'Because I lack pretension, people assume I'm stupid' - Paloma Faith talks childhood, therapy, trolls, and love
Paloma Faith walks shoe-less into the hotel lounge area her management has reserved. Her socks - bright pink with purple polka dots - are as colourful and vivacious as her personality. The 36-year-old sits up on the chair and tucks her feet up under her in a yogic pose. Yoga-like, I soon realise, is the last phrase anyone would use to describe Paloma Faith. She is about as Zen-calm as a long-tailed cat. She is, however, hilariously, brilliantly entertaining in her self-doubt throughout our 45-minute tete-a-tete. You don't expect extravagantly successful and wealthy retro soul superstars with movie star looks who have graced innumerable magazine covers to be so brimming with uncertainty about themselves. At times she is verging on a character from a classic early Woody Allen movie.
But then there is only one Paloma Faith, as her millions of fans worldwide will happily attest since her debut album Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful? was released in 2009 and made her a star. But it was no overnight success...
She previously worked as a bartender, magician's helper, life model, lingerie shop assistant at Agent Provocateur to name a few jobs before her big break almost came and went in 2006 during a private show for a record label boss. Paloma, being Paloma, berated the record company boss for being on his phone while she was singing. She even told him: "I'd rather sing in pubs for the rest of my life than be with you," and promptly left. Legend has it that, nine months later, the record company grand fromage wrote her a letter of apology.
Before meeting her, I had read some of the things she has said in the past in interviews. Stuff like: "When I first started therapy, I said I would like to try and get rid of it, like it's an imaginary enemy that follows me everywhere and says 'You look shit' or 'You sound unintelligent'."
I actually thought it was a bit of shtick, until I met her. She is the real deal, authentically cool and quirky, anything but the standard-issue bland pop star with nothing to say and a permanent rictus grin to match. She is full of fascinating charm and vulnerability. Our conversation opens, awkwardly, thus...
Her: "I've got no shoes on."
Me: "I've got shoes on."
Her: "One of us has, then."
Born Paloma Faith Blomfield on July 21, 1981, the brilliant blonde's earliest memory was "being on the back of my mum's bicycle in Hackney. She was a single parent and was working," Paloma says of her mother, who was a primary school teacher. "But my mum can't drive a car. So she used to ride a bike and have me." Paloma can recall putting her arms around her mother's waist as they cycled through Hackney "feeling the breeze in my face. It was nice".
Her English mother and Spanish father divorced when she was two. Paloma says she has "no memory" of them together. She does, however, remember looking back on her youth with her graphic designer father that he "had a dark sense of humour".
"I had a relationship with my dad as a kid just on weekends," she continues. "I saw him quite a lot. But, if I'm really honest, I really preferred to be with my mum." Why was that? "She was just much more loving."
I actually ask Paloma is her father dead. "He's not dead. He's just not in my life."
Did Paloma have issues with men romantically because of her complex relationship with her father? "I don't know if you can blame your past," she answers with a forthrightness and indeed truth that defines Paloma both in her identity and in her music. "Seven years of therapy has taught me that you are responsible for your own choices. They can influence you but I wouldn't say I had issues with men because of it. Because I could have chosen not to. I have done a lot of work about it," she says, meaning in therapy.
What does Paloma learn about herself in therapy? "I prefer the person I am after therapy because I am a bit more aware of things. I guess my problems with men didn't manifest in me going for terrible guys, which I did as a teenager a bit; but I think that is more a symptom of being a teenager than it is of going out with your father. But I think what my problem was, and the reason I went to therapy - because therapy can only be about changing yourself not other people - was that I would literally go through them. I would go from one two-year relationship to the next," Paloma says. (In 2005, she was briefly married to New Zealand chef Rian Haynes.) "I would just dump them and be like: 'No. No. No.'"
I ask her why she did that. "I think it was partly to do with trying to regain some sort of power, because of the powerlessness of not being able to control my parents' circumstance or relationship. But maybe I was trying to gain control over my side. So as not to repeat history. But then sometimes I just did it to the wrong people. I didn't mean harm."
And now? "I feel like I'm in a really good relationship now," she says of Leyman Lahcine. "It's about two human beings as opposed to gender, as opposed to it being about women against men." Paloma claims she was brought up in a household where "my mum would regularly roll her eyes and go 'Men!' That somehow drips in. I don't blame her for it because she had some terrible men in her life. I just feel I am lucky I have some great relationships with men. I have got some really long relationships with certain men in my life."
