Paloma Faith: 'I know I'm a really good mum but that doesn't mean that I haven't struggled or doubted my decision to be one'
Paloma Faith holds nothing back on pop, motherhood and Brexit, as the singer speaks to Roisin O'Connor
Paloma Faith's trainers have 'WOMAN' written on each sole. I know this because she's lying on her back, with one leg draped over the other so the underside of her shoe is exposed. She's tired thanks to a recent, unusual bout of insomnia. "I used to sleep really well," she tells me. "I don't feel stressed… but I do think when you have a child, your sleep changes. You have this 'one eye open' thing, like an animal ready to attack."
We're at a hotel in Mayfair where she was about to film part of a campaign to thank all the midwives working over the Christmas period. There's a tree next to the sofa that's decorated with baubles that glint in the light from outside. Faith has recorded a version of Silent Night, "because it's not very silent when you're in the ward", she guffaws.
Our interview is not unlike a therapy session - partly because of Faith's position on the black leather sofa and our attempts to diagnose her insomnia - but also because she's in a particularly forthcoming mood. "I look at everyone else around me and feel inferior," she says, shifting to a sitting position, knees folded against her chest. With no make-up and her bleached blonde hair hanging in soft waves around her face, she looks much younger than her 37 years. It's been eight months since her sold-out shows at the O2 Arena in London, and she's itching to get back to work with new music: "I'm about to start (writing a new album), so I'm putting a list together of who I want to work with."
In October, Faith released the video for her song Loyal, which shows her and her lover wrestling one another in the death throes of their romance, all while their baby is asleep upstairs. It is both dark and comical, complementing the track that deals with the flawed notion of a "perfect" relationship.
After Faith gave birth, she felt confused about what society had told her motherhood would be like, or what she should be like as a mother. "I've always been a maternal person, and I don't want to sound arrogant but I know I'm a really good mum," she says. "But that doesn't mean I haven't struggled or doubted my decision to be one, or that there aren't days where I feel like I'm a terrible mother or days where I'd just like one day where I was not one.
"I wanted it to be a feminist statement," she says of the video, "about the fact that everyone perceives women who have had a child as having to be this subservient mother character. Often it seems socially acceptable for men to stray when their partner has a baby, but actually women have the same desires."
That's why you see her swiping on Tinder in the video, she says, laughing. She has a fantastic laugh - more of a Disney chuckle - that scrunches her whole face up. "My poor boyfriend, if he reads this!" she says, referring to her partner, the French artist Leyman Lahcine. "But we're like best friends and we've got a real mutual understanding. He never went into 'over-confidence mode' which I think a lot of men do once their wives have had a baby. He's always a little insecure that he could still lose me, and it's mutual, which is important. There's no complacency."
Loyal is a bonus single from the recently-released Zeitgeist edition of Faith's fourth studio album The Architect. She's currently on track to become the first female solo artist to go double platinum four times: "There are others that could come out and do it first though: Adele, Florence + the Machine… they might pip me to the post," she says. "Florence is amazing. I'm really happy when I hear she's successful, whereas some of the others..." she trails off, and just smiles when I ask her which artist's success she begrudges. "Sometimes I feel like I'm not born for this world, like I just don't get it," she shrugs. "I think the artists I admire are timeless. Florence is timeless, Adele is timeless… But there's so much s*** out there."
But Faith's year has been less focused on music and more on acting. She's currently learning lines for a forthcoming TV series, Pennyworth - a Sixties-set prequel to the DC Comics-based Gotham, about Batman's butler. Faith is the lead antagonist.
"I'm quite insecure about that because I feel I have to prove myself," Faith says. "It's the first time I've been cast in something that's really substantial. I have one of the key roles, and I feel like it's a chance to prove that I'm not just a singer."
Her character is called Bet Sykes and she's a "dark, horrible villain", according to Faith. "I love it," she says. "We've just finished filming the pilot and we've got another nine episodes to film." It sounds as though the costumes won't be quite as colourful as the ones she wears onstage: "I look like my old dinner lady! But it's escapism, and brilliant writing. I'm really fond of the character. There's nothing of me in it."
She's been watching documentaries about female killers, such as Myra Hindley, or the BBC series Killing Eve, and trying to build on this character and what audiences are so drawn to when it comes to evil women. It sounds like a marked contrast to one of her latest roles, where she appeared as a version of herself in Paolo Sorrentino's film Youth.
"I said, 'I'll just be the version of me that you think I am,' and that's what we did," she says of that role. "The whole film is supposed to be about the falsity of the outwardly projected version vs the reality. I was a secretary who was really plain and unattractive and beige, but in her imagination, I was this sex-crazed, over-saturated personality.
"One of the things I'm told about me and my projected self is there's inconsistency," she continues. "I find that challenging to understand because I struggle with the idea that we should all define ourselves so rigidly, that we live in a culture where we have to present a readable version of ourselves and never stray from it."
An aspect of her character that is often portrayed in the media is how "outspoken" she is, although Faith wonders if today that simply means being unafraid of offering an opinion. She's had her comments misinterpreted plenty of times but still wants to be the vocal, expressive person she is. And she's not afraid to air her frustrations with the media.
"It took me eight years to stop being asked a question about being a magician's assistant," she says, heaving a sigh. "Or, 'What was it like working with Pharrell Williams?' I'll always say it was pretty much like working with everyone else, for the Pharrell question… What was it like to be a magician's assistant?" She pauses. "Cramped," she finishes, dead-pan, before bursting into another peal of laughter.
A recent comment about Theresa May was misinterpreted to the point she felt compelled to issue a clarification on Twitter in October, after she defended the furore around the prime minister's dancing during her entrance at the Conservative Party conference. Faith had criticised the media attention over the incident, but some took it to mean she was supporting her in everything. And while Faith still thinks the dancing coverage had a lot to do with May's gender, she also believes the prime minister is making "a real mess" of Brexit.
"I think the most brilliant, courageous thing for her to do would be to realise her career's over and be the guy that says 'We've made a mistake, really sorry, it's not possible. I'm going to implement a law that means this cannot be reversed within the next 10 years'," Faith says.
"Then step down. It'd be the non-egotistical thing to do. At the moment she's running the risk of her only legacy being that she made a s***show of the situation."
"Brexit is very personal to me because my partner is a French passport holder, and my dad is Spanish, and my mum's English." She and Lahcine are applying for dual citizenship for their child, and she's trying to get dual citizenship for herself with Spain. "I don't know if it's possible because we haven't got a deal yet. It's scary," she admits. "But I feel optimistic about the new generation. Young people seem so much more clued up, and I'm hoping they're going to save it all."
The Architect - Zeitgeist Edition is out now