Best known as a singer with successful girl band The Saturdays, and also as a TV judge on The Voice, singer-songwriter Una Healy has waited a long time to release a solo album, but The Waiting Game is finally over… and out.
Hot Press meets Una Healy in the bar of a south Dublin hotel the afternoon after her debut Irish headline show as a solo artist. The attractive 35-year-old is still buzzing from the warm reception she received in the Sugar Club.
“It went brilliantly, I loved every minute of it,” she enthuses, speaking in a soft Tipperary accent. “The crowd were really behind me and it’s just lovely to have that response for what was a bit of a homecoming gig, for my first headline show.”
The venue itself also brought back some memories. “I actually played there in 2005 when I supported this duo called Sons of Jim,” she recalls. “The reason why they were called Sons of Jim was because both their dads were called Jim. And one of them is Jamie Dornan from 50 Shades. He was a model, musician, actor and I think he got strongly into acting after that.
“But it’s so funny because my song ‘Angel Like You’ is on the Mum’s List soundtrack,” she continues. “I was in the rolling titles. But his wife Amelia [Warner], she wrote the score for the film. We were at the premiere and he came up to me and was like, ‘Remember me?’ And I was like, ‘Uh… yeah!’ Anyway it reminded me of doing the music scene that I was at before. It’s like starting all over again, really.”
We’re meeting today to discuss Una’s just released debut solo album, The Waiting Game. A collection of unashamedly jaunty, country-tinged pop ballads, it’s so titled because she’s been waiting a very long time to make it. Originally from Thurles, she started off in her teens playing with a local band called Unreal before upping sticks and heading to the big smoke to try to make it as a solo artist.
“I dropped out of college a couple of times because all I wanted to do was music,” she explains. “So my mom said, ‘Give the music five years and see what happens, you can always go back to college as a mature student’. So I went off and bought the PA system, the whole mixing disk and the speakers, and literally phoned up any venue that did live music and said, ‘Can you give me a chance? I’ll even do one for free to see what you think?’”
Her mother’s supportive attitude wasn’t all that surprising given that Una’s uncle is famed country and western singer Declan Nerney.
“Well, he was kinda warning me off to be honest,” she admits. “He was like, ‘You know it’s a hard road’, but he’s still doing it and doing it really well. I obviously really value his opinion, so often I would send him the demos to see what he would think, and he would give me his honest feedback.”
Having scraped a reasonable living on the live circuit for a time, Healy ultimately wound up in London in the summer of 2007, auditioning for a new girl band. She got the gig. A serious success in Ireland and the UK, The Saturdays sold over five million albums over the course of the next seven years.
They’ve been on hiatus since 2014, but will The Saturdays be making a comeback at any stage?
“We don’t know yet, to be honest,” she shrugs, looking doubtful. “There’s no talk of it yet. We felt we’d reached that point where we all wanted to do our own thing, but we’re all still very much in touch. Two of the girls were at my show in London the other night, and it was nice to have that support – it means an awful lot to me that they were there. The other two couldn’t make it, but they would have and they were like, ‘I’m so sorry I can’t make it!’ They were busy. Yeah, so it’s good to keep in touch, and maybe one day we will, but there’s no plans.”
While Healy remained anxious to release a solo album, life kept getting in the way. The singer married rugby player Ben Foden in 2012 and they have two young children. She also landed a judging gig on The Voice of Ireland.
“I’ve been very busy especially with a husband and two young kids,” she explains. “But Tadhg is two now, and Aoife is going on five. My husband’s a rugby player and he’s working as well. So I wanted to be at home and look after my children and just literally be a housewife for a while… and then just do the songwriting alongside that. But yeah, I’m totally excited about being out there again.”
Una wrote with some of the world’s most acclaimed songwriters and producers on the album, including Grammy-winner Amy Wadge, Ben Earle from The Shires, Nick Atkinson, Jack McManus and Sacha Skarbek (who penned songs for the likes of Lana Del Ray and Jason Mraz). The forthcoming single, ‘Stay My Love’, is a collaboration with Sam Palladio, star of the hit TV series Nashville.
Having waited so long to be a solo artist again, Una is proud of The Waiting Game and relieved that it’s finally out there.
“It’s all about my feelings and it’s very relatable I feel,” she explains. “I like every song to tell a story and convey an emotion that people can go, ‘Oh, that’s me!’ It’s very relatable. I like catchy hooks, choruses, and I also love writing pop songs. I like a good opener first to get you into it and then a real hook at the chorus.
“I try not to be to down because a lot of the singer-songwriters can be a little bit depressing. So it’s quite a positive album, even my philosophy in it. ‘The Waiting Game’, for instance, is a song all about life and how it has its ups and downs… that’s just life. Try and be as positive as you can to overcome the bad times.”
Hopefully there won’t be too many of those ahead…
The Waiting Game is out now on Decca Records.