"I'm talking about friendships," she clarifies. "My boyfriend calls them 'my father figures' because I have got quite a lot of close bonds with older men that aren't sexual or romantic. I seek advice. I have a few people who are quite intellectual, stimulating."
Is Des O'Connor one of them? "No!" she roars with laughter. I point out that she once said to the popular entertainer that she wanted him to be her father. "I was 14 when I said that. You have done some good research," she laughs. "I guess it was my 14-year-old humour. I just thought he was cute and nice and stable."
How does she think people see Paloma Faith? "I think people's interpretation of me is often a bit wrong because it is based on a face value. Because I lack pretension, people assume I'm stupid. It is a misinterpretation because I purposefully go out of my way not to be divisive or elitist and I think sometimes people just assume that I'm thick."
I can't imagine anyone thinking you're thick, I say to her. "Well... they do!" she laughs. "But you know what?" she adds, laughing her pink socks off now, "that can sometimes work in my favour, because then I can do what I need to do!"
What facts does Paloma have in her possession for people thinking she is thick?
"A lot of the public say that!"
You've conducted polls on the public's view of your stupidity, I joke. "No. But a lot of the public will just write to me on Instagram and say, 'Why are you so stupid?' Or on Twitter. I know they are trolls but I do think those trolls come from something. They're not just saying it. I feel I have developed an ability to take it with a pinch of salt. But sometimes it gets in if it is not the right time or moment."
Paloma says in particular this happened "just after giving birth, because I was very vulnerable, I felt like it got to me a lot then..."
Her most recent album, The Architect, is about "the ideology of trying to reinstate or at least draw to people's attention the importance of empathy and compassion, which I don't think is very cool in culture," she says, very un-stupidly, "which is a shame because they are the most important human qualities. So the whole album is a put-yourself-in-this-person's-shoes exercise."
I ask Paloma what is it like to be in her shoes - even though she is not wearing any. She chortles. "I like it. I think I'm optimistic."
Is she happy? "I think so. Somebody said to me the other day, 'Sometimes I look at you and you have really sad eyes.' I said, 'That's because sad things have happened. You can't get rid of them.' It sounds really sterile but I think sadness is quite a productive emotion; unlike anxiety."
Paloma continues that a good friend of hers, Hanif Kureishi - acclaimed author of My Beautiful Laundrette, London Kills Me and The Buddha of Suburbia - "is one of my 'dads'! I said to him once, 'What do you think happiness is?' He replied: 'I think it is the absence of anxiety.' And it all made sense to me."
Paloma is quite the most ridiculously self-examining and funny woman I have ever met. She answers questions with questions. What does she think of Trump? "What do you think I think of Trump!" she groans.
He could be one of your many 'dads' for all I know, I protest.
"There is not a bone in my body that thinks he is a good or useful person to exist!" Paloma harrumphs with a whole amount of laughter rattling out of her as she says it. "What a nutter! You know what was really comfortable for me? The other day I was supposed to do this TV show in the UK - I don't watch TV - and I looked it up and I realised I was on Piers Morgan. So I called my manager and I said, 'I can't speak to him, He is a horrible Trump lover!' He wasn't there in the end."
Paloma lives with her boyfriend in London. Leyman is interning on a design team for menswear. Is Paloma attracted to artistic men? "Yeah, I think so," she says. "Artistic. Or a little but messy... in the mind!" she laughs. How does that attraction work? Is it that when Paloma talks to a man and he says a few things and she might as a consequence find the man's messy mind more interesting than his face?
"Absolutely. Well... when I first met my boyfriend I thought he had a beautiful face. I said to one of my best friends, ' Oh, I really hope he's an idiot.' And then he wasn't."
Asked why she hoped he was an idiot, Paloma replies: "Because he lived in New York and I thought it would be problematic to have a long-distance relationship. And it was." She commuted back and forth between London and New York for nine months before he came to England for Paloma. "And because of it, he was in the middle of a Green Card application, and it didn't finish, so now he is banned from America for 10 years."
Jesus. He must really like you, Paloma, I say...
"Well, he has to work now!" she smiles. "We're together five years. We've got a kid together now. So we sort of have to stay together," she smiles again, "or else we'll be repeating history."
