She's one of the most successful Scottish female artists in pop history but Emeli Sandé’s idea of success goes beyond the chart-topping accolades and awards that marked her arrival on the scene 14 years ago.

“You have to be able to define success your own way,” says the Aberdeenshire-raised singer. “I felt lucky at that point. I was in my 20s. Everything was moving fast and to keep up with that pace it was the perfect time for me to do it and experience all those highs. It’s a version of success, but having to have complete musical freedom is also success. There are other ways to feel excitement. I’m glad I had that and experienced it, because it was amazing, but it’s quite intense at the same time.”

The 36 year old this month released her fifth LP, her second in as many years, on new label Chrysalis.

“It’s a heart on the sleeve album,” she says, of a heart scarred by divorce from husband Adam Gouraguine and healed as she heads to the altar with her future wife.

“I’ve been able to be myself on every album but I’ve done more exploration of with this one. In terms of coming back to vocal ballads, in that sense it’s me. Lyrically I had absolute freedom to say what I want without having to change anything or worry about it being commercial pop. This is just a record saying what I wanted to say.”

So what did she want to say? A dip into the album’s titles offers more than a hint.

How Were We to Know.
“It came from a place when I was going through separation.”

Like I Loved You.
“It’s about being proud of the way you love.”

My Boy Likes To Party.
“Sometimes you don’t get the same loyalty that you put into things.” And so it goes.

“Music has helped me get through and process emotions,” she says. “They are all true stories that I hope will help other people. When you have success with your first album there are people who want you to have a formula. There really is none. Sometimes they want you to write with this person or work with that person, but for me I’m happiest when I can just get on with the lyrics and tell the story the way I want. I feel really respected as a writer and musician. The major label pressure has gone and it feels more chilled out. I can breathe a bit more artistically.”

Sande has spoken previously about the possibility of returning to medical school, the discipline she left once the gates to the dream of a pop career blew open to her in 2009 when she provided vocals on rapper Chipmunk’s track Diamond Rings, following up with her multi-million selling debut Our Version of Events in 2012.  She misses the intellectual rigour of academic study.
She says: “I still have friends who are medics and, although they’re going through a lot at the moment, I always find it really interesting to hear about their day-to-day.”

Doubtless, the feeling is mutual. Sande has opened and closed the London Olympics, performed for Barack Obama at the White House, been awarded an MBE and shot to the top of the charts. But success comes with its drawbacks. “When you become a product, that’s the point where you’re not doing it to be creative. It becomes a look and persona which other people are thinking about more than you are,” she says. “On my last album cover, I was straight-on, less make-up. That felt like a victory. And on this one, having my natural afro out feels like success in itself.”

She agrees that this newfound freedom might represent the third act of a hugely successful career, and hints at other creative pursuits like composing classical music or writing poetry. “It feels like a trilogy,” she says. “And maybe the pop trilogy is coming to a close and a new chapter is opening.”

A new chapter opened in her personal life when she went public with the news that she was in a relationship with a woman, musician Yoana Karemova, in 2022. “I never put rules on myself. I’ve always been open to the idea of loving someone’s soul,” she says, acknowledging a fluid sexuality.

“It would have felt weird if I had to hide or not share something that’s amazing in my life. It’s not something I feel at all as a negative. It just feels like this is me and it feels natural to share that. I don’t really look at myself from the outside in. I’ve never tried to shape it. But I’ve always tried to keep it 100 per cent real. And that’s the same with the music. It feels like something I didn’t experience in my early 20s. And that makes me very happy.” 

Emeli Sande’s new album How Were We To Know, is out now.