Music

Paloma Faith: 'How many left-wing people like me get to be a national treasure? None'

Frank and funny, Faith will gladly dig into any social or political issue, but knows full well that she doesn’t have all the answers

Paloma Faith

Paloma Faith. Image: PR supplied

As she prepares to release her sixth studio album, a gutsy, gleaming collection of post-breakup anthems called The Glorification of Sadness, Paloma Faith could be on course for national treasure status. 

She won a Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist in 2015 and topped the charts with her excellent 2017 album The Architect. Her signature power ballad Only Love Can Hurt Like This, which has recently enjoyed a revival on TikTok, is a vocal tour de force that regularly defeats karaoke singers.

The Hackney-born singer and actress (she starred in the Batman spin-off series Pennyworth) is a grafter with a great backstory. Before she signed her first record deal in 2008, she worked as a burlesque dancer, bartender, magician’s assistant, life model and at posh lingerie shop Agent Provocateur. Glamorous but approachable, she’s a bit like a modern mix of Barbara Windsor and Shirley Bassey. 

But there’s one difference. “How many people that are left-wing like me ever get to become a national treasure?” she asks, then answers her own question. “None. National treasures like Babs and Shirley, they’re all Tories – adorable, but Tories.” 

In fairness, Bassey would never belt out a song called Eat Shit and Die, a spiky highlight from Paloma Faith’s new album. Like much of the album, it’s a bold and honest response to the breakdown of Faith’s relationship with artist Leyman Lahcine, the father of her two children. They split in 2022 after around 10 years together.

Faith says Eat Shit and Die was cathartic to write. “I’d had enough of doing all the intelligent, mature breakup stuff – all the conversations we had in couples therapy and separation therapy,” she says. “So then I was like, ‘I’m gonna let my petulant inner child come out now.’”

Paloma Faith knows the power of a well-chosen expletive. Last March, she went viral on Twitter, when she replied to Rishi Sunak’s tweet outlining new, even more heartless immigration policy with a single four-letter word.

“What’s appalling is people keep voting them in,” she says today when talk turns to the Tory government. “We don’t have to be in this situation.”

What does she think of the alternative being presented by Keir Starmer’s Labour Party? “I’ve always voted Labour, but I’m concerned because it feels like [a choice between] Tory heavy or Tory light at the moment,” she says. “And I think a lot of Labour voters share that concern. But I don’t think we’ve got much choice, because we’ve just got to get him [Sunak] out.”

Faith thinks Starmer’s current campaigning is “fear-led” and panders to centrist voters. “I’m hoping he gets in, then does a complete U-turn and actually does a Labour government,” she says. But at the moment, she adds with a sigh, “it’s like we’ve got David Cameron back.”

When she met Starmer recently, Faith challenged him to outline, simply and precisely, his “five bold missions” for Britain. “I said to him, ‘I don’t know what your five points are – can you stop talking about them [vaguely] and literally explain what they are.‘I”

She liked some of what he said in response. “When he spoke about the NHS, he said something interesting, and quite valid I think, which is that more funding needs to go into mental health,” she says. “Because the mental and the physical are so closely linked, he said that if you start thinking in a more holistic way about mental health and general wellbeing, you can probably reduce the amount of illnesses by a massive amount.”

Frank and funny, Faith will gladly dig into any social or political issue, but knows full well that she doesn’t have all the answers.

“When I was pregnant [in 2020], I went to a women’s homeless shelter and said: ‘How can I help?’” she says. “And they were like, ‘It’s really difficult. You know, this whole system is designed to keep people homeless.’” She came away with a greater understanding of the women’s personal circumstances, but felt that being an empathetic ear “wasn’t enough” of a contribution.

“I tried to set up a charity at one point – I just wanted to help five women get a home and a job,” she says. “And I soon realised how difficult that was and why people who want to do that are advised against it. Because if it fails, the media might make an example of it being a failure and use that as a distraction as opposed to actually solving a problem.”

Paloma Faith, who was raised by a lone mother who took her to anti-Thatcher rallies in her pushchair, has always put her socialist beliefs front and centre. In 2015, she booked left-wing commentator Owen Jones as a support act – a move that alienated some of her fanbase. 

“When I had Owen Jones on tour with me, a lot of people complained because my demographic is a centrist demographic, I would say,” she says today. “But I didn’t care. I mean, I care about being able to make ends meet for my kids – I’m not completely irresponsible. I’m also quite acutely aware that if I said everything I thought about everything, I’d probably have no career whatsoever.”

The Glorification of Sadness by Paloma Faith is out on 16 February

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
'When I was mentally ill, I could only listen to hard techno': Why is music so important to us?
Music

'When I was mentally ill, I could only listen to hard techno': Why is music so important to us?

Jingoism of Rule, Britannia! has long felt shameful. Is it finally time for BBC Proms to axe it?
A 1990s BBC Proms in the Park concert
Music

Jingoism of Rule, Britannia! has long felt shameful. Is it finally time for BBC Proms to axe it?

Zayn Malik: 'I wanted to forge my own path, write my own story and see the world'
Exclusive

Zayn Malik: 'I wanted to forge my own path, write my own story and see the world'

Zayn Malik speaks on new music, home city Bradford and identity: 'I'm a very Northern man'
Music

Zayn Malik speaks on new music, home city Bradford and identity: 'I'm a very Northern man'

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know