Chaotic but cool… Leah Weller tells Julia Llewellyn Smith what it’s like being part of Paul Weller’s extended clan – and how he changed her life with a heart-shaped guitar.
Leah Weller laughs as she describes family gatherings with her seven siblings – aged between 33 and three – and all children of The Jam and Style Council legend Paul Weller.
‘It’s hard to get us all together, but when we do it’s just chaotic,’ she says. ‘We tried to go to a restaurant once and I thought, “Please! I’m nothing to do with these kids running around and things being smashed.”’
Did Paul, 63, the Modfather icon of cool, keep calm during his offspring’s outbursts? ‘Erm,’ says Leah, 29, making a face that indicates not. ‘I don’t think you can ever be that relaxed in those circumstances. And he can’t ever stop working. He’s got eight mouths to feed. When he can be, he’s a very hands-on dad, although a lot of people might assume he wouldn’t be. But he’s getting old so I just don’t know how much more running around he can do,’ she continues, jokingly.
Leah is the daughter of Paul and ex Wham! and Style Council singer Dee C Lee. She was three when they divorced. ‘Mum and Dad always kept it civil in front of us and Dad was in our lives a lot. We’d spend pretty much every other weekend with him and when he wasn’t touring he’d pick us up from school. Any time he could be there, he was.’ She and her elder brother Natt also spent a lot of time with Paul’s parents – in his home town of Woking, Berkshire. ‘So we had the structure of a two-parent home with them.’
For her 12th birthday, Paul gave Leah a heart-shaped guitar. ‘I begged him for it as I wanted to learn. Both my parents have always been really supportive but they’ve never pushed us in any direction.’ Although Leah liked playing and singing privately she was ‘too shy to sing in front of people I didn’t know’, so turned to modelling, after she was spotted by an agent in a nightclub when she was 15. (‘I shouldn’t have been there – it was illegal’.) She’d never considered a career in the industry but thought, ‘Let’s see what happens’, which led to a ‘really crazy experience’.
Although she modelled for brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Tag Heuer and Boucheron, Leah was struggling behind the scenes with panic disorder and depression. ‘I missed out on a lot of opportunities because of it and I couldn’t open up about it at the time,’ she says now. ‘Some days I didn’t see the point in living any more, I was so embarrassed and frustrated. I became a victim, a shadow of my former self,’ she wrote on her Instagram when she finally told the world what she’d been suffering. She tried numerous therapies, realising, ‘I might not be able to “fix it”. Instead (I can) accept that it’s there and learn to manage it better.’
As a young woman suffering from such potentially debilitating conditions, modelling was not the most supportive or nurturing of industries. Like many, Leah became plagued with insecurities. ‘You start seeing flaws you didn’t think you had before; I was told a few times, “You need to keep your weight down”, and you wonder, “Why did they Photoshop my nose to make it smaller? Or my skin to be lighter? Or my legs to be skinnier?” Then you start thinking, “Maybe I need to be skinnier.” I definitely went through a phase where I tried to stop eating. It gives you a very warped sense of what you should look like.’
As if that wasn’t enough, although she herself never experienced sleazy advances from predatory men, Leah acknowledges such incidents were prevalent (‘I know a lot of people who did’). She was also upset by the lack of diversity in the fashion industry. ‘As a mixed-race woman I’d have a lot of stress with things like no one knowing how to do my hair, which is naturally an Afro. I’d get it straightened and then they’d go and purposefully make it curly again. I would think, “Oh my god, you’re ruining it.”’
It was these pressures that, in the end, led her to quit modelling. ‘I just couldn’t continue being unhealthy like that. It’s only in the past couple of years that I’m happy with how I look, but when you’re younger, it can be really dangerous being constantly criticised.’
So, with the encouragement of her father, Leah picked her heart-shaped six-string back up. It was a nerve-racking moment when she first played her music to Paul. ‘When he listens to something he listens as an artist, rather than as a dad, which I appreciate because obviously I want an honest opinion, but he can be quite blunt. He wasn’t afraid to give constructive criticism, though he did it nicely.’
Throughout all this, she was supported by her husband Tomo Kurata, 31, a Japanese model. The pair met as teenagers when he was at an international school in London where his family had relocated for work. ‘It was really nice because if you have famous parents you’re always worried: “Is this person with me because they think there’s something in it for them? Is this genuine?” But with him I didn’t have to worry about that because he didn’t know or care who my parents were!’
