Paloma Faith: ‘The music industry is unfriendly to mothers’

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Paloma Faith pictured before going on stage at London's O2 Arena in spring 2018 - Jane Mingay
Paloma Faith pictured before going on stage at London's O2 Arena in spring 2018 - Jane Mingay

“Waddling” is how Paloma Faith describes her general state. This is understandable. When we speak, the Brit Award-winning singer is eight‑and-three-quarter months pregnant. Despite this, she still manages to look theatrically starry as she sits at a computer in the basement of her London home wearing a vast, white Peter Pan collar over a black dress. Behind the 39-year-old stands a clothes rail packed with multicoloured coats, none of which, she notes wryly, she can fit into.

Faith is “very ready” for the birth of her second child (and since our chat, the baby has arrived, a daughter born in late February). But although the pop star is in a private bubble of motherhood in real time, her life as a parent is about to be laid bare for all to see in a BBC Two documentary. Directed by former Telegraph photographer Jane Mingay, Paloma Faith: As I Am follows the singer as she tours arenas and concert halls, from the UK to Australia, with her first daughter – aged one – in tow. She also writes a new album, moves into acting, and embarks on the gruelling rounds of IVF that will, eventually, lead to the recent arrival.

The unflinching documentary reveals the pressures placed on a performer by record label bosses and management to, well, perform. And the inescapable conclusion is that the music industry is not kind to women with babies. “The industry is full of people who really want to do the right thing,” says Faith, her Hackney accent firmly intact. “But there’s this big pull between it being a business and people wanting to do the right thing. And they’re not the same. They’re opposing pulls. I wouldn’t say it’s 1951 and people are saying [she adopts the voice of a cigar-chomping music exec], ‘Well, she’s a write-off because she has a kid.’ I think it’s a lot more subtle than that.”

In truth, the music industry is an unrelenting cycle of recording, promotion and touring. The prospect of being dropped for the “next big thing” is ever-present. None of this leaves much time or headspace for the busy and draining work of motherhood.

“It isn’t friendly to women with babies, because they want you to constantly go on this treadmill of putting out work. And basically, when women have babies, it puts a big block on that for a while,” she says.

Of course, Faith isn’t the first pop star to have a baby. On Madonna’s MDNA Tour in 2012, her then-teenage daughter Lourdes worked in the wardrobe department. And Adele took her three-year-old son Angelo on the road with her on her mammoth 2016 world tour (even, according to reports, taking advice from fellow mum Beyoncé about taking the same bed everywhere to help the child sleep).

But not every artist can afford teams of nannies, extra rooms and a travelling bed, and Faith says that, as the family’s main breadwinner (her partner Leyman Lahcine is an artist), she cannot afford not to work. Displaying an impressive talent for compartmentalisation in the documentary, Faith flits between arena stages (with thousands of people screaming) and her nursery-cum-tour bus (with one person screaming).

We see her tears when her ill baby – whose name she keeps secret – returns to London with a nanny, while Faith has to perform to 15,000 people in the north of England. “I’m miserable,” she says. We hear her admitting to spending the entirety of another gig in Leeds worrying about whether the noise of the bass guitar will wake her sleeping baby in the bus outside.

There are also tussles with label execs and her management. At one point, Faith’s accountants discuss whether taking a nanny on the road is an acceptable tour expense. “I’m not cool with Paloma lumping her own costs into the tour. Let’s not have boundaries pushed,” her manager, Jamie Binns, says in a meeting. And we hear her management tell her that “we want to break America”, while Faith wonders whether a trip to New York is really necessary.

Faith performing at The Scala, 2009 -  C Brandon/ Redferns
Faith performing at The Scala, 2009 - C Brandon/ Redferns

There have been more damning depictions of the music business, of course. A 2017 documentary about Avicii – who took his own life in 2018 – showed the Swedish DJ continually complaining about his relentless schedule. And Asif Kapadia’s award-winning film about Amy Winehouse exposed the lack of support the singer was given before her death at just 27 years old.

Faith’s team is more benign and supportive. But the singer says the music business has a long way to go before it can be considered family-friendly.

The first question people in the industry ask when they find out someone’s pregnant, she tells me, is “When can you come back?” And, once they’re “back”, they’re regarded as somehow diminished, when the opposite is the case.

“The reality is that you become more efficient, you become more determined, and you become an octopus of emotions,” she says.

As I Am also looks at the issue of age. One of Faith’s managers points out the “brutal” reality that “with age you become irrelevant” in the industry in general. Faith will be 40 years old this year.

She believes that the industry’s perception of people changes as they approach this milestone. “But it’s another one of those things where no one wants to admit it. And people go, ‘Well, Sia did it.’” (Sia is an Australian artist in her mid-40s who covers her face by various eccentric means.) “And I’m like, ‘She was wearing a bag on her head.’”

Faith with her partner, Leyman Lahcine  - David M. Benett/ Getty Images Europe
Faith with her partner, Leyman Lahcine - David M. Benett/ Getty Images Europe

Faith is still a big name, and signed to a big label, Sony. Her 2017 album The Architect reached No 1 in the UK and went platinum, but it was the first of her four albums since she arrived on the scene in 2009 not to achieve double-platinum sales.

Her fifth album, last November’s Infinite Things, reached No 4 in the charts. She has a huge theatre tour booked for September. But where does Faith think she’ll be in a year? Back on the treadmill? “Who knows?” she says. “I do think my happiness depends quite a lot on me working.”

She concedes she might need to reinvent herself somehow. But – and here’s the rub – she wants to do it on her own terms. “I probably do need to restructure and reshape, but I don’t want to do it because of social pressure, because I’m old and because I’m a mum,” she says. Is there a singing mother out there whose career she wants to emulate? “I admire Annie Lennox. And I think she’s a great mother.”

The hard truth is, pop stardom and parenthood are difficult bedfellows. Mingay says the film shows that motherhood and a career can coexist. But what does Faith think the film’s message is? Is it showing people that they can have it all, or is it saying “Don’t try this at home”?

“Maybe it’s both,” she laughs. “Maybe it’s: ‘You can have it all, but it’s really f------ hard.’”

Paloma Faith: As I Am airs on BBC Two soon

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