Location: Bistrotheque, Bethnal Green, London
We ate: Blueberry pancakes for me and a full English breakfast for Natalia
The number of times Natalia sang to me across the table: 2
Many establishments have tried and failed to emulate the ambiance of Bistrotheque on a Saturday afternoon. A bright white light floods the large open space in stark contrast with the softer glow that emits from dozens of bulbs that hang casually from the ceiling, illuminating the extravagant diners. The room is buzzing with animated conversation, peals of laughter between couples that looked as though they had jumped out of a Kooples campaign and groans belonging to beautifully dressed girls, clutching Bloody Marys and nursing the remnants of a riotous Friday night out. It was here, in my beloved regular eatery, that I agreed to meet Natalia Kills.
At the reservations desk, I was politely informed that my party was already seated. The waitress weaved effortlessly through the incandescent crowd, gesturing for me to follow suit. I was guided to an intimate corner table, where I was met with a mesmerizingly dark pair of bambi-esque eyes. Natalia sat elegantly at the table like an exquisite china doll, dressed head-to-toe in black, her signature main of poker straight raven hair was a swept up into a chic military style hat. She was so much smaller than I had imagined her to be, not only in height but she also had a lithe figure to match. I tend to find that this is often the case when meeting people that you have only ever seen on television.
She stood to greet me and outstretched a tanned petite hand, I shook it and we exchanged kisses. She smiled warmly and said: “Monicha! I am Natalia, so lovely to meet you.”
The first thing that struck me about Natalia was her knowing eyes; they were the kind of evocative eyes that have seen it all. Later, as the words began to spill from her lips, I would discover that I had been right about those eyes, they really did tell a thousand tales.
After we had exchanged pleasantries, the waitress arrived to take our order on her iPad. Natalia ran her long scarlet finger nail up and down the menu and declared: “I am fucking ravenous, what’s good here?” I informed her that people travelled from all over the city for Bistrotheque’s pancakes and signature full English breakfast. She smiled gleefully and those dark eyes shone like marbles, she leant back in her chair and declared: “Fuck it, the full English breakfast it is then!”
As I listened to Natalia I speak, I was struck by her accent, which was impossible to tie down to one place. It was reminiscent of every accent from every country around the world entwined. Natalia said nonchalantly: “Well, I lived in Barcelona when I was two, I was on a beach in Miami at three, a house in Jamaica at four, on a plane to Hong Kong at five and skiing in France at six.”
She laughed softly and added: “So that might explain the accent!”
Although Natalia spent a vast majority of her childhood visiting some of the most exotic countries all over the world, you may not necessarily count her hometown of Bradford as one of them. Natalia was born and educated in Bradford, but travelled to a different country every month or so throughout her childhood.
Natalia revealed: “Every weekend that I wasn’t in school, we were in London or somewhere else. It was the lifestyle my parents lived, always in a hotel, on a speed boat, on a plane, on a beach, or in a hotel room.”
Her tone then became noticeably softer, she looked up at me and solemnly said: “We were everywhere, but never really anywhere if that makes sense. It had to be that way; my parents had to protect what they had built.”
From the outside, Natalia and her family seemed to have it all. She said: “I went to private school, we had a big house, a driver. My father had a Porsche and a fleet of other cars. We had CCTV, guards and this was all locked behind big beautiful gates.”
To say that Natalia had an unconventional childhood is a grave understatement. Her early years were extravagant, but also plagued with darkness. Throughout our lunch, she would casually mention situations and memories that would physically stop me in my tracks.
For the first time that afternoon, a dark cloud hung precariously over us. It was a hauntingly beautiful thing to see her speak so freely about a time that must have been deeply traumatic. She opened up like a book and the story of how her seemingly fairy tale childhood began to unravel in the most horrendous way.
Natalia sighed and fingered her magnificent bejewelled statement necklace. She became noticeably sombre, she said: “One day, the police came and the next moment my father was in jail and absolutely everything we had was gone. My parents lost everything and to be honest to this day they still haven’t recovered. When I got older, I didn’t talk to either of them much because by then, I had given them all my money, I couldn’t help them anymore.”
