As Me with Sinéad — 11: Florence Welch
As Me with Florence Welch transcript
[00:37] Sinéad Burke: Welcome to As Me with Sinéad. This week’s episode is with somebody who I met only just this year, but I am privileged, genuinely, to call them a friend. We met under the most surreal circumstances. It was in New York, where I currently am. But we were both there for a party in a museum called the Met Gala, and this person had been on more than one occasion. It was my first time. When we met, the immediate thing that they did was bend down to my level, their beautiful dress gracing the floor and sweeping it slightly. But they didn’t care. They wanted to be at eye-level with me and to have a conversation where we were both physically equal. This week’s guest for As Me with Sinéad is the extraordinary Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. One of the things from this conversation that I think about all of the time is how Florence talks about the only space in which she is ever confident and comfortable and without anxiety is onstage, despite the minute she comes offstage having no recollection of what happened up there.
[01:46] Florence Welch: It’s weird because the stage is where it’s almost like you are your most seen. But I can totally disappear. You have to push your body through so many things and you have to sing and you pull weird faces. But none of it matters. All the kind of worst parts of myself become useful or they get absorbed. And it’s a liberation for me. From this quite tangled person.
[02:12] Sinéad Burke: What’s on my mind this week? Gosh, I cannot wait for the holiday. This is my last trip until the end of the year, and I am so looking forward to spending time with friends and family and being present with them. And how do I do that in a more meaningful way next year? But I’m also looking forward to reading a new book. Saeed Jones’s memoir is sitting on my Kindle and I cannot wait to dive in. But before that, this week’s episode. Are you ready for Florence? Let’s go!
[02:52] Sinéad Burke: Sitting across from me is a person who was part of my life before I knew them. Part of the best moments, but actually more importantly, the most challenging ones. The ones where you feel like it’s too hard and you want to give up. And you don’t think whatever situation you’re in is for you. And whenever I felt those moments, there was really kind of one song that I turned to and it was, bizarrely, from a Snow White film. But I don’t think I liked it due to the correlations of the fairy tale and my size. But it was written and recorded by the person sitting opposite me. It was a Breath of Life.
[03:33] Florence Welch: That’s amazing! That’s a deep cut.
[03:34] Sinéad Burke: I loved it! And it was just this powerful anthem that made you realize that almost anything was possible, which means that sitting across me is, of course, the extraordinary Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.
[03:48] Florence Welch: Thank you so much. That is really such a nice intro.
[03:54] Sinéad Burke: But how do you describe yourself, Florence, personally and professionally?
[04:01] Florence Welch: I’ve had such a confusing, sort of — I never knew how to explain it. And especially when you’re trying to go through customs, it feels like you’re trying to trick you or catch you out. What kind of music do you make? I’ve no idea. I used to say when I was first coming up and I got nominated for a Brit and they wanted me to describe it — it sounds like a choir of nuns being thrown down an elevator shaft.
[04:33] Sinéad Burke: Your PR must love you.
[04:34] Florence Welch: I think I was too young. And then for a while I really even wrestled with — ‘cause I think I was very insecure about — because I can make music, but I was never trained as a musician, trained as a singer. So I even had trouble describe myself as a musician and I had to really fight to take that and accept that. And then I tried some other stuff and I’ve written poetry and stuff. So I guess I would describe myself as a musician and a poet. But it’s taken me a while to get to those things because I think you are so full of doubt as a sort of — especially as a young woman in the music industry.
[05:18] Sinéad Burke: What was the moment that made you confident to say those things?
[05:22] Florence Welch: I just think — just sort of time. Yeah. And then my body of work now I feel like is pretty solid. And you could probably question a lot of things, but you can’t really question that there’s quite a lot of work now. There’s a lot of songs. And I think especially maybe on this last record High as Hope — spent a lot of time before I went in with other collaborators or producers really constructing the sound of it on my own. And bashing away keys really badly. But, you know, I think I felt much more comfortable to take the title of like a musician and a producer. But yeah, I mean, I think what I’m best at is performance, really. I think that’s where it all kind of comes together with me, all those sort of disparate elements. Because there is poetry and there’s music and and there is a lot of bad piano playing and like three-note songs. It’s funny because you just want so badly to take ownership over those three notes, though. It was like the song Big God — is that truly three notes? But I did play them.
[06:42] Sinéad Burke: That’s all that matters. That’s all that’s important.
[06:45] Florence Welch: That’s not that many. And there’s no chord changes. But it’s cool.
[06:56] Sinéad Burke: Who are you as a person? Who’s Florence?
[06:56] Florence Welch: Oh, and then I guess dancer, as well. So performer, musician, poet and dancer.
