Q&A: Paloma Faith
On being naked and Amy Winehouse
You used to be burlesque dancer. Isn't that a polite way of saying you made a living out of taking your clothes off in public?
It wasn't all that risque, really. I did a few acts where I sort of would insinuate I might strip -- but I never did. Once, I performed with this Mexican-themed cabaret and I was dressed as [iconic artist] Frida Kahlo. There's this bit where I get seduced and take off all my clothes -- but I'm covered head to toe in hair. It was quite funny. I was more of a burlesque singer than a dancer. I did a lot of jazz standards and Billie Holiday songs.
Presumably you found it all a bit dull, because you then became a magician's apprentice. Ever been sawed in half?
Yeah, it's called box-jumping. I performed with an illusionist named Scott Penrose, who was vice-chair of the Magic Circle and a guy called Jonathan Allan, who had an alter-ego called Tommy Angel. I did box-jumping, bunny stuff, levitation.
Strictly between the two of us -- what's the secret to being cut in two?
I can't tell you. I had to sign a document from the Magic Circle. I'm sworn to secrecy.
Fair enough -- we wouldn't want to bring down the collective wrath of the UK magic establishment on our heads. Let's turn to acting -- last year, you starred in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus along side Heath Ledge. Did you get to know him?
I worked with Heath for about two weeks -- he died three days after I last saw him.
What was he like up close? Was he troubled?
He was an extremely nice person. Very approachable. Not arrogant at all. He was incredibly talented and had super-human drive. But totally down to earth at the same time.
Look, I've got to be honest -- when I put your new single on, I thought someone had sent me an Amy Winehouse record by mistake.
I've never told a journalist this story before -- when Amy's first album, Frank, came out, my mum said to me, "That whole bloody thing -- it sounds like you from start to finish. You should start writing your own songs because if she can do it, you certainly can."
I've got a lot of the same influences as her, I think. I was brought up listening to the same music. What I'd say is that I'm drawn to the same references.
Have you ever bumped into her in London?
I met her at a party about five years ago. I was heavily into the 40s pin-up look at the time. She came up to me and said, 'Oh God, you look fucking wicked.' She had jeans and a T-shirt on and no beehive. She was checking out my tattoos -- she said, 'Oh, I love your look.'
Clearly your tattoos left an impression on her -- nowadays she's covered in them. Isn't there something a bit icky about having green ink all over your body?
Well I've only got two tattoos -- both are doves. 'Paloma' means dove in Spanish. I'm going to get a third one and then I'm finished -- I don't like even numbers.
Poor old Amy's a bit of a cautionary tale, isn't she? If it all happens for you, can we expect to see see pictures of you toking crack in the papers?
It's easy to say, 'Oh, I'd deal with it better.' But I haven't found myself in that situation. It would be hard for me to gauge how I would react until I was actually in her position.
I do know for a fact I'm not interested in drugs. I'm scared of losing myself. You have to remember Amy was 17 when she was signed. That was a lot for a young person to deal with. I am a bit older. I think that's a benefit. The industry isn't very kind to younger people. It can be quite manipulative. I'm old enough to be a stubborn cow and say, 'No'.
Paloma Faith's new single is Stone Cold Sober