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The word ‘special’ gets used so carelessly that we often no longer hear it, but then every so often something comes along to give it new meaning. Something like Birdy.
In the last six months, more than ten million people have clicked on YouTube to see this 15-year-old from the New Forest perform. It’s hard to believe that such a pure, powerful voice can come from such a tiny frame, or that such raw, deep emotion can be expressed by someone so young. But mostly, what all these new fans recognise is that Birdy is something increasingly rare and precious: a unique new voice, and a musician who can take even a familiar song, and make it all her own.
When her parents fed her as a baby, Jasmine Van den Bogaerde would open her mouth so wide that they called her Birdy. The name stuck – only her school friends call her Jasmine – and she quickly grew into it by making music of her own. She started learning piano at home when she was about seven; within a year, she was sitting at the keyboard making up songs. Her first audience was her extended family: “My mum has ten brothers and sisters, so there are so many of them.”
When she was 12 she uploaded a video of herself performing one of her own songs to YouTube. “Then someone from the record company saw it, and it escalated from there.”
Since then, life has been a bit of a blur. She recorded a demo of her own arrangement of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love, it ended up on Radio One and became her debut single, taking her straight into the top 20 and appearing on TV in The Vampire Diaries. She followed this with an equally original interpretation of The xx’s Shelter, and now her debut album Birdy, with her take on songs by artists such as Cherry Ghost, The National, Phoenix, The Postal Service and James Taylor. “It’s just an introduction to my style,” she explains, saying that doing an album of covers will give her time to finish her GCSEs this year. “Although it’s nice to have one of my songs, Without A Word, on there too.”
Birdy comes from a talented, creative family (her great-uncle was the actor and writer Sir Dirk Bogarde, although Birdy is too young to have ever met him). They live in a crumbling converted mill in the New Forest, not far from the sea. There’s a grand piano in the living room because her mum is a classically trained concert pianist. In a shed outside, there’s the tiny studio where Birdy recorded some of her first demos, and where her dad works, recording voiceovers and reading the day’s news stories for the blind. With her younger brother and sister, a whole pack of cousins living close by as well as her friends, Birdy has had a childhood straight out of an Enid Blyton book: roaming through the woods, and playing on the local beaches.