Within a year of giving birth to her first child, the irrepressible PALOMA FAITH has topped the album charts and bagged a Brit nomination. Kerry Potter tries to keep up…
Like many working mums, Paloma Faith is dashing home anxiously through heavy traffic to relieve the babysitter at 5.30pm. Unlike almost every other working mum, however, Paloma’s day in the office has involved standing in front of a wind machine in a succession of increasingly avant-garde outfits, plus meeting Hollywood actor Jack Black on breakfast radio, where she confided in him about her ‘saggy boobs’. She may have a one-year-old baby at home but motherhood certainly hasn’t tamed the 36-year-old singer’s quirkier tendencies. Resplendent in snakeskin boots and a clashing red metallic skirt, her long peroxide hair crimped and piled up like a pineapple atop her head, she is intelligent, loquacious and occasionally spiky company, despite being so shattered that she yawns repeatedly.
Raised in Hackney, East London, by her teacher mother (her Spanish father left when she was four), Paloma grafted away on the edges of the entertainment industry for years, eventually landing a record deal at 27. She went on to win a Brit Award in 2015 and appear as a judge on TV talent show The Voice in 2016. Now nominated again for best female solo artist at this year’s Brits, she’s about to tour to promote her fourth album, The Architect (her first to go to number one), after a three-year break during which she had her baby with French artist Leyman Lahcine. She has chosen not to reveal the baby’s name or gender and, impressively, manages to chat about her child at length – as well as addressing sexism, politics and body image – without letting anything slip…
I’ve got a lot to say on my new album – I think it’s worrying when artists don’t. There aren’t enough people singing about what’s going on in the world – class and financial and political divisions between people, the leader of the US being on a massive ego trip and potentially plunging us into war… I despair at the state of the society I’ve brought a child into. I know this sounds like something Miss World would say, but I want my child to live in a society where people are kind.
I thought about what kind of message I wanted to send to my child with this album. I was pregnant when I was writing it and realised that they will probably listen to it and one day they’ll play it to their kids. So it had to be about kindness, empathy and compassion. They’re the most valuable qualities I can instil as a parent – above academia or success. I don’t care if my child works on a supermarket checkout for ever as long as they’re kind. That’s how my mum raised me, too.
I’m nervous about the baby coming on tour with me because if I’ve been up all night, it affects my voice. But it does mean we get to spend daytimes together. There will be compromises, though. I come off stage at 11 and I’ll have to wake up by 7am, so I won’t be able to stand outside venues signing things for two hours afterwards like I used to. I won’t say whether I have a boy or a girl, for privacy reasons. I’ve chosen my life but my child didn’t. I’ve spoken to children of famous people and they’ve told me it was difficult for them growing up. I want my child to go to normal schools and integrate with kids from different backgrounds as a human being, not as a child of a celebrity.
I buy gender-neutral clothes and a range of toys for my child – dolls are important for both girls and boys; children can learn about nurturing, and equally both should be able to build things and play with toy cars. I’m not in denial of gender but I want my child to feel that everything is available to them. And I have absolutely no problem if my child grows up not feeling an affinity with the gender they were born with, or if they’re homosexual or straight or whatever. It’s important to me that they’re given all the opportunities to be the person they want to be. Someone on social media told me I was a child abuser for saying this and that really upset me.
Having a baby is the most difficult thing I’ve done. Everything that could go wrong did: I had an emergency caesarean section, then I developed an infection in my womb and was in bed for three months. I felt very disappointed – I’d wanted a baby for so long, but in those early weeks I felt as though I couldn’t be the mother I wanted to be. Not enough people talk about how hard childbirth can be because they worry it might undermine the love they have for their child. I found it a living hell, yet it’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I’d love to do it again.
In the early days, I’d go on Mumsnet in the middle of the night in a panic. I’d be searching things like, ‘My baby keeps pushing the breast away – why?’, while my boyfriend snored beside me. But it does get easier. One thing I’m big on is structure. From day one I geared everything towards a 7pm bedtime because I know when I’m working I have to go on stage at 9pm.
After you’ve given birth, it’s really difficult not to resent your partner. They cannot do what you’ve just done and they cannot help you for ages because the baby just wants you. It’s been hard to adjust [to becoming a family of three] but I think we’re really strong and definitely soulmates.
I might get married when I’m 70 to spice things up because I’m stuck with him [Leyman] now – I’ve got his kid! With marriage I’d never say never again but it’s not on my to-do list. I got married very frivolously a long time ago [in 2005, to New Zealand chef Rian Haynes] even though I knew he wasn’t the love of my life. I was trying to be a bit rock’n’roll, going, ‘What the hell, let’s do it!’ Ten months later, I had that horrible sinking feeling and thought, ‘What have I done?’
Being the breadwinner puts me under pressure. But I feel better about it now that the album has gone down well. If it hadn’t, it would have been down to me to find something else to do. People say, ‘You should make [Leyman] do X, Y and Z’, but I chose to go out with an artist and it’s very rare that artists make a living. I can’t say to him, ‘Can you be someone else completely?’
