FLAIR RAISING I think different people are suited to different instruments, the same way people can be awful at swimming but fantastic at cricket. I'd been playing the piano for about two years at school before my teacher said I was so poor I should give up. Although this was a bit hard to take at the age of seven, she saved me a lot of heartache. I turned to the Celtic harp instead, which suited me well; it's where I'm most comfortable. There seems to be a purity and clarity about the instrument that suits my voice. This proves people shouldn't give up at the first sign that they're not musically talented. I have now released six albums, with No7 on the way. PARENTAL GUIDANCE I've found musicians and sportspeople tend to have enthusiastic mothers or fathers. You need that encouragement. Music is the road less travelled; a lot of people may have a passion for music, and even the talent, but don't pursue it. I got an offer when I was sitting my final exams at Oxford University to perform in Washington DC [in the United States] for the Scottish Tourist Board. At first I said no, because I couldn't even contemplate anything apart from the exams. But my mother was determined I should do it and changed my mind. Soon after, I was offered a job by [designer and entrepreneur] Terence Conran, who wanted me to help lead one of his new dining ventures in Edinburgh, after I made a cheeky comment to him when he spoke to our student union. That meant the option of a job and a pay cheque, or starting from scratch and doing music. I called mum and dad- they said go for the music. So that was it. ASIAN PERSUASION I once performed at a small concert in Stirling Castle, in Scotland, when a cultural ambassador from the Chinese embassy in London was in the audience. I got an e-mail about a month later inviting me to perform at the Nanning International Folk Song Art Festival. There was a real buzz about China, so I remember jumping up and down- nobody I knew had been. I ended up having an amazing trip and was invited back to perform the next year at the Shanghai Baoshan International Folk Arts Festival. The cultural attache at the embassy suggested I learn a song in Mandarin. I learned the sounds but didn't really understand it, but it received a positive reaction and led to much more work. It wasn't until I came to live in China, in 2007, that I started learning Mandarin properly. I've now given concerts in the Forbidden City Concert Hall, played in the Irish pavilion at the Shanghai Expo and at the Beijing Olympics, for the British ambassador and the gold medallists. I sang this year in the Great Hall of the Forbidden City for Phoenix Television, which was quite daunting because the space is so big. AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION Chinese audiences are very appreciative and give a lot of vocal feedback. If you're enjoying a song, it's customary to clap after the first bar, and they might sing along, too. It's reassuring when this happens- you know you've hit the spot. When the earthquake struck Sichuan, some Chinese friends suggested it might be meaningful to write a song for the victims. I woke up that same night with a tune in my head and by daylight I'd written the song. We got a Chinese lyricist to translate it, launched the song at the British embassy, then toured schools in Sichuan, donating musical instruments. One of the schools was basically a series of portacabins, and children were playing in mud up to their knees. It was a truly moving experience when I sang. The children didn't know the tune beforehand, but were singing along with the chorus the second time around. It was reassuring because despite the terrible sadness the people had experienced, their spirits were recovering. CELTIC CROSSINGS Celtic music is becoming more popular in Asia- as are harps, it seems, since I headlined the Hong Kong Harp Festival last year. When I was last in Beijing, Celtic music was playing in lifts, Enya was playing in the supermarket and Auld Lang Syne was played on flutes in just about every park. There are quite a few Celtic musicians in Beijing and Hong Kong, and we're going to work on an annual Celtic festival in Beijing. I'm also busy with what I consider my second career- teaching a style of dance called Ceroc. It's a sort of partner-style dancing to pop music from London. It's social, it keeps you fit and provides a new perspective on a night out in Hong Kong. We run classes weekly, but it's my mission to take it across Asia. We're already branching into Singapore, and potentially Thailand. SELF AWARENESS This kind of work can be good fun, but it's not the easiest career. I have to be a businesswoman as well as a musician- handling contracts, negotiating prices, networking. I have to watch my image. One manager I worked with had represented Vanessa Mae, but I didn't want to receive similar treatment. If you sell sex as part of your image, you may fast-track your career but you could end up in places you don't necessarily want to be. I have a soft presence on stage- romantic perhaps- and with my posture and hair, I look better in long dresses. You have to be in touch with your personality, the shape of your body, and you've got to play to your skills, while also pushing yourself to grow. I think that as you get older, you find out who you are.