Paloma doesn't enjoy being the subject of paparazzi attention in her home town of London. "I don't understand why someone would kill themselves getting a picture of me when I don't want to be photographed or if I'm looking shit or whatever." Paloma adds that she once said to one of her 'dads', the aforementioned Hanif Kureishi that she struggled with celebrity. "And he went - 'Don't be a f***ing victim!'"
"My life in London is really massively varied," she continues. "I have been in the limelight for 10 years now. I feel that by being myself and being approachable I have made a situation where people see me in London and they don't get hysterical. They go, 'Oh, hi.' I can actually live normally. I am determined for my child to have a relatively normal life with the exception of - you know - the money thing. Obviously I can't pretend that I am not better off than I was growing up. So I take the baby," Paloma says of her daughter, who she doesn't name, who was born in December 2016, "to baby groups and stuff, and no one says anything. No one asks for a picture. There is this immediate mutual respect that you are just all mums."
What adjectives would Paloma use to describe her personality?
"Witty. Stupid but not in a thick way; stupid in a silly way. Maybe silly is a better word."
I say to international pop superstar Paloma Faith that if I was one of her 'dads' I would ban her permanently from using the 'thick' word.
"Ok! Thanks! Level-headed," she continues. "I think I'm very sane." In terms of the "surreal absurd" humour she likes, Paloma shows me on her iPhone a "skit I did on social media of me as a punnet of eggs." The baby eggs shouts, "Oh, somebody eat me, for f***'s sake!" "They are like sadomasochistic eggs!" Paloma roars with laughter when she plays it. "I think this is really funny. Not many people laugh at it!" she laughs. Out of affection, I force a laugh.
Paloma, who is playing the 3Arena in Dublin in March, says she loves the amount of "genuine kindness that Irish people have here in Ireland." Are the English not full of kindnesss in England? "No. Everyone's moody. I feel Ireland has a less inhibited culture. They have no inhibitions about being nice and having a laugh. It is kind of optimistic."
I say to her that she should move to Ireland. "That would be nice." Bring the boyfriend. He won't need a Green Card. "He is French, so he would be allowed here because of the EU!"
Is their house routine in London basically she and Mr Lahcine sitting up all night discussing Simone de Beauvoir and French existentialism? "No. He is French Algerian. So he has not got an amazing relationship with the French. Camus was Algerian. He wrote The Outsider. I loved that. It is questioning social boundaries. The whole premise of that book is that he kills someone because he was getting on his nerves. In the moment, everyone has felt like that."
If I could grant Paloma immunity, is there anyone she would like to have erased from the earth? She says somebody but we both agree never to print it. "Skip that question!"
If Paloma was allowed to be unfaithful to her boyfriend, who would she choose? "Unfaithful? That's a real tabloid question!" she berates me. "That's nonsense! Ok, Jack Black! He's funny. I think it would be hilarious."
What about Joaquin Phoenix? Paloma looks at me, blankly. (I don't know why I suggest him either.) "He's too short. Joaquin Phoenix is about 5ft. I've seen him in person. He is like verging on the height requirement for the roller-coaster."
Long may Paloma Faith's rollercoaster ride of a life continue.
Paloma Faith plays Dublin's 3Arena on March 24 and SSE Arena in Belfast the previous night. Tickets are on sale from all Ticketmaster outlets nationwide. 24-hour credit card bookings: 0818 719300 (ROI) 0844 277 4455 (NI). Book online at www.ticketmaster.ie
You got to have Faith in a woman of substance
With a degree in contemporary dance as well as an MA in time-based arts from St Martins College, Paloma is no ordinary pop star.
Her music career began at 18 as an eccentric cabaret chanteuse in a covers band called Paloma and the Penetrators. A truly multi-talented woman of substance, Paloma also played Sally in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus opposite Colin Farrell in 2009, as well as releasing her debut album Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful? that same year. In 2011, she was nominated at the Brits for British female solo artist. In 2012, her second studio album Fall to Grace went straight in at No.2 in the UK charts.
Her third album, A Perfect Contradiction, was the biggest-selling record by a woman in England in 2014 by some distance. The following year Faith won a Brit award for British female solo artist. Her fourth - and most recent - studio album, The Architect, had guest appearances by Samuel L Jackson and John Legend, and went to No.1 in the album charts in the UK and beyond.
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