Suzanne Baum chats to singer Miel de Botton, who has a new album out next year
Stepping out from the shadow of her famous brother, the philosopher and writer Alain de Botton, was never going to be easy for the singer known as Miel. As the only sibling of the novelist, who has been hailed as one of the most recognized philosophers in Europe, de Botton admits she has at times felt insecure in her own right.
However, that all looks set to change following a new career path she has taken as a singer, a path that has not only seen a newly released single under her belt but an album due out next month too.
“Being a singer is a dream I always had but it was one I had to keep a secret for a very long time,” explained Miel, who lives in Hampshire. “Now was the right time to find my voice and give my passion to be a performer a chance before it was too late.”
Although she does not criticise her strict upbringing, it seems likely the real reason she didn’t follow her love of music until now was because of her Egyptian-born father Gilbert. A Jewish banker who moved to Switzerland as head of Rothschild Bank and left a family trust fund of more than £200 million when he died aged 65, he encouraged his daughter to exceed in other ways by following an academic path.
“My father put strong pressure on Alain and I to work hard, he was a perfectionist,” recalled Miel, who was born in Zurich. “However, this meant I wasn’t encouraged to follow my passion for music.”
Instead, at her father’s persuasion, she studied law at university, sticking it out despite wanting to give it up.
“I didn’t enjoy the course and even after university when I went on to Paris to study clinical psychology I didn’t feel totally fulfilled.
“The whole time I was struggling to find something to fuel my love for music. As my brother succeeded and became extremely successful in his work I would sometimes find it difficult.”
Now Alain, she points out, is her biggest fan and is someone she runs her songs by first before anyone else. “He has encouraged me the whole way to follow my heart with singing and is hugely supportive of everything I do.”
It wasn’t until a few years after her father’s death that de Botton, a divorced mother of two, decided to try and find her feet in the music industry. After doing a couple of low-profile gigs with friends, a chance meeting set up by a friend of her yoga teacher with music producer Andy Wright (whose credits include collaborations with Mick Hucknall, Jeff Beck and Eurythmics) was the breakthrough she needed.
“We clicked instantly,” de Botton says. “He understood me, my music and my creativity and it felt wonderful to unleash this desire for music that I had kept inside of me for so long.”
A lot of her work on her new album Magnetic is inspired by the artists she loves; anything from chart music to artists such as Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. Her interest in classical love songs in French, Spanish, Italian and English is also incorporated in her work.
“Music has always given me a sense of joy and freedom. Even when I trained and took up work as a psychologist in Paris I would encourage my patients and friends to listen to music to help them. Music is a wonderful release.”
It was through her father that de Botton first fell in love with the chansons. He would sing them to her from an early age. “I was in wonder at the beauty and emotion in these songs. As a child I sang in choirs as a hobby and it was so uplifting.”
A member of Westminster Synagogue, de Bototn encourages her children to get involved in the religion, having had fond memories of loving Jewish rituals growing up, in particular singing the Manishtana at the family Seders.
Work on her debut single Bad Men, which was released in September, has been a strong learning curve but the feedback has been very positive, she says.
She adds: “It’s unusual to make it as a singer later in life but I don’t regret the other jobs I did before. My legal career has become very useful when I have to look at the legal music contracts and my work as a psychologist helped me find myself and give me the confidence to get to where I am today.
Magnetic is released on 2 February
For more details, visit www.mielmusic.co.uk