Natalia held her chin in her hands and her tone became hushed and intimate: “Bradford is the town that God forgot about. Ambition there is at a bare necessity level. You try not to go to jail, get pregnant before your 13th birthday, lose teeth or get addicted to heroin. It’s that bleak, suburban hopelessness that comes with living in a place that isn’t relevant. Where nothing you do may be important or change the universe.”
She elaborated with immense clarity in her voice: “I only had instability at the time. During those years trapped in Bradford, nothing was ever fucking normal, nothing was ever right.”
Although Natalia had been based in Bradford for the vast majority of her childhood, she only really experienced Bradford fully from the age of twelve. “I used to knock around with boys at punk clubs, kiss lads with shaved heads, guys that drive too fast, date girls too young. I used to pretend I was 16 and they would pretend they were 18, when really they were 24 and I was 13. At the time, it all felt right and it was magic.”
She recalled: “I was consumed with pop culture, ecstasy culture and rave culture. Listening to The Prodigy, driving around with men that were far too old for me, looking for Jesus, looking for love, looking for a daddy, looking for money, looking for anything that was better than what I had.”
Natalia’s road led her to the furthest thing from redemption. Seeking salvation from the chaos she endured, Natalia joined a cult. The cult enticed her, by proclaiming that they ‘were not a religion, but a gathering of people united under a personal relationship with God.’
Natalia pondered: “It was a really strange environment to be in. You weren’t allowed friends that were ‘outsiders’ unless you were trying to convert them.”
The cult brainwashed its members into believing that they were going to hell if they disobeyed the rules of the cult. Natalia smiled sadly as she explained that although the cult could be suffocating at times, it made her feel accepted, loved and empowered.
Suddenly, she laughed darkly and said: “No one involved had a healthy mind that was how the cult got you. They told me that God had chosen me to be a part of it and that I was more powerful than others. They promised to take care of me and made me feel as though I was really part of something for the first time.”
After three years with the cult, the façade began to crack. She revealed: “I wasn’t allowed to question anything they did or said and after a while I began to doubt the whole organisation. The truth began to flood through and I realised that the cult no longer served a purpose to me, so I left.”
I had been so transfixed with Natalia’s story that I hadn’t realised that the waitress was standing next to us, patiently waiting to clear our table. That is the kind of effect Natalia has, she is captivating, she completely draws you in until the rest of the world fades away.
After the table had been cleared, Natalia nonchalantly swung her feet out from under the table and asked whether I liked her shoes. It transpired that I did, she wore a pair of glittering grey loafers emblazoned with bows. Natalia explained that she had bought them from Russell & Bromley on a whim after the boots that her best friend (the celebrated New York rapper Angel Haze), bought her, hurt her feet.
She laughed warmly as she stroked her ankle, “I am in a bad mood with Angel today, she bought me these beautiful Balenciaga boots for fun. I loved them so I wore them every day, but now I have a big fucking hole in my foot. It is all Angel’s fault, because of those fucking boots. I adore the girl, she is my favourite person, but fucking hell my feet hurt.”
Throughout her father’s stint in prison, Natalia would write letters and poems to him to keep his spirits up. Those heartfelt letters and poems soon became songs. It was around this time when celebrity blogger Perez Hilton discovered one of Natalia’s self-penned and produced tracks on Myspace and blogged about it on his infamous website.
In many ways Natalia claims that Perez may have saved her life, she sighed deeply and said: “I don’t know what would have happened to me if Perez hadn’t written that piece. He saved my life and I don’t think he even knows it. Suddenly, it was as though all of that shit such as jail, being cheated on and everybody that didn’t love me back were gone. I had left the darkness and was now bathed in light.”
Natalia then fled England for the bright lights of Hollywood with hopes of becoming a successful songwriter weighing heavily on her heart.
Natalia delicately bit her lip as she described her move to the city of lost angels. She said: “I had ruined my fucking life in England, I was a disaster. The couple of friends I still had, I didn’t want to impose on them anymore; it was crazy. So I fucked off to Hollywood.”
