Miel De Botton The Girl Who Dared to Dream She Could Sing
Alison Jane Reid Meets Miel de Botton
Miel Album Cover
With her halo of pale, spun golden hair and dressed in a glittery, royal blue Diane von Furstenberg dress, there is a touch of the magnetic showgirl about psychologist, turned torch singer, Miel de Botton.
An heiress, art collector and philanthropist, Miel could buy her own record label if she wanted to, but she doesn’t need to. Her album of torch songs and self- penned chansons of love, loss and longing is a stunning, sensual, irresistible, dream-like debut, and will turn her into a star; many, many years after a little girl in Switzerland was first captivated by the raw, jagged emotion of Edith Piaf.
The Dream Was Born
At that moment she dared to dream about becoming a singer, only to be forbidden from following that dream by a brilliant, overbearing father who wanted her to go to Oxford and study law.
Fast forward three decades, and Miel is now a soignée confident woman in her forties, a mother to two children, who worked for many years as a clinical psychologist in drug addiction clinics in Paris, selflessly helping to put families back together again, candidly telling me that ‘yes, it true, I think you really do only go into this profession if you’ve got problems that you’re trying to sort and we sort them out as best we can!’
Now, having worked hard on her own life, to be happy and less of a tragic heroine, through practicing mindfulness and meditation, she is embarking on a brave, daring new life as an artist and performer.
Music to heal her heart and the lives of others
Prepare to have your heart simultaneously broken to smithereens and then put back together – by a woman who truly sings from the heart, from experience and through unfinished business. A woman and eternal girl-child at heart, who is finally doing what she was put on earth to do – to use music to heal her own heart and the lives of others – how inspiring, how wonderful and how brave.
Miel’s idol for all seasons is Leonard Cohen – the eternal prince of melancholy – and her songs follow the same heartbreaking fault line of love and pain, of the ebb and flow of life’s romantic trials aired with an ethereal, magnetic cloak of longing on tracks such as ‘Beautiful You’ – while she playfully muses on the desire for a stolen kiss in ‘Embrasse Moi’ – and Dazzle Me Diamond becomes an incredibly powerful, sensual, spiritual talisman that is utterly transformative and perfect for dancing around the house when feeling blue! The mood is one of pure enchantment, a caress for the soul and it is hard to choose between Miel singing in French or English – for she is intoxicating in both languages.
The healing force of music in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital
Miel really does sing from the heart, and the process is strangely liberating, uplifting and cathartic. With her rare ability to distil heartbreak in a note, in a word, she could be Dolly Parton’s French cousin – a girl who sings like a bird of paradise, makes sassy, spirited music videos on the celebrated Sergio Leone film lot in Italy, dressed as a latterday Liberty Valance…. A girl who used to think that love had to be all ‘Romeo and Juliette, or it was boring’, but has now declared ‘enough’!
If you are in Kensington this Thursday, make a big effort to go and see her play in the intimate surroundings of The Pheasantry with her band – for soon, she will be playing very large auditoriums.
The daughter of financier, Gilbert de Botton, and sister of philosopher, Alain de Botton, Miel means God or honey in Hebrew, which really suits her, as she radiates light, genuine warmth and compassion for others and she practices it too.
A few weeks back she staged an impromptu concert in the atrium of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, which takes guts.
With understated breeziness and chutzpah, she says, “I was nervous and thrilled at the same time. The atrium is such a busy place, with people coming and going. But it was a wonderful thing to do, because it brought together my psychological background and the music and the idea of music being a healing force.”
Several years back, I interviewed the actor Simon Callow, who supports the charity Live Music Now. Simon cannot live with out music and he told me, ‘ I have seen what music can do for people; how it can heal lives’. The reaction to Miel singing chansons for patients and their loved ones was equally powerful. “ It was amazing. A lot of people stopped and stayed and listened and took pictures. At the end I had so many people come up to me saying well done we loved it – and I was signing the samplers and they brought me flowers.”
Writing and singing – a cathartic process
Miel Red Dress
Miel is very honest about singing from experience, and writing about her divorce. “Writing and singing has been a cathartic process, where I just think ‘enough now, enough tragedy, and enough pain’. I felt so much lighter and free when I became single again.”
