Despite musical success matched only by Adele, Paloma Faith’s journey to the top wasn’t always smooth sailing. Here, she speaks to stylist.co.uk about how pursuing joy, not fame, ultimately led to her success, and why she believes that it is our duty to open doors for those around us.
There’s no doubt about it: Paloma Faith is a woman on a mission. Her last three albums went double-platinum (a feat achieved by only one other UK female artist, Adele), her fourth album, released at the end of last year, debuted at number one on the album charts less than 12 months on from the birth of her first child, and she is currently travelling around the UK and Ireland on an arena tour with her baby in tow.
Turning her attention to the world around her, the singer is now also using her platform to open doors for the next generation of artists and to empower the women in her company. However, Faith’s road to success hasn’t been without its challenges, and here she speaks to stylist.co.uk about how those obstacles helped shape her into the woman that she is today.
While she may be at the top of her profession now, Faith explains that she always felt the need to carve her own path in order to get there, particularly because growing up in a family that had “experienced extreme poverty” often left her feeling on the back foot compared to her peers.
“When you feel that you’ve absolutely, 100% got to make money or you’re going back to work behind the deli counter, your creativity is often curbed,” the singer says.
“I’ve always felt that in my own career – I’ve looked at certain peers and felt a little bit envious that they could just be arty.
“Sometimes I’ve felt like maybe I have to do more commercial things because of the background I’m from, that I have to generate an income. I can’t just make a really experimental album and risk not selling any because there’d be no one to mop up the pieces.”
It is this experience that inspired Faith’s latest endeavour, in which she teams up with the Prince’s Trust and ŠKODA on a new campaign to encourage young people to forge their own paths and “make their own kind of music”, encouraging creativity in a new generation of artists, whatever their background.
“I feel like it’s really important to provide a platform for young people to really explore their creativity and give them the freedom to know that they’re supported. Then, hopefully, that will make creative ideas in whatever realm - entrepreneurial or creative - actually manifest in a free way and hopefully be better ideas as a result,” explains Faith.
“I want to encourage people to believe that they can achieve their ambitions,” she adds.
However, it is not just the young who are on Faith’s radar. It is clear that the singer’s past has given her a lasting affinity with the underdogs of the world, and she is making it her mission to use her platform to open doors for as many people as she can, especially women.
“Things are harder for women to achieve, things are harder for people from lower classes to achieve, and things are harder for people from different multi-cultural backgrounds to achieve, than it is for the white middle class man,” the singer remarks.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s not possible though.”
Offering up her advice to anyone who finds themselves struggling, Faith adds: “Don’t listen to what society prescribes as the perfect age or circumstance to get out and do [what you want to do], because you can turn it on its head.”
The key, she believes, lies in the support that we can offer to each other.
“The only way that we will become more successful is to empower each other,” Faith states.
“I think that successful women need to employ other women a lot, and when you’re doing well you need to employ the underdog. I try [to] employ and celebrate as many women, or as many underdogs in general, as I can.
“I think that’s your duty really, to create new pathways.”
Faith goes on to explain that self-confidence is at the heart of our ability to truly empower those around us, something that she has honed throughout her life.
“Not superficial confidence - because I think posting naked pictures of yourself on Instagram isn’t confidence - but [focusing] on what your strengths are and less on what your weaknesses are, that type of confidence,” the singer says.
“Being comfortable in your own skin, feeling unthreatened by other people, especially other women, and rather than going against each other, celebrating each other,” she continues.
Quoting Rudyard Kipling, Faith also reveals that a lot of her own confidence came from her education.
“There is this Rudyard Kipling poem It where it says ‘you shall dine with kings but never lose the common touch’,” she recites.
“I always felt like it was really important to me to have a lot of qualifications, so I got really good GCSEs, really good A-levels, did a degree, did a Master’s and [as a result] I felt very confident in my abilities to be able to dine with kings.”
That confidence buoyed Faith as she set out to forge her path to the top, and enabled her to find a balance between seeking success and staying true to herself.
Discussing how she stayed resolute in her desire to pursue happiness over fame, Faith explains that she once walked out on a potential record deal, saying that she would rather continue working in pubs, because the label boss was texting during her performance.
“I was able to go ‘oh I don’t care’, because when I said I’d rather work in pubs for the rest of my life, which is what I was doing, [it’s because] I genuinely did find joy and happiness,” she recalls.
Faith continues by revealing how her mother had a strong influence over her own approach to success, imparting her with a firm sense of what was really important.
“I remember early on in my career, somebody in a record label [said to my mum]: ‘You must be so proud of your daughter’. My mum said: ‘Oh yeah, she can swim and she can speak another language’. They laughed at her and I was like: ‘Why are you laughing? That’s a bit snobby’,” the singer recollects.
“My mum comes from really extreme poverty and for her those achievements mean more than selling albums,” she explains.
It’s that perspective that has fuelled Faith to defy expectations and continue to march to the beat of her own drum, a message that she is now sharing with the world.
Paloma Faith is working with the Prince’s Trust and ŠKODA on the Driver’s Seat Initiative to encourage young people aged 16-25 to embrace individuality and creativity with the opportunity to gain new skills in the arts. Entries to the initiative are now open.