Born Dido Armstrong on December 25, 1971, in London, England; daughter of William and Claire Armstrong. Education: Attended Guildhall School of Music, London, England. Addresses: Record company--Arista Records, website: http://www.arista.com. Website--Dido Official Website: http://www.didomusic.com/.
Famed for writing songs that seemed to have an Everywoman spirit, British pop singer Dido started as a backup singer for her brother's band, Faithless. With her very first solo effort, No Angel, she soared to the top of the charts and into the hearts of millions around the world. To those looking from the outside in, her success seemed to happen overnight, but in reality Dido's road to stardom was a lifelong process.
Dido Armstrong was born and raised in London, England; she was the daughter of book publisher William Armstrong and his wife Claire, a homemaker whose hobby was writing poetry. Her parents named her after a Carthaginian queen. "Dido, she was an African queen, and in Latin literature, she was sort of a warrior queen, who actually ended up killing herself over a guy, which was a bit depressing," Dido explained to iAfrica.com.
The Armstrong household did not have a television during Dido's childhood, so she found other ways to entertain herself. At the age of five, she stole a recorder from her school's lost and found and discovered a passion for music as a result. Without any prompting from her parents, she practiced for six hours a day and sometimes more. The following year, she began attending the Guildhall School of Music in London, where she added the violin and piano to her talents. Dido discussed her early dedication in an interview with Jeff Chu at Time Europe. "I'd do like two hours on each instrument and maybe an hour on harmony and composition. ... I have respect for how I was when I was younger, because I'm so not that cool now," she said.
As a teenager, Dido toured the United Kingdom with a classical music ensemble, primarily focused on her chosen instruments. But when she was 16, her focus started to shift. She discovered the music of Ella Fitzgerald and became very interested in singing. Dido's brother Rollo, who had begun pursuing his own musical career, discouraged her from her new direction. "I used to tell Rollo that Dido had a lovely voice," Faithless lead singer Sister Bliss told People, "and he looked at me and said, 'My sister can't sing!'"
Undaunted like her warrior namesake, Dido followed her dream anyway and began performing with a variety of bands in London. At the same time, she worked for a book publishing company and attended law school. She started in publishing as an assistant and eventually moved up to become a literary agent.
In the mid-1990s, Dido finally convinced her brother of her abilities and landed a spot as a backup singer with Rollo's trip-hop group Faithless. The group's 1996 debut album, Reverence, sold more than five million copies, and Dido decided to explore the idea of writing and performing her own music. "The Faithless thing was such a good experience, but I knew that had really nothing to do with me," Dido told Charlie Craine of Hip Online. "I was just singing backup vocals. It's such a different thing when I went on alone. I was like, 'Why is everyone looking at me?'"
Although she had been making good money as a literary agent, she decided to take a year off, with her supervisor's blessing, to work on her music career full time. Her boss assured her that she could have her old job back if things didn't work out. She spent part of her new free time touring with Faithless and part of the time writing and recording her own songs. A year to the day after she left her job, she signed a recording contract with the Arista label. Although she hadn't sent her demo tape to anyone at Arista, the record company invited her to meet with the head of the company, Clive Davis, at the Dorchester Hotel in London. "I think my demo tape just drifted around the music industry through friends and by word-of-mouth, basically," Dido told Chu. It became clear that the meeting was a success when Davis became enthused enough to jump in with backing vocals for her performance.
Dido released her debut, No Angel, in the United States in June of 1999. Accompanying it was the single "Here With Me," which was later chosen as the theme song for the WB television show Roswell. Dido produced the album with the help of her brother Rollo (who had become one of her biggest supporters), Rick Nowels, and former Verve and Crowded House producer Youth. "Dreamy pop, electronica shadings, folk guitars, and soulful vocals bend and blend together on No Angel," Christopher John Farley wrote in his Time review. That same year, Dido appeared on Faithless's second release, Sunday 8pm, which included her song "My Lover's Gone."
Dido had to wait until October of 2000 to release No Angel in Europe due to contractual disputes with her European label, Cheeky Records. The CD was released after BMG Records purchased the small label.
No Angel's success in the United States didn't come quickly. Dido toured small venues around the country until one day she received a letter from rapper Eminem in which he explained that he wanted to sample her tune "Thank You" in a song he was working on, "Stan." He included a CD containing the song so she could hear how he would use it. By this time, "Thank You" had already appeared on the soundtrack for the film Sliding Doors, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Dido gave Eminem permission to use the sample--a decision that launched her career into superstardom.