Miel wrote the anthemic song Bad Men two years ago and she describes it as a pure steam of conscious experience. The words just kept coming out. I would just hear a line and then another one and then at the end I ask for help and say ‘Lord have Mercy’ which feels like a very positive step.”
Hard won wealth and privilege
Miel was born into a world of hard won wealth and privilege. Her father Gilbert was born in Alexandria, and was subsequently kicked out of Egypt, penniless and stateless for following in his feisty mother’s footsteps and spying for the new state of Israel. Through intellect, extraordinary will power and self- belief, he attained a first class education and moved to Switzerland. Gilbert went to work for the Rothschild’s, where he famously created a new system of wealth management for the super rich and married Miel’s mother, Jacqueline, a pragmatic, elegant homemaker, who oiled the wheels for her clever, capable husband to function at his optimum best. As a child, Miel wanted for nothing, accept her father’s approval. He was secretly a rather romantic, passionate man, who loved to sing chansons out loud, around the house, but he would never have allowed his daughter to become an itinerant artist!
Her perfectionist father expected her to follow an academic life, and aged eleven, She was dispatched to the English seaside, to Roedean, where she was thoroughly homesick and absolutely hated the food and the culture of the English public school system, which seemed to glory in deprivation. Miel wanted to study psychology; but her father wouldn’t hear of it. “He said it might as well be flower arranging! He wanted me to study law. He thought I would make a good lawyer, and that was that.” Later, he would relent, and agree that she could study to become a psychologist; but only once she had graduated from Oxford first.
As a result of having such an overbearing father, Miel has struggled most of her life to make her own decisions. And yet there is no doubt that she completely adored and looked up to her brilliant father. “ I loved our trips to museums, and I was looking forward to him teaching me about philanthropy, but he died suddenly, before we got the chance. It was a very traumatic time in my life, as I was moving to England to be closer to him.” Paradoxically, it was only after his death, in 2000, that she finally gave herself permission to begin to act on those childhood, secret dreams.
Doors open after fresh start in London
“I moved to London and it was really after my divorce that I started to feel lighter, happier in myself and more free and these doors to a singing career began to open. It all started with The Electricians Ball. My friend Sheila is a Pilates teacher and she is in a disco band. We would often have a boogie and sing together, after a class, and one day we were just dancing around my bedroom and she gave me a mike and she said, ‘you are good enough to come and perform on stage with me at my next gig’.”
Miel admits she was completely terrified and elated at the same time. “It was a black tie event for hundreds of people. “I did it, and the audience was wonderful. They kept saying ‘yeah, yeah, you’re good, keep going’.”
The opportunities kept coming. “ I met a voice coach through my children’s nanny and she said I had a ‘very pretty voice’ and I started to take voice lessons. Then I met Andy Wright, my producer at an event for the Weizmann Foundation. He was very stern with me to begin with, because he is a very serious producer. He has worked with The Eurythmics, Mick Hucknall and Geoff Beck. I showed him my performances and the songs I had started to write, and he said he was interested in working with me.”
Songs come to life
Andy has certainly delivered a dazzling first album from his remarkable new protégée. “ He is amazing to work with,” says Miel. “He really pushed me to write my own songs. He really encourages and champions the talent of others. I would work on a song and the melody, and then we would work together to piece it all together. It has been the most incredible experience. When I see my songs come to life, I cry every time, I has been the most moving, creative, amazing journey.”
Sitting in the library of an elegant South Kensington Hotel, Miel declares that following her dream and becomes a singer and songwriter, has finally freed her to live a happy, fulfilled and joyful life and to banish the idea that love or indeed life has to be complicated to be worth having.”
“When I sing, I really give it my all, and I feel that the audience feels that, and I feel connected with them. There is this wonderful feeling when people are really listening to you. You feel it. Then, at the end, when they come up to you, you share the joy, the experience and the emotion. Now I just want to keep going and do more and more.”
As for her father, she likes to think that he is looking down on her and singing with her. “When he sang, he would become someone completely different. He turned into this rather flamboyant,sentimental and rather romantic character – my mother and I were discussing this the other day. She said ‘ you are so romantic’, as if it were a bad thing, and I said, ‘yes, I am my father’s child and I am happy about that’.”
Alison Jane Reid Copyright November 2014 Updated September 2016