Paloma Faith on how heartbreak changes with age

BY Julia Llewellyn Smith

16th Apr 2024 Celebrities

6 min read

Paloma Faith on how heartbreak changes with age
As Paloma Faith's new album enters the divorce album canon, we chat with the pop singer about how motherhood changes relationships—and the break-up afterwards
Paloma Faith is sitting on a banquette in a private members’ club in Hackney, close to where she was born and still lives, smiley in a T-shirt, black patent leather trousers and stacks of jewellery including a chunky gold ring spelling MUM.
She’s eating a “fish sandwich”, which turns out to be fish and chips (“I don’t like batter, I’m going to take it off!”) and musing about her talk the previous week at the V&A museum about “reclaiming” the word “diva”.
“When women are powerful or high-achievers we’re branded demanding, difficult, overpowering divas because men think strong women must be controlling or manipulative,” she says.
“I resent that. People have always misread the idea of me being an alpha character who’s very threatening. But actually there’s a softness, a gentleness, about me that’s often overlooked.”
Certainly, if anyone can reposition the word, it’s Faith, 42. With her juggernaut vocals and flamboyant stage presence, she’s been a queen of the British pop scene for the past 15 years, as evinced by her Brit award and three consecutive double-platinum albums, making her the only British female artist to accomplish the latter other than Adele.
However, like many of the other divas featured in the V&A’s exhibition of that name—Whitney Houston, Marilyn Monroe, Tina Turner—Faith’s star power is intertwined with an underlying, very grounded vulnerability.
paloma faith posing in sequinned dress on red carpet

The divorce album era

This has been especially apparent since she became a mother eight years ago, since when she appears to have existed in a fraught spin cycle of balancing work and family. The situation has been exacerbated since she split two years ago from their father, the French-Algerian artist Leyman Lahcine.
Yet, as with many artists, pain equals material. With her sixth album, The Glorification of Sadness, she becomes the latest contributor to the divorce album genre, a category that has recently taken on fresh impetus since its Tammy Wynette heyday with several “older” (a relative pop world term) female singers such as Adele, 35, Miley Cyrus, 31, and Kelly Clarkson, 41, exploring the sadness, self-doubt and guilt accompanying the ending of a long-term relationship—very different emotions to the youthful heartbreaks articulated by, say, Taylor Swift.
Take “Pressure”, Faith’s collaboration with the Mobo winner Kojey Radical about the overwhelming feeling most mothers experience (“There’s no one to carry me/ I’m holding on”).
Then there’s her ballad “Bad Woman”, which expresses unregretfully how she let down her partner by not tending to his every need (“I hope you find perfection/ But I know it’ll never be me”).
"These break-ups are a far cry from the cut-and-runs of youth"
Meanwhile, the anthem “I Am Enough” “is me trying to convince myself that [sentiment’s] true, but I’m not quite there yet, I always end up chatting to the inner bully."
Best of all is the belter “Eat S**t and Die”, which, she says with a giggle, “is your inner child just being a stroppy toddler”.
It is bound to become a break-up classic.
“These break-ups are a far cry from the cut-and-runs of youth where you just don’t see each other again,” Faith says.
When you have young children you have to [keep in touch] because you’re constantly doing handovers. That can get confusing.
"I have a really good relationship with the kids’ dad so sometimes it’s like, ‘What are we doing? Why are we not together?’. But the key to the success of our relationship now is the absence of expectation. Expectation leads to disappointment.”

