It’s 10.35am and Emma Gillespie is already exhausted. She had in fact been sound asleep on the open grass of a central London park until I woke her up. The 27-year-old from Dumfries is still trying to come to terms with the repercussions of winning Sky1’s inaugural Must Be The Music programme three days earlier under her stage name EMMA’S IMAGINATION.
The show was conceived as a credible response to the auto-tuned karaoke of Simon Cowell’s X Factor, with Sky eschewing cover versions in favour of undiscovered musicians who possess the creativity to write their own songs and the instruments to play them.
Since her first televised audition appearance on August 15 to her final triumph at Wembley Arena last Sunday, it’s no exaggeration to state that Emma’s life has changed both irrevocably and insanely quickly.
The woman who spent this summer busking for spare change on Glasgow city-centre pavements now has tax-free prize winnings of £100,000 in her bank account and every major label in the land competing for the right to profit from her music.
Her first single, This Day – the graceful acoustic ballad which she played in the MBTM semi-final – became a top-10 hit a fortnight ago, while its more passionate follow-up Focus is set to enter at No.2 according to midweek sales. Immediate chart success may have come Emma’s way but it’s clear her newly acquired fame is going to take a bit of getting used to.
“Definitely,” she says. “I got papped for the first time today which was weird. The photographers were shouting, ‘Emma! Look over here!’. I guess it goes hand-in-hand with it [fame] but I’d rather just get on with making music than worry too much about tabloids. I’m not interested in being in Heat magazine. If you start looking at what people are writing about you all the time it’s maybe not the best thing.”
Although being a full-time musician is now an assured career path for Emma, she is by no means the first starry-eyed young Scot to win a national talent show – David Sneddon, Leon Jackson, Michelle McManus and Tommy Reilly have all been chewed up and spat back out by the same music industry that promised them fame and fortune. So is Emma worried the public might one day just view her as little more than reality TV froth?
“No, because I’ve been writing for years so I’ve got loads of songs to back it up,” she says. “It was great to win the show but I don’t want to be remembered as the girl who won Must Be The Music. I’m a serious artist and I intend to be so for the rest of my life.”
In fact, looking at just how many Scots have triumphed in such contests (and you can add Susan Boyle to the earlier list), it could be argued, quite depressingly, that entering a talent show has become the most effective way for wannabe Scottish pop stars to get noticed by the London-based music industry these days.
“It doesn’t matter where you are from, it’s difficult for all musicians,” maintains Emma. “It depends on what you do. There are so many talented people who are trying really hard and shows like Must Be The Music gives true artists a chance to be in the position to get record deals. But even if I never got a record deal I’d still be writing and performing.”
Although the busking backstory has made for a media-friendly rags-to-riches fairytale, Emma’s Imagination is no stranger to the Glasgow gig circuit. In the past six months alone, she has played shows at Hinterland (April), Pivo Pivo (May and July), the West End Festival (June), King Tut’s (June) and Creative Scotland’s TV pilot (July). She was also on the bill for last year’s Wickerman Festival.
Now, though, she has been thrust into an alien world of paparazzi, major labels, photoshoots and interviews, and the demands on her time are taking their toll on her sleep pattern.
“I’ve been up since 5am so I’m actually falling asleep as I’m talking to you,” she says. “Sorry if I don’t sound very enthusiastic. I am really excited but I’m just absolutely fucked.”
Emma’s Imagination – Daisy Train