Helen Folasade Adu was born in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. Her middle name, Folasade, means honour confers your crown. Her parents, Adebisi Adu, a Nigerian lecturer in economics of Yoruba background, and Anne Hayes, an English district nurse, met in London, married in 1955 and moved to Nigeria. Later, when the marriage ran into difficulties, Anne Hayes returned to England, taking four-year-old Sade and her older brother Banji to live with her parents. Later on Sade and her brother lived with their grandparents just outside Colchester, Essex. When Sade was 11, she moved toHolland-on-Sea, Essex to live with her mother, and after completing school at 18 she moved to London and studied at Saint Martin's School of Art.
While in college, she joined a soul band, Pride, in which she sang backing vocals. Her solo performances of the song "Smooth Operator" attracted the attention of record companies and in 1983, she signed a solo deal with Epic Records taking three members of the band, Stuart Matthewman, Andrew Hale and Paul Denman, with her. Sade and her band produced the first of a string of hit albums. Their debut album Diamond Life appeared in 1984. She is the most successful solo female artist in British history, having sold over 110 million albums worldwide.
In 2002, she appeared on the Red Hot Organization's Red Hot and Riot, a compilation CD in tribute to the music of fellow Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti. She recorded a remix of her hit single, "By Your Side", for the album and was billed as a co-producer.She squatted in Tottenham in the 1980s, with her then-boyfriend Robert Elms. In 1989, she married Spanish film director Carlos Pliego. Their marriage ended in 1995. She gave birth to a daughter, Ila Adu (who studied at Wycliffe College in Gloucestershire), in 1995 after a relationship with Jamaican music producer Bob Morgan. (She moved briefly to the Caribbean to live with him in the late 1990s, but they later separated and she returned to England.) In 2002, she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to popular music. She lives in the English countryside and, prior to the release of Soldier of Love in 2010, the Daily Mail described her as "famously reclusive".