I’m a workaholic and it’s not healthy. My mother and father both had a tremendous work ethic and I’ve inherited that. I don’t think it’s admirable. I need to learn not to push myself so much. I’ve always been determined and headstrong.
Brexiteers use me as a punchbag. I get abuse online because I wrote ‘Guilty’, a song about Brexit voters who felt remorse for voting leave. It was one point of view – I’m not claiming everyone who voted leave now regrets it and I’m their spokesperson. But there are a lot of angry people out there. Why are they angry when they got what they wanted? I used to have a thick skin but motherhood has changed that, so I don’t go on social media so much now.
I’m very resilient. Recently so many things went wrong at once – lots of people working for me left, I didn’t have childcare, my job is 24/7, we’ve just moved house and I didn’t even have time to put a wash in the machine. But I was still happy. I pride myself on being able to survive things.
My mum has been ill my entire life but she was still an amazing single parent. She’s had a brain tumour since I was born; shehad breast cancer, hormone problems and now she’s got high blood pressure. Having my own baby made me respect her even more. When I was a child, she’d take me on marches to protest against education cuts or we’d stand on picket lines. I remember loving it because I felt part of a united community.
I don’t have a relationship with my father but I have a lot of older male friends. It’s become a bit of a joke: my boyfriend will say, ‘Who are you inviting around tonight – all your father figures?’ Hanif Kureishi is one, and various friends who’ve helped me out when I’ve been in a pickle.
I had three stone to lose after I had the baby, and I’m still losing it now. I’ve got two personal trainers, one of whom is Emma Willis’s [her ex colleague on The Voice]. I do feel a bit of pressure to get back into shape but I think one of the things people like about me is my realness. I could have gone on one of those awful diets that popstars sometimes do but I’m not willing to drink cider vinegar or whatever. I think there will be a lot of mums out there who will thank me for that because it makes them feel normal.
I feel more positive about my body than I used to. I met [actor] Jack Black today and asked him for a hug. He said, ‘l’ll give you a side hug.’ I said, ‘I want a full-body hug so you can feel my deflated, post-breastfeeding boobs against your chest!’ He laughed and said, ‘Amazing!’ I like them though because they did something brilliant.
As a child, I was so timid that my teacher was worried about me. She then put me in a play as a dinosaur and made me roar. It felt amazing to pretend to be someone else who was vocal and confident. I began gravitating towards things that involved entertaining people or being watched: a life-drawing model, cabaret performer, magician’s assistant, actress, performance artist. I worked in bars and would turn that into a performance, dressing up in costumes and hosting quizzes.
The Voice was fine but I prefer doing my creative work. Making music and touring are what excite me. That said, I do enjoy doing television. I’d like to do a primetime show with some depth, maybe interviewing people. I’ve kept in touch with [Boy] George. I feel an affinity with him. He’s imaginative and creative but he has a boy-next-door thing about him too, like me.
Everyday sexism is everywhere. The other day my builder had the cheek to say, ‘Can I speak to your boyfriend?’ I said, ‘I’m the one with the screwdriver in this house.’
I don’t know any woman who hasn’t experienced harassment. I think it’s good it has all come to the surface. A bloke once tried to attack me in the street and I walloped him over the head with a massive bag. But I haven’t experienced harassment in the music industry. Men in my industry are a bit scared of women. Also no one would do anything bad to me because I’d tell everyone!
People underestimate my intelligence because of my speaking voice. I speak slowly and clearly, which people associate with stupidity. It comes from growing up in multilingual environments – I was always around people who didn’t speak English as a first language. I’m very academic and after I handed in my first essay at university, my teacher said she didn’t believe I’d written it by myself. I said, ‘Are you judging a book by its cover?’
I’m addicted to clothes. I’ve had a proper walk-in wardrobe built in my new house. Despite getting rid of 20 bin bags of stuff before I moved, still only half my clothes will fit in it. I always dress up. You might catch me in a tracksuit but it would be a very well-put-together tracksuit.
DREAM DINNER PARTY GUESTS Sadiq Khan, Hanif Kureishi, Annie Lennox, Malala Yousafzai, Joan Collins.
FAVOURITE OUTFIT Anything from Gucci.
BREAKFAST OF CHOICE Vegan banana and blueberry pancakes.
CELEBRITY CRUSH Jack Black.
BEST STYLE DECADE The 70s.
FAVOURITE SONG ‘Mambo Italiano’.
PAELLA OR ROAST Paella.
LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED Man on the Moon with Jim Carrey.
BEAUTY ESSENTIALS The Body Shop Aloe Soothing Day Cream, Nars Dragon Girl lip pencil, Mac Flat Out Fabulous lipstick.
STYLE ICON Stevie Knicks.
TIPPLE OF CHOICE Argentinian malbec.
LAST BOOK YOU READ The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
IN THREE WORDS YOU’RE…Tired, cheeky, fabulous.
Paloma’s UK tour starts in Leeds on 2 March and runs until 24 March. Her new album The Architect (RCA) is out now; for tickets and further tour dates, go to palomafaith.com