Henley Festival
Henley Festival

Sam Ryder

on Sunday 14th July 2024

The Floating Stage

Most overnight successes will tell you they actually spent years laying musical foundations before the planets aligned and household name status beckoned. That’s certainly true for singer, songwriter and newly-anointed household name of the United Kingdom Sam Ryder, but it’s also true that one night in particular did prove pivotal to Sam: May 14 2022, when he took to the stage at Turin’s PalaOlimpico and blew the socks off roughly 161 million viewers.


After a whirlwind couple of years and immense triumph, 2023 cemented the singer-songwriter at his peak. Kicking off 2023’s festive season, Sam shared a brand new Amazon original track ‘You’re Christmas To Me’, that ended up battling with Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ for the Christmas no.1, the track ended up peaking at #2. This extraordinary artist’s journey promises to take some exciting twists and turns as the world witnesses the full extent of Sam Ryder’s talent. “I don’t give up at something when I’ve put my mind to it,” he smiles. “Whether it’s music, or any other aspect of my life, I’ll always strive to find the joy and the happiness.”


His debut album ‘There’s Nothing But Space, Man!’ is a catalogue of infectious pop energy that soared to the number 1 spot in 2022 becoming the first solo artist to debut at number 1 with their debut record since Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour. Having received his first ever BRIT Award nomination for Breakthrough artist and closing out the BRIT Awards 2023.


Since SPACE MAN gave the United Kingdom its best Eurovision result since 1998 and the highest-charting UK Eurovision entry in over quarter of a century, Sam has since soundtracked many of the pivotal moments in entertainment of recent years from Eurovision to the Queen’s Jubilee, Wembley Stadium, the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Silverstone and the National Television Awards and Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball. Sam also received his first ever Emmy nomination for the Ted Lasso original song ‘Fought & Lost’ which he also performed alongside actress and singer Hannah Waddingham in front of an audience at the GRAMMY Museum. The song features in the penultimate episode of “Ted Lasso” season 3, “Mom City” and was co-written with Tom Howe, Jamie Hartman and Ryder.


Sam’s musical story dates back to the early 2000s. During a school science lesson a young Sam turned to the back of his exercise book and wrote out a ten-step plan for getting signed by a record label. The sound of his first major gig — Iron Maiden, the night before — was still ringing in his ears, and for the first time Sam had a sense of what his future might hold. He didn’t get all the details right. None of his ten points predicted Sam becoming the UK’s biggest TikTok artist two years running,or the impact of an unprecedented global pandemic, or the support of icons like Sia, Justin Bieber, Elton John and Alicia Keys. Eurovision wasn’t on the list, either, but Sam was plotting to become a musician not a clairvoyant, so don’t hold it against him.


Sam grew up in Essex, experiencing what he describes as a “Huckleberry Finn childhood” — playing in fields, building treehouses, swimming in rivers. Perfect, to a point. “You get to an age,” he says, “where you start to realise that life’s going on without you.” Sam’s realisation came about after he found an Iron Maiden CD during a school trip to a nunnery. He lived half an hour’s drive from the nearest town. “I realised,” he reflects now, “that I wanted to be part of something.”


Having already learned guitar, Sam attended music college then picked up manual labour work on construction sites during the day, spending years honing his musical craft at night in pubs and clubs, and as the singer in a wedding band. There were spells in rock bands, too, which saw him living out of a Transit van. Even that didn’t put him off in his quest to make it in music. He compares those years to a rocket trying to take off: while it doesn’t require much energy to propel a rocket through space itself, getting it off the ground in the first place is the tricky bit. “Looking back, my booster rockets were a sense of self-belief,” he says now. “A belief that somehow, I’d make it.” He’d travel to London for tiny gigs, one step up from open mic nights, at places like the Strong Room, the Lexington and the Flying Pig. “I was playing to five people when three of them worked at the venue, but you draw from a spring of hope, don’t you?” he reflects. “I’d always find a reason to keep playing, and that reason was hope.”


There were near misses and close calls — breadcrumbs like support from BBC Introducing or a good review or two. He spent time in studios, shot a couple of videos. At one point he set off for Nashville to get work as a songwriter, soon discovering that Nashville, being home to the strongest songwriting talent on the planet, is perhaps not the easiest place in the world to get a break.


This took Sam to 2020 — a year which, as we all know, had a surprise or two up its sleeve. In the early stages of lockdown, away from any sort of studio equipment or expensive video paraphernalia, Sam reassessed what he was doing. “It was about getting back to basics and figuring out what was important,” he remembers. What was important, he realised, was one thing: “Singing.” He began uploading regular, no-frills covers. Pickup was slow until suddenly it wasn’t: “I woke up one morning and saw I’d had a million views overnight. And I thought, ‘Is something happening here?’” Something was indeed happening. Performances caught the eyes and ears of Sia, Elton John, and Alicia Keys. Justin Bieber slid into Sam’s DMs. As his follower count hit 10m, compilations of his uploads made national media on both sides of the Atlantic, from the Ellen show to BBC News. By the end of 2020 Sam had become TikTok’s most popular UK artist.


Sam finally had liftoff. “I knew it was the start, not the endgame,” he says. “I was up and running, now it was up to me to decide where to go next.” He booked a gig in Dalston shortly after live music restrictions were lifted, to see what would happen. “On the night, the doors opened and… Ten or twelve people walked in,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Oh dear.’” But by the time he went on stage, the room was packed: an emotional night for everyone, including Sam, who’d been deprived of live music. As his live reputation grew, his first ticketed London show sold out in an hour while tickets for the 600-capacity London show of his first UK tour sold so fast that he had to put two more shows on at the venue.


It was SPACE MAN, a song Sam wrote in the late summer of 2020, that got Sam his record deal. “I knew then that it was a special song and I was stoked that I managed to squeeze in so many references, lyrically and sonically, to artists who’ve been so important to me, from Queen and Elton John to David Bowie,” Sam says. At the time, though, he didn’t have any idea quite how special that sound would become: Sam was selected from hundreds of names to represent the UK at the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest, following the most intense and high-stakes search in recent Eurovision memory, spearheaded by global music management and publishing company TaP Music (Lana Del Rey, Dua Lipa). His plan for the night was simple: to “get out there, sing my head off for three minutes and make my country proud.”


Unfathomable accolades, millions of streams and off-the-scale social numbers all seem to pint in the direction that 2024 will bring even bigger opportunities his way.2024 is looking bright with Sam back in the studio working on new music, it’s set to be an exciting year ahead for the UK’s favourite household name.



There’s so much to experience at the Festival it’s worth being ready to go when the gates open at 5pm.


You can never be overdressed at Henley!



Head to the Moet Champagne lawn for a glass of fizz and an amazing view of the river.


All our non-bookable restaurants are open throughout the evening and are less busy during the floating stage concert.



The Festival has a black tie dress code.


The car park opens at 4pm, Festival gates open at 5pm.


Wristbands will be given out at the Festival gates upon presentation of a valid ticket.