-pop banger that will take everyone by surprise (laughs). But right now, this is where I feel most comfortable, both as an artist and as a performer… in fact, the style of music I’m doing now, is pretty much the same as what I used to do before I got into the band, so this is me coming full circle in many ways.”
Having found her feet as a solo artist, and enjoyed commercial success, as well as critical acclaim for creating and developing her own unique brand of country pop, Una returns with a bang this month, with the release of her fiery new single, Swear It All Again…
“I don’t wanna regret every thing I said…”
With it’s arresting and infectious melody, gritty guitar hook and defiant message, Swear It All Again sees Una wrestle with her emotions, as she contemplates the fate of a complicated and complex relationship, that once held such promise and hope…
Swear It All Again (Official Music Video)
“I’ve had this song a while now, so I’m really happy that it’s finally out.” Una says excitedly. “I think a lot of people are going to be able to relate to it because we’ve all been in a situation at one time or another where we’ve found ourselves feeling confused about a relationship.”
“It sort of tells a story about not wanting to give up on a particular relationship and giving it your all, even though you can see the writing’s on the wall, and in your heart you know it’s time to call it a day… but then there’s this voice inside that says ‘ah go on, give it another go’ (laughs). It’s a tricky situation to be in, and trust me I’ve been there, I know all too well how it feels to be almost stuck in that confusing place.”
Taking all of her own personal life experiences into account, we wonder what advice Una would give to a person who finds themselves feeling trapped in union that feels to have run its course? “Do you know what, I’m someone who really believes that you should aways try your best to give your all to a relationship! And I don’t just mean the romantic ones, relationships with friends and family are just as important to maintain as the ones you might have with a partner or significant other.”
“Things go wrong sometimes, so it’s ok to give people a second chance, we’re all human at the end of the day and we all make mistakes, so don’t feel bad of yourself or think that you’re weak for forgiving someone when they’ve done wrong. But, having said that there has to come a point where you have to do what’s best for you. And ultimately I’d say, more than anything, it’s important to feel strong within yourself, and know that deep down if and when you do decide to walk away from a relationship that’s not making you happy anymore, you’re going to be fine, even if you end up being on your own for a little while, you’ll be ok.”
“Relationships with friends and family are just as important to maintain as the ones you might have with a partner or significant other; I think we forget that sometimes.”Healy on the importance of striving to maintain harmony in all of life’s relationships.
Having launched the single earlier this month in a blitz of publicity, that included a showstopping appearance on RTÉ One’s The Late, Late Show, Una admits that after a year in lockdown, she’s excited more now than ever, to be back out there, doing what she loves most.
“‘The Late, Late Show’ is probably our biggest tv show here in Ireland, so it’s always really special to get booked to go on there.” Una says with a sense of pride. “I was actually delighted to get back up on stage and play with a live band again, I can’t tell you how good it felt… also, and this might sound daft, but to have a reason to get a bit dressed up for something was brilliant (laughs). We’ve all basically just been living in lounge-wear for the past year haven’t we?”
Wearing a super chic, form-fitting, black jumpsuit by luxury womenswear brand, Nadine Merabi, viewers of the much loved Irish chat show were blown away by Healy’s triumphant return to the stage, with her natural beauty and effortless sense of style radiating through television screens and into homes across the country.
“Nadine is amazing, I’m a big fan of hers and have actually worn quite a few of her pieces from her previous collections in the past. Her clothes are very feminine but powerful at the same time, like I feel so empowered when I wear her stuff because it’s sexy, but without being too over the top – it’s refined, timeless and it will never go out of style.”
Taking a reflective pause, Una adds: “Do you know what, it was actually a really special night for me, and talking about it with you now, has reminded me of how much I’ve missed that element of my life.”
“It’s the comfort of coming home…”
2020 was without doubt an incredibly challenging year, that brought about unexpected change in all of our lives, as the world around us was placed on an indefinite pause as a result of the global coronavirus crisis. For many people, that sudden stillness provided a much needed time out from the stresses and strains of everyday life that had begun to grind them down – in turn, taking stock of their lives, and thinking about their futures.
