Meet Nell, Paul Mescal’s younger sister and rising star in her own right
“How did this happen?” wrote Nell Mescal on Instagram on Tuesday, underneath a picture of herself as a child bouncing on a trampoline with her two older brothers, Donnacha and Paul, who this week was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Aftersun. He played it cool with a statement dedicating the Oscar nod to the film’s director and his co-star. His little sister Nell, 19, had a different approach. She told the world she was “SOBBING”, “so proud it is making me sick”.
A screenshot of the family FaceTime shows a blurry, elated Mescal, two very proud parents, Dearbhla, a Garda officer, and Paul, a teacher, a teary Nell and grinning brother holding his head in his hand. Dearbhla told RTÉ the announcement was “too stressful” to watch, so she found out the news on the family WhatsApp group. “Nelly was in London, she went straight to his flat.”
You only hope fellow Oscar nominees Colin Farrell and Bill Nighy were treated to a similar reaction from their families. Then again, the Mescals haven’t had all that long to get used to this sort of thing. Before his breakout role in Normal People, no one had heard of the eldest Mescal child. The success of the series – and his extraordinary performance in it – catapulted him into people’s consciousness. Since then, he seems to have managed, largely, to keep a lid on his fame. He could have been all over our screens and magazine covers; instead, he took on a small number of cannily picked roles, including Stanley in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in London at the moment. Save for the odd paparazzi shot or appearance on the red carpet with his (now reportedly ex) girlfriend, the singer Phoebe Bridgers, he has kept out of the spotlight. It added to his mystique, creating a kind of aura of cool around him, which is perhaps what made it so delicious when his sister blew a hole right through it.
Nell – a singer-songwriter whose latest track, Homesick, recently put her on a list of 10 rising stars to listen to in 2023 – seems less inhibited than her brother. She is funny and open on Twitter, and gloriously cheeky about her obscenely famous sibling. She replies to Phoebe Bridgers fan accounts, chats away about her favourite television programmes (Gilmore Girls and The Walking Dead), and recently came back to someone who posted a video of her singing with Paul (marvelling at the other “talented” Mescal sibling) with the immortal line: “wait till u hear about donnacha”, who is very much a recruitment consultant.
When Bridgers spent Christmas with the Mescals, Nell gave the game away by posting a picture of the house with Phoebe’s stocking in shot, which must have been at odds with Mescal’s strategy to have his “public relationship be private”.
In interviews, she handles questions about her famous brother with a light touch, at once deeply proud of him and determined to keep him honest as only a younger sibling could. Whatever Paul has achieved, she told Rolling Stone recently, she’s the one on “both my parents’ lock screen”. “I’m the baby girl.” Her mother is about to have chemotherapy, Nell tweeted yesterday.
Nell seems fully aware that, for now at least, she is the ‘other’ sibling; she’s under no illusion her brother’s fans are likely to make up a chunk of the crowd at her gigs. “People might come because of his name, but if they stay then it’s because they like the music.”
one week of homesick 🥲❤️🩹 thank you for listening luv u xxx https://t.co/MOFWfTcXws pic.twitter.com/92wMYoroKr
— nell mescal (@nellmescal_) January 25, 2023
The music itself has a raw sadness to it. It’s Gen Z indie pop with lyrics about bullying and loneliness (Nell struggled and eventually dropped out of school in her hometown of Maynooth, County Kildare) sung by a soft but powerful, gently Irish voice. Reviewers have (possibly lazily) called it Bridgers-esque. You certainly feel her songs could easily appear in the soundtrack to a moody Sally Rooney drama.
If the Mescal name has helped her career along, having Bridgers in the family has had its merits too. In 2021, she supported Phoebe in a show at Shoreditch House. “That was the most stressed I’ve ever been in my entire life, for anything,” she said. “My brothers were so stressed, too. By the start of the first song, they were both sobbing. It was a very emotional experience. Afterwards, I was like: ‘Never ask me to do that again, Phoebe, because I can’t take it’.”
You can’t begrudge her any of it. In a shaky video posted on YouTube last summer, Bridgers is on stage at Brixton Academy. “Is Nell around?” she calls out. A nervous, grinning 18-year-old walks onto the stage in a black smock dress, her hands clamped behind her back, while the crowd screams. “I’ve been a little bit burned out on singing this song, and Nell makes it really really fun.” Their duet, of Georgia, is lovely; the look of happy, humble disbelief on Nell’s face is priceless.
If he’s to keep up this air of Oscar-nominated indie star of stage and screen mystery, Paul might need to rein in his sister. Her outpouring of frantic support had gained her thousands of new followers by the end of the day on Tuesday – imagine what she’ll be like if Paul takes her to the Oscars. Then again, as Nell herself said, they might all come for Paul, but they’ll stay for the music. And, I suspect, the craic.