[07:05] Sinéad Burke: That’s not a bad resume.
[07:06] Florence Welch: Well, it’s everything I dreamed since I was a little girl. Except I did want to be on Broadway. Yeah. That was my first — I wanted to be in musicals.
[07:16] Sinéad Burke: Which musicals?
[07:17] Florence Welch: Well, my granny used to take us to see Oliver every year. No other ones, just Oliver.
[07:24] Sinéad Burke: Was that is a way to tell you that when you’re being greedy and selfish and wanting more, that these are the consequences?
[07: 31] Florence Welch: Life of crime. A life of crime seemed great. That seemed the fun but. But, yeah, only Oliver. I think I had, like — I think my brain exploded when I got taken to my first musical that wasn’t Oliver. I think I got taken to the Buddy Holly musical, which was rock and roll. And, oh my god, it was a whole new world when I started going to see other musicals as a child. My life ambition before the age of 10 was to see Starlight Express.
[08:00] Sinéad Burke: And did you get to?
[08:01] Florence Welch: I did. This is — I’ve done everything I’ve ever needed to do.
[08:04] Sinéad Burke: I’m good now. Did it inspire you to learn how to roller skate?
[08:10] Florence Welch: Yes! It really did. I mean, it was written in the ‘80s, so I don’t know what they were doing in that brief. It must have been fun when they were like, you know what we need? Trains on skates doing glam rock live. Yes! Brilliant!
[08:28] Sinéad Burke: Imagine the ads in the magazines, like, to go and audition for it. Who is Florence the person?
[08:34] Florence Welch: Wow. Okay. That is — I think I fear between being someone who is totally full of wonder and very entranced with the world and sees a lot of romance and beauty and joy. And then someone who’s just terrified. It’s like the two switches in my brain are joy and just like terror are too close together. So it flips from one to the other. And sometimes I don’t know why, but I’m probably more introverted than people would imagine. And I need a lot of time on my own. And I think a lot.
[09:14] Sinéad Burke: What do you think about?
[09:15] Florence Welch: Oh, my god.
[09:16] Sinéad Burke: Now, we’ve started, we might as well delve in What are you currently thinking about?
[09:22] Florence Welch: I’m currently thinking about — I actually find when I’m not making things, I am quite highly anxious, highly neurotic.
[09:36] Sinéad Burke: About yourself or the world?
[09:38] Florence Welch: About myself and the world. I mean, I think it’s a very anxious time to be alive. So it is a kind of narrative of all these things that are going on in the world at the moment that are making all of us super anxious. And then personal anxieties — I think when you’ve had — when you’ve been an addict and you’ve had that experience, you live with this weird fear that someone’s going to come and tell you that this new life, or this peaceful life that you made for yourself, is just a lie. And we really we know who you actually are. And everything that you’ve built for yourself, you have to leave it behind and you have to come back to the mess. And like everybody knows now. And it’s getting better, but I think you live with quite a lot of imposter syndrome. And if I’m not sort of keeping myself making things, or keeping up with meditation and self care, I am naturally self-critical. And I mean, I think that’s also a bit self-obsessed.
[10:43] Sinéad Burke: But we’re both Virgos. So I see myself in so much of this. I like to blame the universe more than I actually take it on as a personal responsibility because I kind of like to say that it’s not my fault that I am narcissistic. I have traits of perfectionism and overthink things. It is the world in which we live and the time which I’m born. Now, I’m not sure it’s the universe’s entire problem.
[11:11] Florence Welch: What is it — I think negative self-obsession.
[11:13] Sinéad Burke: Yes!
[11:14] Florence Welch: That’s is what I have. And if I’m not taking adequate care of my mental health, it goes down super fast. And then I have to kind of work my way back to ground zero. But that was when I realized, like, when I went back in the studio to do some work, post-tour, and I was making songs again and I was doing work. I came out of that and I realized I hadn’t been anxious once. And, you know, I think for the first time in my life, because I’m not drinking or taking drugs, I’m getting much more clear on what I feel. And I’m noticing what happens to me much easier. So I was like, oh, making things is my way out of myself. And it’s how I am present in the world. And I mean, I think that’s where the stage was always such a liberation for me, because for that hour and a half and studio and I mean, before I used to be drinking and doing drugs, which is super not helpful. And then on stage there is this, like — I think you’re just so present with yourself, aren’t you? And all the chatter and the negative self-talk.
[12:24] Sinéad Burke: There’s no space for it.
