Paloma Faith: “Social media is dangerous”
Paloma Faith is having a bad hair day. No. A really bad hair day. “I’ve gone to the same hairdresser for 10 years,” she reflects in her unique Minnie-Mouse-on-Mogadon tones. “And for some reason, yesterday it went mental and started going all burn-y. Now I don’t know how much hair I’ve got left.”
How does she cope generally in a crisis? How is she coping with this particular crisis?
“Always the same,” she laughs, her hair now wrapped in fabric and slathered with conditioner. “Humour. My boyfriend [the French artist, Leyman Lahcine] sent me a photo of a Barbie that a kid had chopped all the hair off. That was while I was still in the hairdressers. You bastard. It’s humour that gets me through.”
Hair notwithstanding, the singer, 36, has much to be happy about. Her fourth album, The Architect, reached Number 1 in the UK and she is about to embark on the next leg of a tour which begins at Hampton Court Palace Festival and visits a variety of other festivals and racecourses, the nag-friendly venues a measure of her bigger-than-all-but-Adele popularity. She attributes the success of her performances to a lesson learned from no less a figure than Prince, who mentored her briefly early in her career.
“I made a lot of changes to the way I performed live after that,” she recalls of the Hamlet-esque time she opened for Prince in Denmark. “First of all, I made myself have a better band and then I took the stance – I don’t think everyone does in music – which is that you have to play what people want you to play. Prince always did that. That was a really great lesson and I think that’s why I can be four albums and 10 years into my career and I’m selling arena tours, because people know I’m going to give them what they want.”
Her previous three albums all went double platinum (sold over 600,000 copies) but The Architect was her first Number 1 album and is on course to match these sales. It represents something of a change of direction for her, featuring multiple co-writers and collaborations with Sia, John Legend, even Samuel L. Jackson, whom she apparently annoyed by telling him how to speak his lines. It’s also much more, dread word, political than previous offerings. For instance, it features a song called Guilty, about a person who voted Leave but has come to regret it. She says she wrote it to show empathy for what that might feel like. But its opening lines run, “I’ve been a criminal, I made a mistake. / Believed in the fictional / Then let everything slip away.” I suggest, not that I have a problem with this, that it might actually infuriate the average Leave voter.
She pauses to consider this notion.
“I’ve got friends who voted Leave and we don’t hit each other or swear at each other,” she says after a moment. “Some of them regret it and that’s why I wrote that song. But there are some extremist ones who stand by it even though it’s obvious it was a terrible idea and I think those people who are holding those views are not doing it from a good place. I think some of their beliefs on immigration are a little bit right-wing.”
“I don’t understand why people have lost the concept of living harmoniously with people who are different”
Paloma has a disarming way of expressing strong opinions in a non-confrontational way, which is perhaps why she struggles with the idea of people being at each other’s throats, as they are, in the modern world.
“I don’t understand why people have lost the concept of living harmoniously with people who are different,” she muses. “It seems quite strong to me that you would be infuriated by someone having a differing opinion to you. It’s not like I’m stabbing anyone to death. My memories of my childhood in Hackney are quite harmonious, different cultures, different classes living side by side. Mansions on the same street as housing estates.
“I think social media is dangerous,” she continues. “Sometimes I forget and it’s like I’m talking to a friend and then it’s, ‘Oh shit’. But I’ve had people say the most horrible things to me. Once, on The Voice, I said
I didn’t like musical theatre. I had death threats, people saying I’d condemned their whole existence. What kind of world do we live in where people believe that if you have a slightly innocent but opposing view to them, you deserve to die? Terrifying. I think that there should be an episode of Black Mirror where everybody acts on what they say they’re going to do on social media.”
She was born Paloma Faith Blomfield and experienced a multi-cultural upbringing. Her English mother and Spanish father separated when she was two and her stepfather is Chinese. A single child, she formed an intense bond with her mother.
“One of my mum’s big regrets was not going to art school,” she remembers. “But she was – she is – really creative and we did lots of role play. We did lots of things like pretending to go to restaurants when we were at home. And with my stepfather we used toplay this game we called The Immigration Game. When we went on holiday when I was a kid we always used to get stopped at Customs because they could never understand why a white woman would be with a Chinese man, plus I looked a bit Latin because my blood dad is Spanish, so it was a bit confusing for them. So we would play it at home and I would be the passenger and he would pretend to be security and run around chasing me with a water gun, shouting, ‘Immigrant! Immigrant!’ So it was a bit controversial. It was actually my favourite game when I was a child.”
“I feel [therapy] is the best thing that’s ever happened to me”
Her first public performance was as a T-Rex when she was seven in a school production called Dinosaurs And All That Rubbish, she was pushed into the role by her teacher who thought she lacked confidence. By the time she left school, she was convinced she wanted to be a dancer and went to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds to pursue that dream. Around this time she supported herself as a life model, a magician’s assistant and working in Agent Provocateur, jobs one would imagine would supply their fair share of anecdotes.
“Well as a magician’s assistant there’s not a lot of anecdotes,” she laughs. “It’s not as glamorous as you might think. Sitting for an hour and a half with a rabbit in a small space just so you can do some massive reveal at the end. I’ve been levitated, sawn in half, appeared, disappeared. And I’ve done dove magic, which was my favourite because my name means dove.”
If short on anecdote, the experience at least helped form her philosophy.
“In the bigger tricks, the magician just waves his arms around and you do everything,” she reflects with a smile. “It’s a bit like this patriarchal society we live in, isn’t it? Men run the world waving their arms around and women do the work.”
For the past seven years she has been in therapy.
“I feel it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she remarks with typical candour. “I attribute so much of my contentment to it actually. And my relationship with my mum is one of the things I’ve explored a lot with my therapist.”
“I don’t want to restrict my child’s future by everybody knowing who their mum is”
Of late, this relationship has changed as Paloma gave birth to her first child some 18 months ago. She excited tabloid speculation when it was reported that she was raising her child to be gender neutral. Except she didn’t really say that. What she said was that she wasn’t going to let people know anything about the identity of her child, including its gender. Is it hard to maintain this?
“It’s really hard to keep calling it my baby or the kid,” she admits. “It’s just that I don’t think celebrity is a very healthy environment for a child. At the moment my child is showing all the signs of being a very well-balanced individual and I don’t want to jeopardise that. I don’t want to restrict my child’s future by everybody knowing who their mum is.”
The birth – 20-hour labour followed by emergency C-section – sounds grim, but she seems to have thoroughly embraced motherhood. What one piece of advice would she give new mothers?
“It would be bottle and breast feed from day one so that you buy yourself a little bit of time,” she replies without hesitation. “Express if you have to. But it’s very easy to lose yourself. You can become a machine that’s dutiful all the time. And that’s not good for your child. It has an upside of course. Like with my hair, if that had happened pre-child I would have had a complete meltdown, but now I can’t. I’ve got to get home, make my child’s dinner, get them to bed and then only when you sit down you think, ‘Oh shit’. And I know I’ve got to look after the baby again tomorrow. So I think oh well, I might not have any hair but at least I’m still someone’s mum.”
Paloma Faith ‘The Architect Summer Tour’ from June – September. For more info, visit palomafaith.com