Rita Ora, the 26-year-old British pop star and fashion icon, is this year’s recipient of the Variety + H&M Conscious Award for her outstanding philanthropic work, but she’s been involved with charity organizations for years.
Her most recent cause is the London Fire Relief Fund, a division of the British Red Cross that helps rehabilitate those who were affected by the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire in June. It’s an issue particularly close to her heart, and as the charity of her choice, the relief fund will receive a $10,000 donation from Variety and H&M.
Ora, who immigrated to Britain from Kosovo with her family when she was still a baby, grew up in the Grenfell Tower neighborhood and has friends affected by the fire, making her especially passionate about bringing attention to the cause. “Knowing these people, knowing their physical bodies, is a whole different thing than just having sympathy for these people,” Ora says.
Her childhood experience of living in government housing helped her relate to the plight of the Grenfell residents. “Growing up in government homes, it’s like your only bit of sanctuary,” she says. “It’s big, it’s like your only place where you feel safe, so [the disaster] was really off-putting for me.”
Ora heard the news that the building, located in the posh West London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, was ablaze while on a flight to London from Los Angeles. She immediately went to the site to help relief efforts and instructed her team to bring anything she had that could be of use to donate to the cause.
|“I’ve never seen a community come together so quickly. It was beautiful to think that there’s still hope like that in the world.”|
Ora also contributed to the charity single, a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which was released to generate funds for the victims. More than 50 artists participated on the track, produced by Simon Cowell, including Robbie Williams, Liam Payne, Stormzy, Louis Tomlinson, James Blunt, Pete Townsend, Roger Daltry and Bastille.
Ora says the experience was amazing. “The relief that came out of me when I saw all the support was just fantastic … I’ve never seen a community come together so quickly. It was beautiful to think that there’s still hope like that in the world.”
Contributing to Grenfell relief efforts is not Ora’s first foray into charity work, however. The artist has been active with Unicef for several years, and Kosovo named her an honorary ambassador to the country in 2015 for her work with the org toward helping the country rebuild after the Balkans War in the 1990s.
Ora has also worked with numerous other charity organizations, including amfAR (she was a hit at this year’s annual Cannes bash), DKMS, Sightsavers and the Small Steps Program. She is passionate about worldwide humanitarian crises as well, particularly the plight of refugees.
“I’m a prime example of somebody that you shouldn’t throw out or not let into your country,” she says. “I’m one of those cases that you just never know who you’re declining from your country… it’s about giving people something to believe in.”
The singer is also vocal about her support of LGBTQ rights, joining RuPaul and MTV to spotlight the abuses against gay people occurring in Chechnya, as well as GLAAD and Billboard Pride to stand with American transgender soldiers.
“For me, it was personal,” Ora says. “It was that simple, I started [my world] because it was personal to me and then I saw that I really did make a difference.”