[12:25] Florence Welch: There’s no space! And I feel that way when I’m making things as well. And I’m so grateful to have that because I think I’m like really at my best. But then it’s fucked because I don’t know how to relax. The only way I don’t know how to be anxious is to work.
[12:43] Sinéad Burke: More after the break.
[15:01] Sinéad Burke: How do you practice that time being present when it’s not onstage or it’s not in the studio? I ask out of my own need for advice.
[15:09] Yeah, it’s really hard. I’ve been doing transcendental meditation for nearly five years now, and that’s been hugely helpful. I actually had a really bad anxiety attack yesterday. And I get this thing where I think I’m dying. The funny thing — I’m trying to unravel my anxiety and why it happens when it does. And I was having my family over for dinner and suddenly I thought I couldn’t breathe. But I know I’m having a panic attack, really. But I also really want someone to take me to hospital.
[15:44] Sinéad Burke: Just in case.
[15:45] Florence Welch: Just in case. But my my hands go tingly, my lips go tingly. I sort of think that it’s very serious and I’m about to die and I have to lie on the floor and breathe. And the problem with being the family drama queen.
[15:58] Sinéad Burke: I wouldn’t know what you mean. No clue.
[16:01] Florence Welch: Even if it was serious, they would —
[16:07] Sinéad Burke: It’s like the boy who cried wolf. They’re like ‘you’ll be fine. Just sit down.’
[16:10] Florence Welch: Yeah. The day I drop dead they’ll be like, ‘ugh, she’s being so dramatic.’ But luckily, like, it also is like my sister just comes and sits with me and she’s like, well, I will take you to hospital, but you are breathing because you’re speaking. And that kind of shook me off of it. And what happens is it does pass it, but then actually you’re just quite on edge after those things happen. But I sat in transcendental meditation and you think, ‘this isn’t gonna fucking work. There’s no way this gonna help.’ But I just tried to hold onto the mantra. I fell asleep. So meditation has been one of those powerful practices in my life. And I think also when I’m being really un-present, I do have like a prayer practice, which — I don’t know what I’m praying to. I wouldn’t say I am religious, but I think especially when you’ve been in addiction — which is a kind of self-hatred. And so much self-hatred and so much like negative self-obsession — to hand over your feelings to something that’s just not you. So I’m just like, whatever is not me. Because I, Florence, I’m not fucking dealing with this well. I just sort of sit and just ask for help. I just ask for help, like, please help. I don’t have this. It seems to be my brain that is creating this. I need something bigger than me and outside of myself to help me kind of overcome this. And then it all seems to ease. Yeah, but I’ve been having like panic attacks and anxiety for as long as I can remember.
[17:45] Sinéad Burke: If it was happening at school, was it something that your own kind of classmates understood? I’m conscious that our understanding and our language around mental health in particular has drastically improved. It’s still not where it should be, but it has drastically improved in recent times. But I imagine five years ago, ten years ago, it wasn’t the same space.
[18:06] Florence Welch: I didn’t know what it was, I think. You’re totally right. There definitely wasn’t the language for it that there is now. It was more like I would call them self-loathing attacks. Like I would just get overwhelmed with shame. It was like my whole self would be soaked in shame and rage. And I can kind of remember it from when I was so young and, like, repetitive, intrusive thoughts that I kind of couldn’t stop. And I had that from quite an early age. But unfortunately, growing up in a family where you’re were seen as the emotional one, I was almost seen as a bit hysterical, I think.
[18:45] Sinéad Burke: But that’s also easier when you’re a woman to be characterized as such. I mean, I’m Irish. The idea of living within shame, well, it comes with your passport.
[19:00] Florence Welch: I don’t know what happened to me because I don’t really remember being very religious. Why do I feel so guilty?
[19:05] Sinéad Burke: It’s the deep fount of Catholicism from years ago entrenched in the land.
[19:09] Florence Welch: My heritage is basically Celtic. So maybe it’s inherited.
[19:17] Sinéad Burke: We have so much in common.
[19:20] Florence Welch: Just inherited shame and like self-flagellation. Generations and generations.
[19:26] Sinéad Burke: But it’s tough and it’s tough, then, if you don’t have the language not only to articulate what you’re experiencing, but then to figure out what it is you need from others.
[19:35] Florence Welch: Oh yeah, I really didn’t know. And actually I think a lot of it got lost because I had quite a sort of disrupted upbringing. And then I think in the times when you’re trying to figure out how to self-soothe and you’re trying to figure out how to manage your feelings, sort of my family kind of evaporated. And what had been quite a regular middle-class upbringing turned into a sort of psychotic version of The Brady Bunch, which — I think at a quite formative time, I would have been about 10.