The pressure of parenthood

paloma faith poses in sequinned dress with ex partner leyman lahcine
Talking to Faith is like talking to a good girlfriend: there’s oodles of emotional honesty, several detours into politics, all punctuated by robust hoots of laughter.
Her deceptively childlike Cockney voice and theatrical stage persona have led to many calling her “kooky”, a dismissive adjective she hates, unsurprisingly, since she’s patently hyperorganised, intelligent and well read (Alain de Botton and the therapist Gabor Maté are just two names she drops into conversation).
She barely drinks and was always sensible at her notoriously poor-performing comprehensive in north London (the one that so terrified the locals Tony and Cherie Blair that they opted to send their children to a Roman Catholic institution miles away).
“I never had a wild phase: it was always me surrounded by other kids taking ecstasy, or MDMA, with a jug of water, saying, ‘I’ve read a leaflet about how you need to drink lots if you’re taking these drugs.’”
Faith’s nine-year relationship with Lahcine has been tested since their eldest daughter was born eight years ago (their youngest, born after a miscarriage and six rounds of IVF, will be three this month).
Her opening song, “Sweatpants”, explores the jump in a relationship from wooing a new partner with your glittery, best side to the unglamorous reality of domesticity.
"When you have children you see each other at your absolute worst"
“We put on so many different masks in relationships, then when you have children you see each other at your absolute worst, when you’ve not slept for a year. It’s really hard. I think people who stay together are amazing. I don’t know anyone who says, ‘I love my husband’; they all say, ‘He’s the most annoying person!’”.
Much of the problem, she adds, was that she could no longer spare the attention for Lahcine he enjoyed when they were childless. “Men like to be put first and resentment builds.”
Now she’s free to pour all her energies into her career and motherhood, meaning there’s space—for the first time in her adult life—for introspection.
“Last time I had a big break-up I didn’t have children and I could distract myself—I was out every night, at an opening, at friends’ for dinner, dancing, whatever.
"But I’m very conscious of how my actions influence my kids. I want them to feel stable, so on the five nights they’re with me I tend not to go out—unless it’s for work. So I’ve been alone with my thoughts and had to face my sorrows.”
She pauses, then shrieks. “And I find that terrifying.”

A mother's perspective

paloma faith poses by crouching on floor and resting one cheek on hand
She’s been filling those nights by writing her first book, MILF, which will be published later this year.
“It’s a series of thoughts that I think it can be liberating for people to read about, subjects which really don’t get talked about in popular culture very much, like being a mum and how you still might want to have sex.”
Actually, sex is quite low down on Faith’s list of priorities. Since the break-up she has done some dating but knows she could never put a man before her children. “It’s nice to have a cuddle, but what people want from a relationship I’m not able to give at this point.” 
Faith is the product—as she puts it—“of a broken home”. Her Spanish father walked out on her and her English mother when she was two. She won’t write an autobiography yet.
“People are still alive and I don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers. But I have experienced a huge amount of trauma around stuff I’ve been exposed to—domestic violence, addiction, harrowing bits and bobs. But that’s given me inner strength. I’m quite a resilient person. That’s why I’m still in the industry that bashes women down.”
"I’m quite a resilient person. That’s why I’m still in the industry that bashes women down"
She has certainly stood her ground against her music bosses. Her 2021 BBC documentary, As I Am, documenting her 2018 world tour, showed her wrangling with record bosses and management over how much childcare they would provide (they looked appalled when she said she wanted a second child).
After it aired the chief of Sony Music called her to apologise.
Recently she has been vocal in her support of the Palestinian cause. “I’ve got two Muslim children,” she explains. “They’re not practising but their dad is, at least on a spiritual level: he does fasting.”
Her Instagram post (“we are all human and this is genocide”) led to warnings from others in the industry that “this might jeopardise my career. They said, ‘Be careful.’ I thought about it and I was as careful as I’m going to be. Everything I posted was legitimate from places like Save the Children, it wasn’t willy-nilly propaganda off the net.”

Preserving Faith with music

Faith has spoken about feeling “unvalidated” by motherhood initially. Now she thinks she was suffering from postnatal depression when she made such statements.
“Motherhood becomes more and more validating, but the idea that you give birth and it’s instant love with your baby isn’t always right, it’s an obligation.
"Children don’t give much and they expect everything. You put three meals a day in front of them, they say, ‘Don’t like it!’. And kids leave in the end. My mum said to me, ‘If there’s one thing you do with your life, build a career.’”
Having struggled through three huge tours when her daughters were tiny, she’s now relishing a summer playing festivals (“including one really big one—I can’t say which,” she says with a huge grin, leaving little room for doubt).
"The idea that you give birth and it’s instant love with your baby isn’t always right"
“I’ve got used to touring now. It still feels hard but I live for it, I really do, especially at the moment when all I have is kids and work.”
She’ll keep it coming. “Madonna said, ‘The most controversial thing I ever did was stick around’—I’ve got to offend people by my ongoing presence.”
Meanwhile the pain of the break-up is diminishing. “I still get moments when I’m just devastated. I’m sure I will when [Lahcine] tells me he’s having a kid with someone else.”
Again she throws back her head and gives that full-throttle cackle. “But then I can write an album about that!” 
Banner credit: Yan Wasiuchnik
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