Belfast Telegraph

Paloma Faith: I've not met a single woman who hasn't been assaulted or sexually harassed

As she prepares to play the SSE Arena in Belfast next month, Paloma Faith tells Joe Nerssessian about becoming a mum, her number one album, The Architect, receiving death threats online and her partnership with the inspirational Prince's Trust

It's a cold, bright January morning in south-east London. Wrapped in a dressing gown over a red polka dot dress, Paloma Faith emerges from Peckham Liberal Club and makes her way to a Winnebago across the road.

Production crew, assistants, and stylists drift in and out of the 19th century building, tucked away in a side street of the busy London borough.

Passers-by stop to observe the commotion and wander off again with the knowledge, via a particularly cheerful security guard, that it's the site of a Skoda advert shoot, starring Faith.

The singer-songwriter has teamed up with the car brand and the Prince's Trust as part of a new initiative to inspire young people to fulfil their dreams.

It's a cause close to Faith's heart. She benefited from Prince's Trust funding as an A-level student when her mother, who suffers from ME and has also battled cancer and a brain tumour, was unable to help her financially.

"I had a really big idea for my art project and I needed money, so I applied and they gave me the money ... it taught me a lesson in that I have to learn how to pitch myself to get where I wanted to be," she says, now curled up on the sofa in the Winnebago, which occasionally rocks in the wind.

Her partnership with Skoda was a deliberate one, she adds, cackling loudly but innocently as she ponders the thought of fellow celebrities who team up with brands that are clearly not part of their identity.

"I watched their last advert and welled up with tears in my eyes and then I was talking for a good hour, telling people 'I'm definitely a Skoda, I'm a Skoda'," the singer jokes, laughing again at her comparison between the car manufacturer and star signs.

It reminds her of a Christmas as a kid when her mum told her she was planning to buy Faith some Oil of Olay because Penelope Cruz uses it.

"I was just like 'Mum there's something I need to tell you about advertising'," she roars with that familiar cackle.

Hailing from Hackney, Faith followed fellow east Londoner Idris Elba in becoming a Prince's Trust success story. The funding helped her overcome obstacles and she wants young people to feel as empowered as she did.

"I'm not negating that there are obstacles and I show in this film there were loads, but it would only be me who made them significant and I chose not to," Faith explains.

The 36-year-old has certainly reached some milestones of late. She scored her first UK number one album with November's The Architect - her first record as a mum - and on the back of the record's success is up for best British female at this month's Brit Awards (she previously won the prize in 2015).

One would struggle to describe The Architect as politically charged, but it certainly sways in that direction more than any other Faith album.

Featuring an opening statement from Samuel L Jackson and an appearance from left-wing commentator Owen Jones, Brexit, refugees and inequality of wealth simmer away in the background as her pop stylings remain at the forefront.

It was becoming a parent, she says, that made her decide to look outward.

"Parenthood makes you so less self-involved and you find yourself addressing the world you're bringing this child into," Faith adds.

"Also knowing I was pregnant, I'd know my child would actually go and listen to that and say 'What were you saying when I was in your tummy?'."

Another attempt to look outward saw her launch her own investigation following last year's avalanche of allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, as she started asking women if they'd experienced harassment or assault. The results are depressing, but not surprising.

"I've not met a single woman who hasn't been sexually harassed or assaulted at any point during their life ... I'm convinced it's everyday life for a woman," she says.

But the singer is also keen to point out what she sees as a willingness to put harassment and rape in the same category. "I do think there's a difference between being harassed and being raped. And I think sometimes those campaigns forget the gravity of the difference. I'm not saying it's fine for women to be harassed, I'm just saying there's Me Too and there's Me Too," she says, emphasising the latter.

It's an interesting position and, of course, they are of varying degrees.

But Faith decides to voice this opinion not because of a desire to say something different, but because of her self-requirement for honesty. It has, she admits, backfired in the past.

"It can be misconstrued as something that can inevitably be polarising and that's not my intention," the singer says. "I've been attacked for saying I don't like musicals."

Social media is the enabler for abuse, she argues, clasping her red nail-varnished fingers together.

"People have said stuff like 'You stupid b**** I'm going to rape you'. I don't understand why people can't just go 'We have different opinions, let's co-exist'."

And it's not just Faith's views on musicals that has led to online backlashes. The star says she has encountered threats on her life after speaking up for the underdog.

"I might say this or that, but there's no reason for people to want to stab me to death for it," she explains. "I find it bizarre that we live in an age where people can't just go 'You vote Labour, I vote Conservative, can we have a conversation?'

"That's tragic because how can anything be resolved or solved through violence if people are that vehemently separated due to a difference of opinion?"

Faith embarks on a UK-wide arena tour on March 3, including Belfast's SSE Arena on March 23. Skoda's Driver's Seat Initiative will be available via The Prince's Trust's existing Get Started programme

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