[20:15] Sinéad Burke: That can’t not have an impact.
[20:16] Florence Welch: Yeah, I think it did. I mean, it’s one of those things where I think especially if you’ve essentially had a privileged upbringing, which I really did, you know, I went to a really good school. You know, we lived in a nice house. And my parents were relatively affluent. I think I find it quite difficult to accept that it wasn’t great because the external stuff I was incredibly lucky to have the childhood I did. I really resonate with, do you know, the Leonard Cohen line, ‘I struggled with some demons, they were middle-class and tame.’ That kind of resonates with me.
[20:51] Sinéad Burke: It’s that space of realizing the privileges that you have and not wanting to be on a pedestal or a platform talking about how tough your life was. But also realizing that trauma and pain are trauma and pain and it’s not comparative.
[21:07] Florence Welch: You have to like — it definitely has — it’s really interesting because I think because of that I sort of refuse to look at it. Like no, no, it really can’t have been that bad because you know, like I had a nice house and I had a very good education. And you just downplay it so much, you know? But really, what happened was that my parents divorced and then what had been quite a full house, like lots of people around the house just emptied. It totally emptied. They were both having relationships outside the house. So there’s like really full house had been full of friends and family was suddenly, like, gone.
[21:47] Sinéad Burke: Everybody divides.
[21:49] Florence Welch: Everyone divides. And then if the kind of emptiness wasn’t as confusing, my mom and a family who we had known for years and years and been friends with — he had been widowed and they started having a relationship. And so then at some point we all moved in with our next-door neighbor. But I mean, my parents, literally, they did the best they could. And then when I think about what happened, that they were only about my age when all this was going down. And if I think about how little I have it together and I don’t have three kids. And just thinking about how I think my mom had been really like hurt by the divorce. And this new relationship was really important to her. But it had only been really 18 months since like the death of his wife, so his kids were devastated. We were also devastated. So there was a lot of really, really lost people suddenly all cohabiting.
[22:56] Sinéad Burke: Trying to build bridges that didn’t ever exist before.
[23:00] Florence Welch: And I think I spent a lot of my 20s not really acknowledging that at all and just sort of concentrating on the immediate chaos, which was always like my hangovers or what I’d done the night before, like what terrible person I was. And then kind of when I sobered up and got to my 30s, and I was trying to have adult relationships and maybe, you know, eventually I’d like to have a family of my own. I said, I can’t not look at it anymore.
[23:27] Sinéad Burke: Time to reflect.
[23:28] Florence Welch: Yeah, and a lot of stuff has come up, I think, in that I’ve had to talk to my stepfather because it was a really so difficult. We felt really unwanted when we moved in there. And he has actually come forward and been quite honest and been like, ‘I wasn’t over the death of my wife. And you guys’ presence in there was very difficult for me.’ So as like a 10-year-old, you’re just sucking up this feeling of like being unwanted or being in the way or doing things wrong. And if I feel like now, still, as a 33-year-old, if I feel like I’ve done something wrong or have hurt somebody’s feelings or like I’m distraught, I totally like go back. And I think a little bit sort of tying it back to the anxiety attack I had. It was ‘cause I was back in a family situation that was quite familiar to how it used to be before my parents’ divorce. And I felt this rush of joy that just turned into like white-hot terror. And I thought, oh, that’s so interesting because I find it really hard to like experience feelings of connection and family warmth without suddenly then being terrified, because I think at some point that all kind of uprooted for me.
[24:49] Sinéad Burke: It imprints upon us.
[24:51] Florence Welch: I think it does. And it’s just like a weird situation that I also don’t know like that many people who were — because all of the kids that we moved in with used to be our best friends growing up. And then we were brothers and sisters and I had two older brothers and I’d never had that before. And that dynamic of dealing with brothers, like I was the eldest sister —
[25:17] Sinéad Burke: Oh, what a demotion.
[25:18] Florence Welch: I know, I was totally demoted! And also elder brothers are mean.
[25:22] Sinéad Burke: I’m the eldest of five.
[25:24] Florence Welch: Yeah, you’re so lucky. You got to keep —
[25:26] Sinéad Burke: You say that.
[25:27] Florence Welch: Is it not?
[25:28] Sinéad Burke: No, I’m — my siblings are amazing. And I think in many ways because I’m physically disabled, a lot of the physical tasks that are given to the eldest sibling, I lucked out on not doing. You don’t have to do what your taller siblings had to do. I was like, ‘oh, if I could reach, I would.’ It has now got to the stage where I’m regularly shown where the ladder or the footstool is to go and do those things. They’re like, ‘off you go.’ I was like, oh, I can’t learn to cook. I can’t reach the oven. But I’m intrigued, earlier you defined yourself as an introvert. I’ve seen you on stage.
