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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
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.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn