The domain of celebrity culture can often be quite fickle, those whom you admire for their public persona can offer differ greatly in private. I was a little nervous about meeting Paloma Faith at Groove Festival – she has often been perceived as an outlandish character with a warm smile and an almost garish sense of humour.
Paloma exceeded my expectations instantaneously. She was articulate, honest, informed and unafraid to poke fun at herself – my favourite combination!
How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?
Personally, I would say that I am funny and probably quite self-deprecating but those two things usually go hand-in-hand. I think that part of the artistic temperament is that naturally you never quite feel that you are good enough because if you don’t feel like that, then you would stop. So that’s what pushes you forward and it’s what pushes me forward, I go through all of these private moments where I often think that I’m not quite worthy. However, professionally I would say that I am super hard-working and quite controlling but not in a way that’s horrible for people, I just like to be involved, especially in the creative aspects and I always have an opinion about everyone’s work. I think quite a lot of the men on my team are a bit quite scared of me… (*looks suspiciously at the one man in the room*)
One of the criteria that I tell people when I interview them to work for me is ‘please don’t be scared of me because I’ll be able to tell and I won’t like it’… (*Paloma and I giggle girlishly*)
It’s in their eyes…
Prior to entering the music industry, you had quite a colourful employment background. From working as a magician’s assistant, a sales assistant in Agent Provocateur, training in ballet and studying a degree Theatrical Directing in Central St Martin’s, but what have you brought forward from those experiences to influence your current profession?
Well, I think the common denominator between everything that I have done is that I have always been observed and I’m very comfortable being watched. As well, with my dance training, as much as it wasn’t good for me psychologically, I would say it’s given me a very strong awareness of how I am on stage; what I look like, what shapes I’m making. I tend to work the stage naturally in a way that I think quite a lot of people learn as they go along through their career but me, I’m jumping up and down on everything when I’m on stage and I think that training really helped with that.
In particular reference to your degree in the domain of theatre, did that instill in you a love for fashion and looking to clothing as costume?
Yes, definitely. Clothes give me confidence and I’ve always had that outlook about fashion. Even before this job, I dressed in a way that was somewhat outlandish almost to shroud my insecurities which I’m sure quite a lot of women could relay with. I remember when I was younger, a woman told me that I wore far too much black and since then, my wardrobe has been filled with bright colours.
Well, according to Dior’s couture collection at Paris Fashion Week, black is on-trend!
(*raises nose in the air haughtily*) I don’t follow fashion, I start it! (*guffaws obscenely!*)
I don’t know if you’ve seen the new film ‘Begin Again’ with Keira Knightley?
I haven’t yet, what’s it about?
Keira is a singer/songwriter and Mark Ruffalo is an A&R man from one of the biggest record companies. He is very aware of Kiera’s talent but her sense of style is naturally quite androgynous. One of the most interesting talking points of the film for me was Mark’s need to change Kiera’s appearance in order to ‘fit’ with the music industry. Have you ever felt pressure like that from the industry either when you were at the beginning of your career or today, after three albums?
Not really, I do think that the more you are surrounded by people who eat healthily and partake in physical activity, the more you grumble to yourself thinking ‘oh, maybe I should just do it’. At the beginning of my career, I just really wasn’t interested and thought ‘yeah, whatever’. Back then, I thought that I was really healthy and in great shape but looking back on pictures, I wasn’t. Today, though, I have been influenced by those people in a way but I’m not fanatical about and I’ve never been told by anyone to dress like this or that and perhaps that storyline from the film is more typical in America than in Britain or Ireland.
I was in America recently and I was speaking with a girl who wants to work in the music industry and she felt that on this side of the world we don’t have a prescribed image of a musician or singer like they do in the US. I think she’s right, I think we’re more willing to celebrate diversity and we enjoy it when someone, who could be our next door neighbour, is incredible.
Very much so! We can’t go much further without mentioning you winning Best British Act at the O2 Silver Clef Awards. I know that it was announced in May that you would win but what thoughts were running through your mind when you accepted the award two weeks ago?
I think when you don’t win anything you kind of say ‘I don’t really give a shit’ and when you say that, you generally mean it but when you do win something, well it made me reflect on how much I had worked and it was the first music award that I had ever received. I worked it out and realised that it had taken me thirteen years to get it because it took me seven years to get a record deal and three albums later I’ve won an award. I think that’s why though I was overwhelmed when I accepted the award, I really didn’t expect to feel so emotional and I think I even said, whilst sobbing a little bit, “I’m so embarrassed because you all don’t think that this is a big deal but to me, it is!”
I think people always assume that because of my outward-projected confidence, I’m always alright and I think they were a little shocked to see that I really cared and that it had upset me that I hadn’t been acknowledged for my work.
You’ve spoken about it before, this notion that when something positive is happening in your life, cognitively you’re almost preparing yourself for something horrid to occur. I don’t for one second think that this thought process is unique to you but how do you manage this?
Em, I think that you have to be kind to yourself and that’s easier said than done. Self-acceptance is hugely important and I think people underestimate what they are capable of coping with. You know when you hear about other people’s lives? Your natural instinct is to think ‘how awful for him / her’ and ‘I’d never be able to cope with that’ but it’s important that we realise that life is about finding the balance between light and shade. I guess that’s why I called my album ‘A Perfect Contradiction’, this one is all about how I can’t really appreciate anything without experiencing what life would be like without it. I wanted to write an album that was celebratory but acknowledged those dark moments. That’s what I hope people hear when they listen to it.
Within the past twelve months, you’ve been an architect in constructing a platform for yourself as a British icon, particularly within the domains of music and fashion. From performing at Burberry’s flagship store opening in Shanghai to the brand’s spectacle at London Fashion Week, what were those experiences like?
The first Burberry performance in London was really nerve-wracking and I made a mistake and then had to apologise to Christopher (Bailey) afterwards. I had to go up to him and say “I’m really sorry that I ruined your whole show!” and he said that he didn’t even notice. Liar!
I would have blamed Cara Delevingne…
Well, she was walking towards me making ridiculous faces the whole way up the catwalk. Then in Shanghai I was a little bit more relaxed because I had done it once before.
With models flying overhead, that would have made me quite nervous.
I have got to know the models now and in particular Cara so she’s completely un-intimidating to me. I also knew that she needed a wee for the entire time that she was up there so that really took the edge off!
Unfortunately, we’re coming to the end of our time together but who would be the people whom you would admire most or even look up to?
The first person who jumps into my head is Malala Yousafzai, she’s a Muslim lady who took a bullet to allow young girls to have an education in Pakistan. Em, I find it very difficult in celebrity culture to see that people are celebrated in a much greater way, just because they are famous, rather those who are on the ground making changes. I mean this sounds nuts, but I am obsessed with the National Health Service – the work that nurses, doctors and people who teach do is much more admirable to me than other celebrities. I just like people who are really saying something and I think that those nurses are saying something as important as those who have a million followers on Twitter.
Interview originally published July 20, 2014