[26:05] Florence Welch: Yeah, I know. That’s why it’s confusing.
[26:12] Sinéad Burke: I describe myself as an extroverted introvert. In the spaces in which I feel safest, I’m an introvert. But in order to experience the world in a often accessible way, I have to perform and educate people about my own lived experience in order to be allowed to walk about. So a teeter between this dual identity of feeling just wanting to be me and in isolation, and spending time with me, but then also having to be a mediator for other people. But how do you — do you feel more of an extrovert onstage or is it a cocoon that you’re in?
[26:55] Florence Welch: When I’m onstage, I feel like there’s something that comes onto the stage with me that I wish — I’d been always trying to find ways to access it in my life. But it is this thing that comes with me and can hold spaces. I know how to hold a space. And I think it’s almost that thing, you know, when I’m anxious or I’m praying for that thing that’s bigger than me to help me. It’s almost like when I step on stage, that thing is just there, waiting. It’s like, OK, we’re going to do this. And it’s about sort of relaxing into it a bit. And it’s always when I’m sort of relaxed, when I’m not trying too hard. But it’s weird because the stage is where it’s almost like you are you most seen. But I can totally disappear as well. I feel — I’m so sort of sensitive, and on high-alert, and quite vain, and very sort of worried about how people see me, or what am I doing, or did I say the wrong thing?
[27:58] Florence Welch: And then I step onto the stage and I just don’t care about that anymore. Not even the vanity. Like, you have to put your body through so many things and you have to sing and you pull weird faces into it. None of it matters. It all just kind of worst parts of myself become useful, or they get absorbed. And it’s such a liberation for me from this sort of quite tangled person.
[28:28] It’s almost a cognitive dissonance, which I enjoy.
[28:31] Florence Welch: It’s like suddenly the things that are offstage — the anxiety and the, like, restlessness and the oversensitivity — suddenly just become so useful, you know. And you can send your energy out to bring everyone to the place with you, you know, and collect energy. And not having that layer of skin that other people have that helps them to function in daily life, which I seem to not have, actually becomes a sort of superpower.
[29:00] Sinéad Burke: But you wouldn’t be able to do what you do without that. And I take that based on my own experience. I’ve just come from speaking at a school and talking to one of the teachers afterwards they were saying, how do you do it? How do you orchestrate and conduct the audience in front of you? And not that it’s the same as performing, but I think it comes into like empathy and respect. And that idea that those are two things that I’ve had to earn, which means I understand how to wield it. And if you weren’t so cognizant of your own sensitivities, you wouldn’t be able to write music and perform in a way that moves populations.
[29:45] Florence Welch: So I try and explain to all the boyfriends I have when I’m on the floor screaming, I can’t do the job that I do if I wasn’t like this!
[29:52] Sinéad Burke: You don’t want me to be normal!
[29:57] Florence Welch: It’s like, nothing’s gonna be normal, I’m sorry. But it comes with a cost, you know, it’s like — it sometimes does make moving through the world as it is, which is incredibly hard and fast-paced and brutal and doesn’t have soft edges, makes it difficult, especially after a tour. I could get a little bit like agoraphobic and I don’t want to be looked at, which is the most Virgo thing I can ever imagine is that I want to go out dressed to the nines in all my nice clothes, but I don’t want anyone to look at me.
[30:33] Sinéad Burke: It’s a beautiful dress, but don’t dare pass me a compliment! I’m glad we’re back to blaming the universe.
[30:39] Florence Welch: I want to go out in platforms and chiffon and a feather boa, but don’t pay me any mind. I’m doing it for me, not for you.
[30:51] Sinéad Burke: But it’s challenging. And I think exactly as you said, how do you find purpose in the things that you do when your own sensitivities are what allow you to excel professionally? My parents sometimes worry for me about sharing so much of myself in a public way. I’m really exhibiting my vulnerabilities to the world and how I protect myself within it. And whilst you’re trying to do work that not only feeds you, but actually makes a difference. But then at the same time, it’s just work. And is work all of you. Is it a part of you? And like that when perhaps you’re like us in certain ways and you move through the world in a different gait than everybody else? How do you — how do you sustain the two?
[31:43] Florence Welch: It is hard. I did come — I had a little bit of a crack on the last American tour, and it was just before I start to do a tour I feel this insane pressure and I just think I can’t do it. And then actually I had something like the worst anxiety of my life. But the thing is, every time I push through and every time I’d get on that stage, I would just see the love in people’s faces. And I was even getting being quite open onstage that I was struggling, and I was having not a great time in my head, and I think people were so kind and so loving, and that really helped. But it’s funny, isn’t it, because especially on this record and I gave so much of myself to this album, and so many parts of myself that I swore I’d never even talk about to sing about. And then I think what I’ve had to do in my life is — I feel like there did used to be more of a split between the person onstage and the person offstage. And I think what I tried to do is sort of because I got famous when I was 21 or so. Which now I look at 21-year-olds and I think, ‘no! No fame for you!’
[33:02] Sinéad Burke: Go to college. Go to college.
[33:04] Florence Welch: And I remember my first-ever photo shoot. I used to chop up all my dad’s — he has this great collection of old Levi’s stuff and he’s a really stylish man. And I used to like chop up all his clothes, which I’m sure he loved. You know, just arrived at this photo shoot like wearing chopped up versions of my dad’s clothes. A little ponytail and a big grin. I remember seeing that picture in a newspaper and just looking at it and being like, no, that person — that, like, goofy young person — which now I looked at it was so sweet and but I was terrified. I was terrified of being seen. And I think that is when I allowed my imagination almost to take over. And I allowed like my love of art and all of that. And I just thought if I almost make myself like I sort of — if I treat this like an art project —
[34:00] Sinéad Burke: And make yourself a sculpture.
[34:03] Florence Welch: Yeah, like the hair went bright red, I bleached my eyebrows sort of like an alien. You know, I really wanted to dehumanize myself because I was so, so afraid of the vulnerability of just being like a kind of goofy 20-year-old, which I was. I mean, I think I was obviously talented, but I was terrified of being in the public sphere. And so I think drinking and creating a sort of almost fairy-tale character that I could live in was like a shield. And then on the third record, that sort of cracked because it’s not sustainable. It’s not sustainable. So that kind of cracked. And then I had to take myself all the way back and sort of rebuild. But actually, in that rebuilding, what has happened is that I cannot reject what has happened to me. I cannot reject that I did get famous. Well, so you’re just so sensitive. Like when you’re a little like your first getting interviews. And I think it’s doing like a German TV interview or something and I was only — it was on the first record. Sometimes they can be very blunt as well. They were like some people say that this is great. And some people say that it’s contrived. What do you think? But then if I think about it, how can it not be at that age? And you’re just kind of imagining and pulling things together
[35:33] Sinéad Burke: But it’s also when you’re writing about your own experiences, there’s such an ability for the outside world, particularly if it’s a story we haven’t heard before or if it’s not — I think if it’s a woman’s story, or if it’s a minority voice in any way, it’s so easy to link it to vanity rather than linking it to a lived experience that’s just unfamiliar.
[35:53] Florence Welch: It can’t reject what happened. And I cannot reject the creation either, because the creation kept me safe. Like the parts of me that I created kept me safe at a period when — if I think of a 20-year-old getting famous, I’m just like it’s sort of you know, it’s quite traumatic being picked apart at that age. And so I can’t reject the creation. But I also have to acknowledge that behind that, there’s been so much growth. And basically, you accept what you have become, and what you were, and you bring them together. And so I found a way almost for the onstage me and the real me to kind of become one. Yeah. And that is how much less tiring. Yeah. And it happened gradually. And I think getting sober was a big part of that. And also getting a lot of recovery from food issues. Because you just feel like duplicitous all the time because you’re kind of in the public eye, bBut you also have all these issues that you just feel like so scared of people finding out.
[36:58] Sinéad Burke: But yet once you’ve been in there it’s magnified, because it’s visible. If you’re uncomfortable with what it is you look like, it’s visible on all of the front pages of the paper.
[37:09] Florence Welch: God, for like a young — especially, I think, when I got famous, like I was, deep in that stuff, in the body dysmorphia and you know, that thing. And so to kind of be then in the public eye was just so —
[37:22] Sinéad Burke: So that’s a pathway to success.
[37:25] Florence Welch: And I mean, I tried all this stuff, you know, I said what I need to be doing the cleanses and getting like the personal trainers. And it’s kind of for me, I’m only speaking from personal experience, but it’s just all ways to dress up an eating disorder. And when I let go of all that stuff. Oh, my God. You know, just the relief. And you kind of get to meet yourself again because you’ve been so dissociative, and so at war with yourself constantly, that when you get some relief for it or you get some recovery — I now enjoy getting dressed so much more. You know that I’m not like — because I used to get up in the morning and, depending on what the scale would say, would say whether I was a good or bad person, no matter any of my achievements. It didn’t matter if I’d like one a Brit or whatever, I’d be like you failed. What a fucking crazy way to start your day. Yeah. And that’s like what the parameters of you feel like that’s how you’re achieving.
