Unlike Amy Winehouse, Florence Welch has never quite lost herself to the dark side of rock and roll. But she has teetered on the brink a few times and has a sense of what it might feel like to plunge, as the Rehab singer did, headlong into the abyss.
“Her death is such a devastating loss. I can’t believe she’ll never make another record,” says the flame-haired pop siren who records as Florence + the Machine.
“It can be lonely being on tour. There is a lot of time when it is just dead time. You start to drink to get through it, to make things more entertaining. It becomes this endless cycle. I can definitely see how the loneliness and boredom could get to you.”
Florence doesn’t, it must be said, appear particularly weighed down by the burden of fame this morning. Installed in the creaky ground-floor suite of one of those romantically shabby hotels in which London seems to specialise — the garden is pure Alice in Wonderland, the downstairs loo something out of Dickens — the 24-year-old wears a floppy-brimmed hat and Patti Smith-style waistcoat.
Seated so that the golden afternoon light is behind her head and shining into your face, she looks every centimetre the ethereal songbird. So it’s surprising to hear that she has started to tire of her otherworldly image and is eager to move on.
“Karl Lagerfeld recently shot me for Japanese Vogue and wanted to bring out my androgynous side,” she reveals. “I was definitely drawn to that. Most people want to shoot me so that I’m floaty. When he suggested I put on a suit I jumped at it.”
A former art student and punk singer, Welch moves in rarefied circles nowadays. Some months before Lagerfeld sought her out she flew to Las Vegas at the invitation of Jay-Z and spent the night partying with a posse of A-listers including Rihanna, Beyoncé, Kanye West and half a dozen movie stars.
How far she has travelled since the fateful evening three years ago when her future manager Mairead Nash discovered her singing “half blathered” and with mascara streaking her face in the toilet of a Soho nightclub and offered to represent her on the spot.
“Hanging out with Jay-Z and Rihanna was a totally pinch-me moment,” says Welch, who is gearing up for the release of her second album Ceremonials.
“There were also all these Hollywood stars there. It was at New Year’s, which was probably just as well. Had it been at any other time it would have been overwhelming. Everyone was so drunk that I think it was okay. I fell off a table at one point.”
Florence speaks candidly about her relationship with the bottle. As she is eager to stress, she’s never been in danger of becoming the next Amy Winehouse. Nonetheless, the success of her debut LP Lungs, which sold a remarkable two million copies, has put her under enormous strain. Who can blame her for throwing herself into the comforting arms of her mini-bar night after night?
She was, she says, especially reliant on booze early on when she would be frequently overcome with stage fright.
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