Experience: I was a stadium-filling pop star for one night

It had started out as an ordinary week, and now I was about to open for Muse, Dizzee Rascal and Biffy Clyro

I was 10 years old when I started writing music. By 18, I was halfway through a songwriting course and taking my brand of singer-songwriter pop to small UK venues and festivals. But I’d never dreamed of playing a stadium.

In early 2013, a promoter who had seen me play in London invited me to perform at the Marylebone Summer Fayre. It was a small community festival, full of families celebrating Father’s Day. The main stage was in a park, with the tiny stage I was due to play on tucked away at the end of a nearby street. The artist before me hadn’t turned up, so I went on early, with my guitar and loop pedal. There couldn’t have been more than 15 people in the audience, including my sister, but I played my best, as I always do.

About three songs in, I spotted Muse’s singer, Matt Bellamy, and his then partner, the actor Kate Hudson, in the crowd. All I could think was: “Shit, this is cool.” Despite the rain, they stayed for 15 minutes, chatting and watching my set. Afterwards, my sister saw Kate pick up one of my kite-shaped business cards before the pair went into a restaurant. About an hour and a half later, they emerged with one of my kites tied to their baby’s pram.

The following Wednesday, I was on the train to my hometown of Falmouth in Cornwall when I picked up a voicemail from Muse’s manager. He said: “Matt saw you play at the weekend and he’d potentially like you to support Muse at Stade de France near Paris, this Saturday.” He said he couldn’t make any promises, but he wanted to check my availability. I had plans to visit my family and play a couple of gigs at the weekend, but I rang him straight back and told him I was available. He said he’d call the next day.

I was shaking. I wanted it to happen so badly; the worry that it wouldn’t sent me into a panic. No one wants to hear the story of “I almost supported Muse”. The only people I told were my family. My dad kept calling every few hours wondering if I’d heard anything. I didn’t sleep. The next day, after an agonising wait, Muse’s manager confirmed the gig offer and the fee. I played a gig in Cornwall on the Friday and caught the Eurostar the next day with my whole family. When we got to Stade de France, we were given a tour of the stadium and shown to my dressing room. I was full of adrenaline. It had started out as an ordinary week. Now I was about to open for Muse, Dizzee Rascal and Biffy Clyro.

Stepping on to the stage was surreal. I was a 5ft 5in girl with a tiny acoustic guitar in this massive open-air stadium – I couldn’t process the size of it. I was overwhelmed, but somehow managed to keep my cool. I didn’t want to be shaking with nerves so much that I would come off stage and have to ask: “Was that OK?” The place filled up throughout my set and by the end there must have been close to 80,000 people watching. The crowd were joining in and calling out; I definitely gained a few fans from the gig.

When I came off stage, I walked past Biffy Clyro, who were shirtless, oiled-up and ready to go on. Pretty soon, I was summoned to Matt’s dressing room, where he was warming up for Muse’s set. I’ve always been starstruck around famous people, but he was so sweet and quite shy. He asked how it went and told me: “You know, Kate really wanted you to do this – she made sure it happened.”

My family and I celebrated by having a few drinks and watching the rest of the show. None of us had seen Muse play before and it blew us all away.

The next day, I played a tiny bar in Cornwall. Word about the Muse show had spread and the room was filled with people I knew. It was weird going from the Stade de France to the venues I’d always played, but it makes you realise you don’t have to be filling stadiums to love what you do. And it was definitely easier to book gigs after that.

I’m 23 now and I’ve gone on to support Gabrielle Aplin and Newton Faulkner, perform at the Isle of Wight festival and Glastonbury, and appear on Jools Holland with the singer-songwriter Laurel. Muse were on that show, too, and afterwards I said hello to Matt and we chatted about what I’d been up to. Ever since Stade de France, I’ve lived by the mantra that you should play each gig as if it’s the most important one you’ll ever play – because you never know who might be watching.

• As told to Lisa Henderson

Do you have an experience to share? Email experience@theguardian.com

Polly Money

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