Natalia is a perfect paradox. From first glance she is petite with a delicate frame but then she opens her mouth and she is far from timid. She has an infectious roaring laugh that makes you never want it to stop. It was at this moment that that endearing laugh escaped from her lips, it was so loud that diners on neighbouring tables, turned to look at us. Most of the diners took a double take and then smiled sweetly at us before returning to their meals. That is the kind of effect Natalia has on people, myself included.
Natalia revealed that she flitted around Hollywood making empty claims to everyone she encountered. She threw her head back and her hand rested on her throat as she laughed, she said: “I told people who I wanted to be as if I already was. I said that I was an accomplished song writer and an artist, who was in Los Angeles to record my album.”
Natalia would often spend her afternoons in Versace on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. On one of these fantastical afternoons, Natalia was trying on a glittering gown that she could never afford when a strange man approached her and told her that she “looked like a star.”
She smiled devilishly as she recalled, “I was an arsehole. Of course I looked like a bloody star, I was wearing $25,000 worth of Versace that I could never afford.”
Natalia showed the man her MySpace profile and the article Perez had written. The man then told her to come and meet his boss who was looking for songwriters at the time.
That infamously infectious laugh escaped from her lips as she said: “Like a weirdo, I just jumped into his car. You have to understand that, at that point I had nothing to lose. I rarely come across dreams to be able to say no to them, but I certainly do not say no to a good dream.”
The next thing Natalia knew, she was outside a palatial house in the glittering Hollywood Hills. She recalled: “I was lead to this massive table and sat next to this guy who was texting on his phone. Then he looked up and it was fucking Will.I.am!”
She laughed coyly before adding, “I asked him what he was doing there and he told me that it was his house and asked what I was doing there!”
It transpired that the man that Natalia had met in Versace was Will.i.am’s dj. In no time Natalia was writing songs for Will.i.am and his over projects, but after a while Natalia found that the arrangement was not enough.
Natalia smiled nostalgically and said: “I was such an arsehole. I told Will that I really, really, really wanted a fucking record deal. He then asked me if I could sing and I told him that I couldn’t really.”
It was then that I had to interrupt Natalia, I told her that I didn’t believe for a second that she couldn’t sing. In that very moment, across the table in bustling Bistrotheque, Natalia shrugged and then began singing her critically acclaimed track ‘Saturday Night’ softly to me. I was absolutely floored, it was a beautifully uninhibited moment. For the record, the girl can definitely bloody sing.
After that initial conversation with Will.i.am, Natalia continued to write for him and sung every day. Eventually he offered her a record contract that she gratefully accepted. Natalia looked up at me through a feather of dark eyelashes and said gleefully, “The best part of it was that all the bullshit I spouted when I got to Hollywood was finally coming true. Then the panic set in because I knew that I now had to fucking follow through because I had gone around telling half of the town that shit.”
Natalia had nothing but praise for Will.i.am, she said: “Will is a genius, he’s great fun to work with. He is strange, exciting and energetic in all the right ways.”
Soon after, Natalia released her debut album Perfectionist. Speaking of the album she pondered: “’Perfectionist’ was me in my most basic form. My life was shit and I wanted it to be better, I craved perfection because it was the one thing I never ever had.”
Natalia’s follow up album ‘Trouble’ is still currently dominating the charts in over ten countries, even almost three months after its initial release.
‘Trouble’ reflects Natalia’s realisation that she’ll never have perfection. She took a sip of her cappuccino, licked her lips and said with complete clarity, “Fuck perfection and everything it stands for. I don’t want a pre-conceived idea of right or wrong. Fuck that. That idea is what put my father in jail when he didn’t deserve it. That idea didn’t protect me from being a lost teenager, who had to join a cult to feel accepted. It’s trouble now, I don’t care whether it is good or bad. It is real and it is mine, no one else’s.”
As Natalia spoke about ‘Trouble’ I felt as though this was her at her best. As the words fell from her lips, I felt inspired. She was so passionate that you couldn’t help but feel completely engaged with every word she said. She leaned in closely to me and declared: “It is like I have this big fucking scar on my face and I want to cover it up so that I look beautiful, because winners don’t have scars. However, I am the girl with the big fucking scar who has run out of make-up and the energy to cover it up. I have chosen to make the worst moments of my life important, not just mistakes.”
