Evelyn Glennie, 46, is the first person in Britain to sustain a full-time career as a solo percussionist. Her many awards include 15 honorary doctorates; she was created OBE in 1993 and DBE in 2007. She has been profoundly deaf since childhood.

What was your earliest ambition?

To be a hairdresser. I didn’t decide to become a musician until the age of 15, which is quite late.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

My primary school was a tiny country school with two teachers. At 11 I went to Ellon Academy in Ellon, Aberdeenshire, a great school with a very strong music department. I went to the Royal Academy of Music, which was a tremendous experience but also had its frustrations.

I wanted to be a solo percussionist, which was unheard of at the time, so there was a kind of resistance.

Who was your mentor?

My percussion teacher at Ellon Academy, Ron Forbes. He enabled us to engage with so many aspects of music. James Blades, the grandfather of percussion. He asked me if I was considering a career in music; that was such an influential thing to say to a 14-year-old. I still think about him a lot.

How physically fit are you?

Fitness: climbing Kilimanjaro

Percussion is physical, as most instruments are. The body must function well in order to play the instruments well. Last year I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Neither in isolation. The two together can create a dent in whatever you’re concentrating on.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

No. I’ve no ambition to take one.

How politically committed are you?

I keep generally abreast; my real interest in dealing with politics is on the educational front.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

You try to do your bit as far as you can without becoming hostage to the situation.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

A private jet with a handsome pilot, to avoid queueing at security. And more percussion instruments!

What’s your biggest extravagance?

The new business unit we’re now in. It’s something I’ve dreamed of – it lets us display the instruments.

In what place are you happiest?

Home. I’m not there that often and I appreciate familiar things around me and being able to do what I want when I want.

What ambitions do you still have?

There are many collaborations I’d like to explore. One is to co-write a rap concerto with Eminem. I’ve got a lot of business aims: developing my jewellery range and the motivational speaking worldwide.

What drives you on?

The possibility of making a difference; the passion you have towards your work; connecting with all sorts of people of all ages. Supporting AbleChildAfrica has shown me that the tiniest thing can make a huge difference.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

Doing what I do. Establishing the career of solo percussionist, which didn’t exist before.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Not having my father around to see many of my performances and go to the palace a couple of times. He was always quietly proud.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?

She would be happy that there was still a 20-year-old-style zing and curiosity going on. I remember how driven I was at 20 and that hasn’t disappeared.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

I’ve given it my best shot so far so I’ll say eight, knowing that there’s always something to improve.

If you had a coat of arms, what would be on it?

My tartan, the Rhythms of Evelyn Glennie, to signify my Scottish roots. A snare drum. A hint of jewellery, which is a huge interest of mine. And a book, to signify education.

Evelyn Glennie will speak at a reception for the Mayor of London’s Fund for Young Musicians on October 6

Get alerts on FT Magazine when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article