LEANNE Harte has achieved what many young people only imagine in their wildest dreams. Not only did she start playing acoustic guitar when she was just eight years old, but she took on a manager at 14, and recorded her EP Eradication at 16. The future starlet wrote her first album, Leanne Harte, while studying for her Leaving Cert before releasing it last year.
Thankfully, Harte hasn't acquired an ego. Even with an old head on young shoulders, Leanne, now 21, still believes she has a lot to learn.
There are traces of her earlier shyness, which had begun to dissolve when she learned to play the electric guitar while a young teenager. I can still see that glow when she adoringly picks up the instrument.
At five foot nine, she is lean, blonde and willowy, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Sienna Miller. But despite Leanne's model looks, you won't see her on the cover of a men's magazine in a skimpy outfit. Unlike some women in the music industry, she won't use a sexy image to sell a record. She is optimistic for the future, hoping that more women like her will come into the small current in a male-dominated ocean.
"Guitar is definitely becoming much more popular with women and young girls," she says. "Women are easily able to play guitar and play it well. I think the industry hasn't helped encourage women to play instruments because of the concentration on image rather than their talents."
While we're on the subject, what is Leanne's opinion of those female artists whose careers are reportedly manipulated by their managers?
"They're perfectly welcome to do their own thing, but I don't believe it's music," she says frankly. "I think that when music is taken and turned into a money-making business, the soul is just completely removed from it. It doesn't make sense."
Last October, Leanne played a memorable concert in Paris that helped shape her as a musician, and as a woman. She returned to her acoustic routes and played to a small, intimate audience and the result was a new live album, An Irish Girl In Paris.
"I didn't realise until afterwards that the gig was recorded. It was just really special and it definitely came through on the album. I thought it'd be nice to showcase another side of myself."
How did the French audience compare with the Irish? Leanne tries to be fair. Though she loves Irish people and venues, she feels that they are not always as focused on listening when they go to intimate shows. "The French were incredible, definitely the most attentive audience I've ever performed to. I love doing concerts in Ireland but it can be difficult when playing acoustic sets," she says.
Having enjoyed success herself, Leanne decided to help others by running a contest, where applicants send home videos of themselves jamming, playing their own material, or covers.
The prize is a custom-made Daisy Rock guitar, one of Leanne's sponsors. So far she has been bombarded with entries, but there won't be a decision for a while.
"I think it'll take something really special to win and I think I'll know once I see that, but I've been amazed at the talent so far," she says.
Leanne always felt left behind when friends went off to college, while she was unsure about what to with her own life. But this summer, she finally got the chance to enjoy a student-type charity travel experience. She has just spent a month in Kenya, repairing old computers to put into schools.
She is a true devotee of the importance of education and helping the less fortunate. Just before Harte jetted off, she said excitedly: "It means a lot to me. It's something I never really expected I'd do at this point in my life, but the opportunity arose and I was more than happy to take it. I think it'll be good for me and I'm hoping I learn a lot more about the world."
An 'Irish Girl In Paris' is in the shops now