"I'm blown away that so many people decided to investigate or buy my record on the strength of hearing six lines of it on 'Stan,'" Dido said in her website biography. "I think that's brilliant." The outcome of this brilliance was that No Angel spent 100 weeks on the British album charts and sold more than 12 million copies.
In 2001, Dido wrote the song "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" for Britney Spears and witnessed Elton John singing her lines from "Stan" when he performed with Eminem at the Grammy Awards ceremony. "It was too surreal for me, just too surreal to see Elton John singing my song," Dido told Tom Lanham of Teen People. "He's one of the biggest singer-songwriters in the world. And there he was, singing my funny little song."
In June of 2001, Dido launched her first tour as a headliner after nearly two years on the road. Her tour in support of No Angel finally came to an end in May of 2002, and she found herself in a completely different place in her life from where she had been when she started. "When I made No Angel, I was in my early 20s, and now I'm 30," Dido told Corey Moss of VH1.com. "I'm a completely different person. My world has changed."
Before she returned to the studio to record her second album, Dido decided to take some time off for herself and traveled to various places, including New York, Thailand, Canada, and Ireland. Refreshed and ready to start the process again, she released Life for Rent on September 29, 2003. The album included the single "White Flag," and for the video of that song Dido invited David Boreanaz, star of the television show Angel, to appear with her.
On Life for Rent, Dido took a more philosophical approach to her songwriting, particularly on the title track. "It's about not being afraid to take chances or to live life to the full," Dido said in her website biography. "It's so easy to slip into complacency or to disengage from the world. This album works as a reminder to myself not to do that."
Dido's success continued with Life for Rent, which debuted at number one on the European top 100 albums chart. But despite all of her success, Dido still considered herself an underdog. "No matter how successful I am, I'm always going to be trying to be a better singer or songwriter or producer or player or whatever," she explained on her website. "In my own mind, I'm always going to be coming from behind, and that seems to suit me."
by Sonya Shelton
Performed as a backup singer for Faithless, 1996-99; signed with Arista label, 1997; released No Angel, 1999; rapper Eminem sampled "Thank You" in his hit single "Stan," 2000; released Life for Rent, 2003.
Brit Awards, Best British Female, Best British Album for No Angel, 2002; World Music Awards, Best-Selling British Artist, Top Pop Female, Top Adult Contemporary Artist, 2002; Bambi Award (Germany), Best International Pop Act, 2003; Brit Awards, Best British Single for "White Flag," Best British Female, 2003.
- Selected discography
- (Contributor) Sliding Doors (soundtrack), MCA, 1998.
- No Angel Arista, 1999.
- Life for Rent Arista, 2003.
- With Faithless
- Reverence Arista, 1996.
- Sunday 8pm Arista, 1998.
- Outrospective Arista, 2001.
- Billboard Bulletin, October 10, 2003; October 17, 2003.
- Entertainment Weekly, October 20, 2000; December 1, 2000; August 1, 2003.
- People, April 30, 2001; October 20, 2003; December 1, 2003.
- Teen People, May 15, 2001.
- Time, June 7, 1999.
- "Dido Biography," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (November 28, 2003).
- "Dido Gets Extreme on 'Life,'" RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (November 28, 2003).
- Dido Official Website, http://www.didomusic.com (November 28, 2003).
- "Dido: The Dreamlife of Angels," VH1.com, http://www.vh1.com/artists/interview/1478218/09152003/dido.jhtml (November 12, 2003).
- "Dido, Travis Take Vancouver," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (November 28, 2003).
- "Dido Won't Let Success Go to Her Head," VH1.com, http://www.vh1.com/artists/news/1459637/01222003/dido.jhtml (November 12, 2003).
- "Hip Online: Dido," Hip Online, http://www.hiponline.com/artist/music/d/dido/interview/100201ii.html (November 12, 2003).
- "No Angel, Just a Star," Time Europe, http://www.time.com/time/europe/webonly/europe/2001/01/dido.html (November 12, 2003).
- "No Angel With an Angelic Voice," iAfrica, http://entertainment.iafrica.com/music/interviews/237875.htm (November 12, 2003).