Charlotte Gainsbourg's half-sister: The darker daughter, Lou Doillon, comes out of the shadows

Charlotte Gainsbourg's half-sister Lou Doillon has made an acclaimed debut album. Charlotte Cripps meets her

It hasn't been easy being Lou Doillon, 30, the daughter of Jane Birkin and the half-sister of Charlotte Gainsbourg, Serge's daughter. “We all lived in a bit of a mad house,” she says. But now, after years of living in the shadow of one of France's most famous families – “I couldn't have gone on smiling at their premieres or awards shows while nothing was happening in my own life” – she has just released her debut folk album, Places, in the UK, having won Best Female Artist at Les Victoires de la Musique, the French version of the Brit Awards, a few months ago, making history by winning it with a first album.

Today looking very stylish, Doillon, who was the face of Givenchy, is dressed in black with a cream blouse and foppish cuffs with a giant-brimmed hat. She has come on a day trip to London from Paris, where she lives in the bohemian district, Bastille, with her son Marlowe, 10. She talks without holding back – in perfect English – as she does on her album of confessional folk songs about love, regret and obsession.

The songs are presented in a sophisticated and broken husky voice – with an American drawl: “I.C.U.” is about missing somebody; “Same Old Game” is about betrayal by a man; and “One Day After Another” is about getting off the merry-go-round of life to take time over things, which is certainly what Doillon has done.

The daughter of indie film director Jacques Doillon, she says that, for the last 10 years, she has lived largely as a “recluse” in Paris – “we can do that in France due to the strict French privacy laws”. She would not have done anything with her songs had not her mother's friend Etienne Daho, a singer and record producer, visited her little house, which is painted black inside with books everywhere, and convinced her to let him produce and record her album last year.

“All I wanted was for it to be recorded in the minimum of time at a crummy place near to me with no superstars on it. We did it very quickly in 10 days.”

Her mother is now “my biggest fan,” she says. “She is very sweet about it and says that when she gets on stage to sing she now has my songs in her head.” Her sister Charlotte is still getting used to not being the only sibling in the limelight. “Charlotte was slightly taken aback when somebody stopped her on the street to talk about my album. I told her: 'I've had to put up with this for the last 30 years – I can't walk a metre without somebody talking to me about you. You are going to have to get used to it as I'm not going to stop singing for sure.' It changes the dynamics in the family. It takes a bit of time for the rest of the family to adapt.”

So, after years of feeling like an outsider, Doillon, who has now finally won over the hearts of the French people, is basking in her own success. As a child she felt like “Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man” in her family. “My family were in the press a lot and I think my mother tried to hide me to protect me, but it makes you wonder, 'why they are all hiding you?'. She became rebellious aged nine with dreadlocks, then piercings, tattoos, and tons of make-up, which was a horrifying vision for her chic family. She quit school at 15. ”I guess I started wanting to be the Christmas tree so that people would notice me,“ says Doillon.

Her childhood in Paris was intense, with too many larger-than-life characters in one family – “but a lot of love”. Serge Gainsbourg, her mother's former partner, whom Doillon called “Papa Deux”, was always at home with them despite the fact Birkin was with her father. She lived with Charlotte and photographer Kate Barry, from her mum's first marriage to the James Bond composer John Barry.

Her father left Birkin when Doillon was eight, after Serge Gainsbourg died, because Birkin was consumed with grief. On her father's side she has three more half-sisters – film director, Lola, 38, student Lili, 18, and Lena, two.

But, despite spending all her school holidays in the UK staying with her uncle Andrew Birkin and her cousins at his farm in North Wales and his London house in High Street Kensington, or with her late grandmother, the actress and Noel Coward's muse, Judy Campbell, in Chelsea, she no longer spends any time here.

“I live like a strange immigrant in France – we only cook English food, my son speaks English and drinks Horlicks before he goes to bed. My mother is completely integrated as a French woman and she has a French flag in her house. As soon as I arrive in England, I feel very foreign and French.”

It wasn't until Doillon had therapy that she realised she was “raised to be a muse”. She has since broken the pattern after dealing with heartbreak when the musician Thomas-John Mitchell left her less than a year after their son Marlowe was born, and she has emerged more like “one of the men in her family” – a creator, not a muse.

Doillon began acting aged six, playing her mother's daughter along with sister Gainsbourg in Kung-fu Master!. Her dad cast her in a juicy role in Trop (peu) d'Amour aged 14. But now she has decided to call it a day with family collaborations because it has “hurt both my parents”. “My mother put me in her autobiographical directorial debut Boxes in 2007 and my dad cast me in his movie Me, You and Us [A Child of Yours] last year to help get me back into movies recently – I told them: ”Stop! Go and find another actress. It doesn't count with critics because I am your daughter.“

She was a self-imposed “hermit” for more than 10 years when, at 19, her life changed when her cousin Alexander Birkin, known as Anno, to whom she was very close, was killed in a car crash in Milan, along with his band Kicks joy Darkness, and she got pregnant. “I lost everything at 19 – the movie industry turned their back on me – at 20 I was stuck in a house like a little granny with a child in my arms.”

She survived by reading her favourite letters by French poets by chandelier-light at theatres across France for a few years, as well as the odd well-paid fashion campaign. She also wrote songs, but never with the ambition of getting them heard. “Now everybody stops me in the street and says, 'Keep on going, don't stop making music, we love you”.

Lou Doillon's 'Places' is out now

*This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of Radar Magazine

Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution