She’s the girl who said no to the big TV talent shows, but teenage singer-songwriter Billie Marten now looks set for stardom. She talks to Ruth Campbell

BILLIE Marten is on her way from Manchester to Bath when we talk, fitting in interviews between gigs. Her new single, Bird was named Hottest Record in the World on Radio One two weeks ago. The station’s Annie Mac named it Record of the Week.

Then, just a few days ago, singer Ed Sheeran tweeted his 15.5m followers to say he thinks Billie’s new single, out on November 13, is ‘stunning’.

There are lots of journalists clamouring to talk to the talented singer-songwriter with the beautiful, haunting voice who is being hailed the next big thing by everyone from the Independent newspaper to Clash magazine. But Billie, who is signed to Sony Music’s Chess Club, has other things to think about too. Because she’s just 16 years old and in the middle of trying to finish an English essay.

Having written and recorded her second four-track EP, As Long As, while studying for her GCSEs, she is now in sixth form at Ripon Grammar School and also has French and art homework to complete during this, her first tour.

Billie, who only had her tooth braces removed in January, looks like a typical indie-style teenager. Dressed in skinny black jeans, a hand-me-down hoodie and her trademark Dr Marten boots, this quiet and unassuming schoolgirl rarely wears makeup and tends to shy away from attention. “I prefer an intimate little dark stage,” she says.

She started writing songs when she was nine and took the music world by storm three years later when her mother put a video of her singing on YouTube to show her grandparents in France. It got hundreds of thousands of hits. “It went crazy,” says Billie, who squirms with embarrassment now at the mention of that first video.

Two of the big mainstream TV talent shows approached her after that, but Billie and her family turned them down. They decided to sign with a management team who would let her concentrate on developing her music. “I don’t want to be famous,” says Billie. “I just love music, it makes me happy.”

She comes from a musical family. Both mum Sally, an administrator, and dad Andy, a copywriter, sing and play instruments. “We had David Bowie playing in the car instead of nursery rhymes when I was little. I listened to my parents’ Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake and John Martyn records,” says Billie, who performed her first gig, on the bandstand at Ripon Racecourse, shortly after her YouTube debut. Sally and Andy soon found themselves acting as her ‘roadies’.

This is Billie’s first time away from her family on tour. She's away until the end of October, supporting one of her idols, the singer-songwriter Lucy Rose. Sally confesses she feels a little nervous. “But there comes a point when you don’t want your mum and dad carrying your guitar everywhere,” she says. She and Andy have been careful to ensure Billie retains creative control, turning down a number of major record labels for that reason. “Song writing is key,” says Sally.

Billie also resists any attempts at a glam, record industry makeover. When filming the video for Bird, she turned down the stylist’s outfits, preferring to wear her old Levis black shorts, stripy shirt and Doc Martens instead. “It’s important to carry on being you. I would hate to be caked in make-up and won’t stop wearing my jeans and Docs,” she says.

Billie wrote most of her songs from the family home, a terraced house in the centre of Ripon, looking out from her bedroom window at the bus park across the road. “I write about the places I want to be,” she says. “But it’s not just about physical places. I’m still trying to find my place in the world I think.”

Her quiet, sad, melancholy songs have certainly touched a nerve. The Independent on Sunday pronounced her voice ‘unbelievably beautiful’, its music critic announcing: “Occasionally you come across something so startling you have to tell the world about it.” And this week’s Sunday Times Culture section named Bird as its ‘Hottest Track’, describing it as: ‘worldly-wise and profoundly beautiful’.

Surprisingly, Billie chose not to take A-level music and confesses she didn’t enjoy the theory at GCSE. Although she occasionally has to take time out of school, she doesn’t tend to talk to school friends about her music. “It’s difficult for them to understand and they all have so much other stuff going on," she says. "But they’re always positive and happy for me.”

Sometimes it’s difficult to focus on school work. “I was revising for maths GCSE when I heard I’d been played on Radio One. It was hard to concentrate after that," she says. Billie was on a school art trip in Cornwall when a friend called to say Annie Mac had chosen Bird as Record of the Week.

The song, she explains, is about how words can affect people. Friends can’t resist teasing her by playing it in the common room, says Billie, who still plans to go to university, which is her ‘back-up plan’.

She did remarkably well in her GCSEs, although when asked in a Radio One interview how her exams went, she replied: “Average.” She is similarly modest and level-headed about her music. It all seems like a dream, she says: “Every day I wake up and don’t believe this is happening.”

I ask what she’s going to wear on stage tonight, but she hasn’t thought about it. “I just tend to rock up in whatever I’m wearing,” says the girl on the cusp of stardom.

  • As Long As, featuring Bird, is out on Nov 13 (Chess Club Records)