Maternal Influence

Words by: Rosalind Sack

New mother Paloma Faith returns to the stage with a fresh direction

For many of us, returning to work after having a baby can conjure up a cauldron of conflicting emotions – from relief to guilt to crippling nerves. For first-time mum Paloma Faith – a Brit Award-winning, multi-platinum selling singer-songwriter, prime-time TV star and film actress – her return to the spotlight is no different.

“It’s nerve-wracking because becoming a mother is such a life-changing experience and I almost feel like I’ve left an old version of myself behind,” explains the 36-year-old, who gave birth last December and recently released her new album, The Architect.

Together with her partner, Leyman Lahcine, Paloma says she is determined to give her child “the freedom of a normal life” and has divulged precious few details about her baby aside from their desire to raise it as gender neutral.

She adds: “I feel scared because I’m like: ‘Will people like this new version of me?’ I’m still me but it has changed everything and it feels like I have a different mindset, a different outlook – everything.”

Paloma’s anxiety seems poles apart from the outrageously confident stage persona that has earned her legions of fans since the release of her debut single in 2009. Her powerful voice shakes the rafters of the biggest arenas, her gripping performances – be they playful big-band numbers or high-drama ballads delight diverse audiences, and her bright personality and unconventional style breathes life into vast stages; from Glastonbury to The Proms.

Yet motherhood has been her toughest act to date. Despite hoping the birth would be a natural experience and motherhood would be instinctive, Paloma is blisteringly honest about her own reality. It began with a traumatic 20-hour labour, during which she contracted a womb infection that left her unable to walk for two months.

“There’s a lack of honesty. There’s no question that the outcome is the most incredible thing ever, but it’s absolutely awful in many ways and it’s ok for people to feel that they can say that,” she explains.

“I first looked at my baby and thought: ‘Who is that person?’ I didn’t have this immediate feeling of: ‘This is meant to be, the stars have aligned.’ It was just like: ‘What did you just do to my body? Who are you? I don’t really know how to feed you and neither do you know how to get it.’ I thought I just put the baby on my boob and it just happened.”

Motherhood has also influenced Paloma’s music, leading it in a fresh direction – lyrically looking forward rather than reflecting on the past. She describes her new album, on which she collaborates with Sia, John Legend and even Samuel L Jackson, “a social observation record”.

“By default, when you become a parent, you automatically look outside of yourself at this other person and then start looking around you at your environment and the world you’re bringing them into. That’s reflected in the album,” she explains.

Poignantly, its social and political messages echo those instilled in Paloma by her own mother, who raised her alone in East London after separating from her Spanish father when Paloma was an infant.

“My mum made me watch the news and raised me around quite political music – they call it political, but I think it’s humanity music,” she says. “And I was always on marches with her because I was born in Thatcher’s Britain, so I have a deep-set sense of responsibility for community and for thinking about the greater good. It’s about realising that what affects one individual affects all of us, and there’s a lack of that.”

Its sentiments, and Paloma’s return, has garnered an overwhelmingly positive response. “I was quite moved when I came back and put the first single out on social media and people started saying nice things. There were one out of every 100 comments saying it was rubbish – which are the ones I focus on, of course!” she giggles. Even now she admits: “I still feel like a bit of a fake.”

Despite that streak of vulnerability, the trauma of her birthing experience and the difficulties of the fledgling months of motherhood, it seems that Paloma – who kicks off a UK arena tour in March – is buoyed by a fresh realisation of her own resilience.

“In the early days of motherhood I thought: ‘How am I going to achieve anything ever again, I can barely even open one eye?’ But once it passes – and it does – it’s amazing, you just feel so much more capable,” she admits. “I have a new respect for my mum and for all mums – they’re superheroes.”

The Architect by Paloma Faith (RCA Records) is out now