TEN thousand pairs of eyes gazed at Balerno teenager Nina Nesbitt as she stepped on to the stage of Glasgow’s SECC, just her, her guitar, the glare of the spotlight and a room full of expectation.
The last time Nina was at the venue, it was as just another eager face in the crowd waiting for the headline act to appear. Now she was on the stage, sandwiched between performances from chart stars Matt Cardle and Pixie Lott, ready to entertain the crowd.
In the wings, Nina’s dad, Mike, 50, watched, stomach somersaulting with nerves. And as he tightly clutched his 17-year-old daughter’s handbag – she’d thrust it into his hands as she confidently strode past on her way to the stage – he silently prayed everything was going to be fine.
Not that he needed to worry. It was one of Nina’s first proper gigs – certainly her biggest in just six months of performing – but from the moment her velvety voice flooded the auditorium, the crowd was hooked.
A few bars into her lilting and mesmerising version of Mumford and Sons’ Little Lion Man and they were singing along too.
The moment was a thrilling episode in what has already been a whirlwind – and extraordinary – sequence of events that has seen the strikingly pretty teenager morph from nervous performances at Balerno High School to supporting chart act Ed Sheeran and, in the case of one review, stealing the show from right under his nose, described as: “The best part of the night.”
Still slightly embarrassed at having dramatically overshadowed the star, half-Swedish, half-Scottish part-time model Nina is now preparing to renew her acquaintance with Pixie Lott – she met her backstage during that Glasgow SECC gig in September along with Ollie Murs and Jessie J – with a gig at the Liquid Room in Victoria Street.
Then, with barely time to catch her breath between radio performances and London record company talks, she’ll spend three nights next month warming up crowds in Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow for headline act, Example.
It’s all quite a leap from sitting at home teaching herself to play guitar. And quite an astonishing six-month journey that’s combined luck, persistence, youthful confidence and sheer talent.
“I’ve been lucky,” shrugs Nina modestly, her flowing silvery blonde hair spilling out from underneath a quirky pork pie hat. “I’ve been in the right place at the right time.”
Meeting A-Team singer Ed Sheeran certainly helped, a quirk of fate that set the wheels in motion for her current impressive run of good fortune. Her mum Caty, 43, had been trying desperately – but failing – to buy Nina tickets to see the star at one of his sell-out gigs. When a friend at Radio Forth learned he was coming to the station for an intimate gig, Caty managed to grab two tickets.
“There were only around 40 people there,” recalls Caty, who works with pre-school children. “Ed plays the kind of music Nina likes, she’d been following him for a while, so we were very pleased to get to go.”
Sheeran mingled with the audience before the gig and heard talk of Nina’s singing and songwriting ambitions. Naturally, when introduced to the youngster, he wanted to know more.
“I told him I wanted to be a singer,” she explains. “He said ‘do you play guitar?’ and he handed me his. He said ‘go on, sing me something’. So I was kind of put on the spot.”
He might have expected a wobbly schoolgirl performance, instead what he got were Nina’s pure and soulful voice and one of her own compositions.
Within days Sheeran had met up with rapper Example and shown him Nina’s YouTube version of his club hit Stay Awake. Impressed, the rapper immediately tweeted it to his 500,000 followers.
As hits on her YouTube videos soared, Nina was then left reeling when Sheeran invited her to support him at his Glasgow and London shows, followed by the offer from Example to appear at his three December gigs.
It could all have been a daunting prospect for many young musicians but, says Caty, who is originally from Sweden, Nina has taken being in the spotlight in her stride. “It seems to come quite naturally to her,” she says. “Her dad was nearly physically sick watching her get up on stage at the SECC in front of 10,000 people. Nina, on the other hand, just goes and does her thing.
“She’s said that it’s actually easier for her to go to a strange city and sing because no-one knows her.”
Nina, who is studying music at Stephenson College, taught herself to play guitar but only seriously considered music as a career towards the end of her fifth year at Balerno High School. “I’d written songs since I was little,” she explains, “but I didn’t think I had enough confidence to ever do music as a career.
“When I learned guitar and started listening to people like Ellie Goulding and Laura Marling I thought maybe I could do stuff like that too.”
With her striking looks, she’d already caught the eye of talent scouts from Scottish model agency Colours. But while she dazzles in front of the camera and cuts a striking figure on the runway, music, she insists, takes precedence over fashion. “She doesn’t want to be seen as a model who happens to sing,” insists Caty.
Her first proper gig was in May this year supporting another young female singer-songwriter Gabrielle Aplin at Manchester Roadhouse. The positive feedback encouraged her to post professionally-shot videos of her performing cover songs on YouTube, some of which have racked up more than 50,000 hits.
Now with those high profile support act gigs under her tiny model-sized belt, Nina is preparing to head to London for a series of talks with potential record labels and to hitch up with Ed Sheeran’s producer Jake Gosling for a song writing session.
Mum Caty agrees the chances are that London will become home as Nina strives to gain a foothold in the notoriously tricky and fickle entertainment world. “She has ambition and she knows exactly where she wants to be,” says Caty. “She’s not going to let herself be pushed into doing things she doesn’t want to. She very much has a mind of her own.
“Even if she does go on to have major success in the future, I’ll be making sure she keeps her feet on the ground.
“It’s been an amazing few months but we all know there’s a lot of work to come.”
* Nina Nesbitt appears at Future Hits Live at the Liquid Room on November 11 and with Example at the 02 ABC, Glasgow, on 5 December 5. Watch Nina Nesbitt on www.youtube.com/ninanesbitt