As she reflects upon the events of the past 12 months, and the impact the pandemic has had on her life as a single Mum, living in London away from her family, Una admits: “I was beginning to feel quite lonely over there in the UK, you know I’ll be very honest with you and say that, it was hard it being just me and the two kids during that first lockdown – I love them (laughs) but it was hard.”
“So last summer I packed up, and I moved back home to Ireland! That’s always been my plan eventually (to move home), so it wasn’t a total shock to me that I made that decision, because I always knew this is where I’d ultimately end up, but the circumstances of everything going on in the world kind of forced that decision upon me and things happened faster than I thought.”
“But I’m happy. I’m back living in my hometown where I grew up, and I have all of my family around me, and my friends close by, which is comforting to me because I’ve missed them, and feeling their support around me feels… really wonderful; so yeah, like I said, I’m happy and things feel really nice for me now, I’m really lucky.”
Una Healy – ‘All You Ever Need Is Love’
With much of the creative arts industry closed, and the option of live touring made impossible due to travel restrictions and bans on gatherings of large groups of people being enforced as a way to help prevent the spread of the virus, most people have found themselves working remotely from home, something which Una admits she’s used to.
“I’ve always written a lot by myself, so in some respects this whole lockdown situation hasn’t really changed too much about my working life; I’ve always been happy enough to compose music by myself, and it be just me and my guitar at home. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy working with other people because I do! I really love collaborating and getting in the studio with other writers and producers… even though in the beginning it can be quite daunting having to open up to a total stranger about your life and tell them how you’re feeling about certain things (laughs). But once I get over those initial nerves, I’m good!”
Does Healy ever feel a pressure to come up with a massive hit song when going into those kinds of sessions we ask? “Not really no, because I don’t think you can ever really think like that as a songwriter, and honestly it’s not always about writing a ‘hit’ you know?”
“As a writer I need to feel inspired, and as a singer it’s vital that I feel and believe in every word I sing – it’s almost like I’m painting a picture with my words, I want to convey to the listener exactly what I’m feeling. A lot singers make the mistake of saying “listen to me singing this song”, rather than “listen to this song that I’m singing”, you’re telling a story, that’s what it’s all about.”
“What’s important to me is to always go into the studio prepared, so I always have notebooks and the voice-notes app on my phone filled with ideas and potential concepts for songs. But I don’t ever like to force anything, that’s kind of my one rule, I don’t like to ever force myself to write because… now, what’s that saying by John Keats – “if poetry comes not as naturally as leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all” – that’s kind of how I view my relationship with writing; I would lose all inspiration and love for it if I was forced to do it.”
“As a writer I need to feel inspired, and as a singer it’s vital that I feel and believe in every word I sing – it’s almost like I’m painting a picture with my words.”Una on her authentic approach to making music.
“Grow Up, Not Old.”
Having achieved more than she thought possible in her career as a musician, today Una Healy finds herself back in the very same place where her story began; in Thurles, surrounded by her family – the only difference being her childhood dreams of the past, are now very much her real-life reality.
Looking to the future, Una tells us she has one goal… to be happy. Happy in her personal life, happy in her work, and happy within herself.
“What I want more than anything is for people to listen to my songs, and make them their own and feel like they belong to them, because they do!” Una says as we begin to say our goodbyes. “Once I release a track, it’s not mine anyone, it’s for everyone else to take away, and apply it to whatever situation is happening in their life at that time.”
“It always means so much to me when someone tells me a song of mine has helped them or touched them in some way, because I know what that feels like, because I’m somebody who has turned to music for help and comfort my entire life, especially when I was younger, I really used it (music) as a way to make myself feel better about things; it was my way of healing. And the fact that I’m now in a position to hopefully be able to do that for other people, well… that’s amazing.”