[38:32] Sinéad Burke: And it’s important to shift it. What’s the ensemble in your wardrobe that now gives you most joy? Not married with fear and terror. But just joy.
[38:42] Florence Welch: Just joy. Oh my God. I think I have now, like, figured out what I like. I think getting to 30 as well. You do — I did a lot of like sartorial experimentation in my 20s. And I mean, there was always a sort of thread of like vintage floral throughout the whole thing. But there were some weird phases. But what brings me joy? You know what, weirdly, it’s like the things I sort of wear every day. It’s nice getting into your 30s and sort of being like, I know what works for me and I can feel kind of good about. And also, I just have this orange, sort of Penny Lane shearling coat that I got at a vintage store in Berlin like eight years ago. And I’ve worn it through all the phases in my life. Like I’ve worn it careening through the street out of my mind drunk in New York. I’ve worn it like — so, you know, it’s been with me for a long time. And I worry that people — I’ve been so perhaps so many times in it that people are like, ‘you need to get a fucking new coat.’
[39:53] Sinéad Burke: Sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion. We’ll be back just after this break.
[41:10] Sinéad Burke: At 33, what’s it like to live in your body now?
[41:15] Florence Welch: Wow. Do you know what, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my body and it’s taken a long time and a lot of work. And I have almost this beautiful thing called body ambivalence. I’m not like, wow, like this hot piece.
[41:36] Sinéad Burke: It’d be weird if you were.
[41:36] Florence Welch: But I don’t wake up and think, ugh. You know, I just see it as this thing that works with me, not against me. And it has carried me through so much. And I have treated it awfully. I’ve judged it. I have bullied my body. I have attacked it. And it has been there for me in an unconditional love kind of way. And it’s still here. And I think dance had a huge part in like really healing my relationship with my body, because before I was doing all kinds of like — the first year I got sober, I was mad. I was doing my Bikram yoga and Barry’s bootcamp in one day. I mean, it was not — they, you know, when you put down one thing, you take up another thing. I was, like, heartbroken. I mean, it was weird because I was heartbroken about a guy, but I was also super heartbroken that drugs and alcohol weren’t working for me anymore. Because they had been like a defining feature of who I was. And also who I thought I was supposed to be, because it was like rock ‘n’ roll. And in order to be a rock star, I thought you just needed to be, like, invincible when it came to that stuff.
[43:00] Sinéad Burke: I don’t drink. I’ve never taken drugs. Surprise, surprise. Green over here. I have that look about me. But for me, particularly being Irish, when you say you don’t drink, people are so curious as to why. And I think in many ways I realize that it took so little to get me from a position where I was having a nice time and didn’t know who I was or where I was due to my body mass. But then also realizing that how I am allowed to exist in public spaces and then how other people react to me. I’ve had experiences in like nightclubs where people have lifted me up in the air. Men have stood in front of me and unzipped their fly in my face thinking it was banter. I remember being 18 and making this really big decision that I was like, I’m not going to put myself in a vulnerable position for others. And it wasn’t until I was much older that somebody said to me, so you don’t drink because of the world. But I also think that because of that, I have architected a personality where, as you well know, I will dance on the table that’s right beside us entirely sober. But there are moments in which I did wish I drank only for the excuse of being like, ‘did I say that? I have no memory of it whatsoever.’ But I always have a memory, sadly, even when I wish not to. When you wake up in the mornings now, what’s the monologue that’s in your head?
[44:30] Florence Welch: I need to get to the coffee. It’s terrible. Crawling to a coffee. And I really want to wean myself off it because that’s when I should be, like, writing a diary or doing something gratitude list-y. If I was trying to be really self-care. The first thing I do in the morning, which is coffee and Instagram. And I’m just really trying to fucking wean myself off that because I don’t use it for the rest of the day, just in the morning light while the coffee’s brewing I’ll be scrolling through. But I don’t think it’s setting me up for the right day.
[45:07] Sinéad Burke: What I love about Instagram and what I try to do is make my feed educational. So deliberately follow people who have lived experience I know nothing about. If you had to, or if you could, rather it had to, go back and talk to young Florence, particularly who’s maybe 10 or 12, what would you say?
