British-Jamaican soul singer Celeste has won BBC Music’s Sound of 2020, which is given to artists who are tipped for success in the coming year.
The 25-year-old’s entrancing voice and jazz-steeped songs made her the runaway winner, after votes were counted from 170 music critics and industry figures.
She joins the likes of Adele, Haim and Ellie Goulding, who have all topped the Sound Of… list in previous years.
Indie band Easy Life came second, while pop-punk firebrand Yungblud was third.
“I’m really, really happy,” Celeste said, after being told she’d won. “It’s like all of the work that went in throughout the [last] year wasn’t invisible.
“I can’t wait now to see what the rest of the year will look like. I’m so thrilled and so excited. I can’t wait.”
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Brighton, Celeste Waites started making music as a teenager, while working in pubs and charity shops to make ends meet.
She wrote her first song, Sirens, at the age of 17, in tribute to her Jamaican father, who had died of lung cancer a year earlier. The track was uploaded to YouTube, where it got the attention of her manager – but success was still a long way off.
Three years ago, the singer moved to London with just £100 in her pocket; but got fired because she kept skipping work to write songs.
“I’d rather call in sick and go to the studio than have the money for that month,” she tells the BBC, “and there was a couple of months where I was like, ‘What am I going to do?'”
Luckily, unemployment coincided with Celeste’s discovery – first by Lily Allen’s label Bank Holiday Records, which released her first EP, and later by Polydor, who signed her in 2018.
Since then, she’s supported Janelle Monáe, Neneh Cherry and Sound of 2012 winner Michael Kiwanuka on tour. Fellow soul singer Jorja Smith recently described Celeste as “incredible, stunning, everything”.