Three years ago, they married at Goodwood House in Sussex. Paul, Dee and Natt all gave speeches, but her proud dad didn’t perform. Instead, he spun his daughter around the dancefloor. ‘It was a very emotional day,’ Leah says.
Life now at Leah and Tomo’s West London home, which they share with their chihuahua, sounds pretty staid. ‘I started going out very young, at 14, so I feel like I got it all out of my system then. I’m such a homebody, I like just going for a walk around the park.’ Leah quit drinking when she was about 21, partly because she didn’t like the adult behaviour she witnessed. ‘Seeing people in altered states, shall we say, means there’s nothing left for me to rebel against.
‘Mum and I joke about it all the time that I’m like [strait-laced daughter] Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous and she’s [hedonistic mum] Edina. My parents are rock stars, you see them doing their thing and you’re like, “Well, I don’t want to be like that.”’ After admitting he was an alcoholic, Paul quit boozing eight years ago. ‘That was amazing, and now he goes to the gym and he’s looking good. But all of us, including his wife, say, “You just need to stop smoking now, otherwise you’re not going to be OK.”’
Soon there’s going to be another addition to the Weller clan, as Leah’s first child – a boy – is due in September. He will be her parents’ first grandchild. ‘It’s a big deal for them, they’re really excited,’ Leah beams.
As if that wasn’t enough, September’s also the month when Leah turns 30 (‘Half of me wants to say I feel great about it, but half of me thinks, “Wow, I’m an adult now, and I don’t know how I feel about that”’) and releases her new single, ‘Something Sacred’. Next year, she’s planning to release an album and is hoping she and Paul will tour together. Sharing a career in music, though, is where Leah and her father’s similarities end. When I finish our interview by asking if she’d like to match the Modfather’s eight children, she has no hesitation in replying, ‘Definitely not!’
The Modfather’s greatest hits
NUMBERS 1 & 2: Natt, 33, and Leah, 29 (mum Dee C Lee)
Paul was married to Wham! and Style Council backing singer Dee C Lee, 60, from 1987 to 1998. Their son Nathaniel (who is known as Natt) was 12 when he began joining his father’s tours, making his stage debut at London’s Hammersmith Apollo at just 15 when he duetted with dad on ‘Come On, Let’s Go’. ‘I’ve got some mad tour memories. I don’t think many kids can remember their dad getting thrown off an aeroplane for smoking and being arrested at Heathrow,’ he said. Like Leah, he’s worked as a model, DJ and musician, releasing an album It Begins in 2014.
NUMBER 3: Dylan, 25 (mum Lucy Halperin)
Paul’s next relationship was with make-up artist Lucy. Their daughter Dylan spent her teenage years in Los Angeles studying fashion, which meant, she says, she was never stuck with the ‘celebrity offspring’ tag. She eventually returned to London where she’s worked as a model and stylist on campaigns with the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney. ‘My sisters and I take a lot of [dad’s] jackets, jumpers and tops. The poor guy. I wish I could wear some of his suits but sizing is a bit of an issue. Recently my dad has become quite an avid online shopper and so we keep an eye on the post and see if it’s something we like. If so, unfortunately for him, its finders keepers!’ she says.
NUMBERS 4 & 5: Jessamine, 21, and Stevie Mac, 16 (mum Samantha Stock)
Paul was with backing singer Samantha for 13 years although they never married. Jessamine (known as Jessie) is a student and Stevie is a keen skateboarder. ‘I’m particularly close to Stevie, because I used to babysit him a lot so I feel like he’s a son,’ Leah says.
NUMBERS 6, 7 & 8: Bowie and John Paul, nine, and Nova, three (mum Hannah Andrews)
Paul met Hannah, another backing singer, in New York in 2008 and they married on the island of Capri in 2010. Paul’s said he doesn’t even notice the couple’s 27-year age gap, adding: I suppose cynical people think, “Oh she’s just in it for the money…” But we don’t really give a f***. We’re happy and we’re in love.’ Their twins are named after David Bowie and Beatles legends John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They were joined by Nova six years later. Paul is adamant there will be no more children: ‘I’ve got eight – and eight is my lucky number.’