[45:30] Florence Welch: It’s hard, isn’t it? There’s a period of time when I felt really unconfident in my body. And think I was overweight and think I was ugly. It’s so sad now when I see photos of me at that age because was just a cute kid and maybe had a bit of puppy fat or whatever, but everybody does. And I think I just really I wish that I could tell myself that I was enough already. Like that I was good the way that I was. I didn’t need to change anything. And also to learn already at that age to trust your body, you know, to trust your body and to — you don’t have to control everything. Because I think even at that age I started — I was losing so much control over even where I was living or now who my family was. I think that’s when the anxiety and the desire, a desperate desire for control and for safety kicks in. And the first thing you can start trying to control is your food, or the way that you look. And I think if I could just tell that person like it’s okay to let go. But it’s such a hard thing to say to a kid, isn’t it?
[46:20] Sinéad Burke: Like, yeah, what do you know?
[46:42] Florence Welch: You don’t think that they should have to know that already at that age. You should think that it should be — that they should just be having a nice time. I’d also like to tell her that I eventually did become the person that she dreamt of. You know, like, not to worry. Like this awkward, unlovable feeling that you have, you’re going to use that and you’re gonna make something beautiful with it. And you will become the person that you imagine. Because a lot of what I think about when I’m in this, when I made Florence and the Machine is like I think I’m literally like a 10-year-old’s dream. Is this — am I asleep? Is this right now just my dream as I was 10? Cause, you know, a lot of what I’ve done, it’s almost to kind of fulfill the things that I was so sort of unhappy with in myself. But what I’m glad about, it’s not in the way — I’ve achieved that not in the way that I thought I had to. Not by starving myself, not by being the most drunk person at the party. Sometimes the most fun, but often not. You know, I didn’t — you don’t know what you don’t know. You know, I got to that place of being a person that that 10-year-old would want to be by trusting my body and trusting my mind as well. Like even though I was always one of the heaviest drinkers in our group, I got the worst hangovers. More than anyone else. My body just didn’t react well to it. Like my mental health. And actually when I finally stopped, it was because I finally went like, I can’t do this my brain anymore. And trusting what my brain and my body was telling me. And through that, you know, I’ve kind of become who I am now, which is not the most together person still, but it’s better than it was. I think what’s changed for me is that, especially over the course of this record and of being more open about the things that I did struggle with, I’ve been sort of allowed to really be myself in a public sphere, which is really liberating. You feel much more sort of relaxed —
[48:59] Sinéad Burke: Well, you’ve nothing to hide.
[49:01] ddd: I’ve told everyone literally everything. I mean, literally, if you put the word like aborted threesome in a poem, you’re relieved. I feel like I’ve told everyone everything.
[49:14] Sinéad Burke: There’s nothing left to discuss. I called my mother when I was on the cab on the way here, and the last thing she said was, ‘tell Florence I said, thanks.’ She, as you very kindly did, invited my whole family to come see you when you were in Ireland. And the kindness that you showed them will never be forgotten. And it meant so much them, so much so that my family got far too comfortable calling you Flo. I was like ‘it’s Florence.’
[49:42] Florence Welch: They can call me Flo. They can call me Flossie. My family calls me Flossie.
[49:47] Sinéad Burke: Oh, this will go to their heads now. But the thing I admire most about you, among everything, is your kindness. And I’ve been the benefit of that, as so many others have been. This has been such a treat and I cannot thank you enough.
[50:02] Florence Welch: Thanks for having me. It was so, so nice. Thank you.
[50:11] Sinéad Burke: What a thoughtful conversation. Florence is incredible for so many different reasons, not just because she is talented, and powerful, and so honest about her own experiences to help us all learn and feel connected, but earlier this summer, she was so kind to all of my family. She invited them all to see her perform in concert. And I have never seen my parents and my brother and my sisters more excited. And finally, I had a use for them. But her kindness and generosity to the people I love most will never, ever be forgotten. A person you should know this week is actually not just one individual person. It’s an entity. In New York this week I got to experience something really quite incredible. I got to go to Land Gallery in Brooklyn, which is specifically and explicitly an art space for people with intellectual disabilities. I got to meet the artists and see their work and acquire some beautiful pieces that when I eventually own my own home will be framed, and decorated, and hanging on the walls and bringing joy and exuberance to the place. So if you’re not already following Land Gallery, you can find them on Instagram @LandGallery.
[51:27] Sinéad Burke: As Me with Sinéad is a Lemonada Media original, and is executive produced by Jessica Cordova Kramer. Assistant produced by Claire Jones and edited by Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Jerome Rankin. Our ad sales and distribution partner is Westwood One. If you’ve liked what you’ve heard, don’t be shy. Tell your friends or listen and subscribe on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you like to listen. And rate and review as well. To continue the conversation, find me on Instagram and Twitter @thesineadburke, and find Lemonada Media on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @LemonadaMedia.