She leaned back in her chair and said frankly, “I’m nothing special. I am a normal girl who writes songs about my fucked up, abnormal life. I’m not trying to be this masterpiece of originality because I am truly not. I’m an ordinary girl, but nobody has my extraordinary story. It’s the only thing that I have, that’s truly mine.”
I looked around the restaurant and realised that the glowing bulbs that had hung gracefully from the ceiling were now beaming down on us as the afternoon drew to a close. I had been so engrossed in Natalia and her extraordinary life that I hadn’t realised that we had been talking for over three hours.
After the bill had been settled, I offered Natalia a lift to her boyfriend’s house.
As we drove through the city, chasing the sun Natalia turned to me and said: “In life there are no guarantees. It doesn’t matter if it feels like time has stopped, it hasn’t. Saturday night will roll around once more and everyone will put their dancing shoes on and celebrate youth, freedom and love.”
She added: “Everyone says life gets better, but does it? Time doesn’t heal, maybe money, good sex and forgiveness heals but time does fuck all. Life is not fair, it never will be fair. So you either stay on the pavement, or say fuck it and put your dancing shoes on.”
As Natalia and I said our goodbyes, we promised to meet up again soon and I truly hope that we do. It is not often that you meet someone so interesting that they leave a lasting impact long after you have said farewell. Natalia was an absolute riot, warm, articulate, frank and hilarious. There is no denying that Natalia and her music are not for the faint-hearted but I find that the best things in life often aren’t.
Ten Questions We Ask Everyone
1. What did you want to be when you were younger?
2. If you could offer advice to your twelve-year-old self, what would it be?
Do more drugs and have sex with more people, stop caring what other people think. All that cult stuff, being good and getting into heaven? I don’t know. I’ve been to heaven, it’s usually between the sheets of someone else’s bed.”
3. You have 24 hours, with no travel restrictions, how would you spend it?
I would do a nude for Salvador Dali. I heard he masturbates on his subjects after he’s finished painting them. That’s okay, I can handle it. Stranger stuff has been happening to me lately, it’s fine.
4. The most exciting thing that has happened to you this year?
In the same day, I was on vogue.com and dailymail.co.uk as the best dressed people for Fashion Week. That really excited me, I mean it’s like the highs of the highs and everything else.
5. The film that you can watch over and over yet never tire of?
I like films that have bits in them that resemble how my life has been, where I’m like, “I remember when that happened to me.” Anything from Girl Interrupted, Trainspotting, Boys Don’t Cry and Clockwork Orange.
6. The song that always makes you emotional?
My song ‘Marlboro Lights’, it is a song I wrote about being in love with someone who doesn’t love you back as much. Every time you have an argument, every time they walk out and they leave you there and you’re crying on the bedroom floor and you want to just die. You want to just jump off of the roof. You want to walk out in front of a bus. You’d do anything for a bullet. That kind of real emotional pain. And just that one image of them maybe being with you again, the way they just touch your face or smoke their cigarette. That one thing that they do, the way they do it and no one else does it? If you could just have that moment once more, that’s why you don’t kill yourself and that’s why you don’t punish them and you don’t leave them and you let them come back every single time. You live for that moment.
7. If you could spend an entire day with anyone uninterrupted who would it be?
8. It is Friday night at midnight, where are most likely to be?
If I knew, then it would probably be the most boring Friday ever because I’m never in the same place twice. The whole point is not knowing. That’s the joy isn’t it? That’s the fucking point.
9. What is your biggest vice?
Chardonnay and oxy.
10. How would you like to be remembered?
How can that most charming and beautiful one in the whole party be so disturbed, debaucherous and rude? That thing where everything looks so right but it’s so bad for you and you still want it and you don’t regret it even with the consequences. That’s how I want to be remembered.
Follow Natalia Kills on Twitter: @NataliaKills
Visit Natalia Kills’ official website: www.nataliakills.com
Buy ‘Trouble’ here.
Special thanks to Suzan Masters and Stephanie Pak.