Cautionary Wife Posted February 4, 2007 Share Posted February 4, 2007 SUNDAY HERALD By Peter Ross Sunday 04 February 2007 IF EVER an artist seemed tailor-made for pop success, cut from the gaudy cloth of the mainstream, it is Mika. So it feels right that I meet him in Savile Row, London, where his publicist has an office. At the start of the year, within the media and entertainment industry, a consensus built around Mika - 2007 belongs to him. What's surprising is how quickly that prophecy has proved true. His single, Grace Kelly, rose to number one on downloads alone, and remains at the top of the charts. In less than a month, Mika has gone from a whisper to a star. "I feel giddy," he says. "I giggle in radio interviews, and my friends tell me off because my laugh embarrasses them." He has a shrill titter somewhere between Kenneth Williams and a six-year-old with a naughty secret, and his ambiguous accent - a real posh spice - reflects his multicultural background. His father Michael is American, his mother Jonny is Lebanese. He was raised in Paris and London. Goofier and younger-looking in the flesh than in his male-modelish official photographs, at 23 Mika retains the newborn-foal awkwardness of a teenager reeling from a growth spurt. Six foot two in tight blue jeans, white trainers, a red jacket and two scarves, one grey wool, the other striped silk, he resembles a French exchange student circa 1986. Somewhere in the office a phone is ringing; it's probably the young John McEnroe asking for his hair back. We are talking in a small glass-walled room. Mika keeps reaching on to the desk and bringing a scented candle to his nose. Occasionally he dips the index finger of his right hand into the top of a fairy cake then licks off the cream and sprinkles. On the bookshelf behind him I can see the complete novels of Gabriel GarcÃƒÂa MÃƒÂ¡rquez. That seems appropriate. Mika's whole life has been a balance of magic and realism. "You were asking me how does it feel to be doing so well with the downloads and the chart," he says. "Well, the pressure's there, but I have so many things in my bag that no one has heard yet, including all the songs on the album. I feel like a child who still has half his presents to open, and it's two months past Christmas, and he has kept them under the dying tree." He's certainly enjoying the success of Grace Kelly, a song aimed at a record company exec who once suggested he attempt to become the new Craig David. Its ubiquity is an act of revenge, "a perfect example of sustained, planned passive-aggression". I ask whether he will suit being famous. "I don't know. People have asked me that on air and I go uncomfortably silent." Jodi Marr, a US songwriter and producer who has worked intensively with Mika, including co-writing Grace Kelly, believes his unconventional upbringing has prepared him for life in the public eye. "He was born to this," she says. "If you meet his family, any one of them could be a star in any arena of the arts. They are such colourful people. I'd say they are like the von Trapps from The Sound of Music, but it's more than music. Some of the sisters speak Chinese and Mandarin. One was an MTV DJ. He comes from a big family so he is certainly used to the theatrics involved in that, the dramas and storytelling." Mika is the middle child of five. He has a brother FortunÃƒÂ© and three sisters - Yasmine, Paloma and Allegra. "We are a little bit strange," he grins. "We've had so much reality shoved down our throats, because of circumstances growing up, that we react as a family by being very unreal and kind of bohemian and artistic and trying to find all the ways in life that you can create an alternate world to survive in. We are a pretty fantastical bunch of people to be around. God help you if you ever end up in the same hotel as us on holiday." "You're noisy?" I ask. "We are the kind of family that people get really annoyed about then they are really sad when we leave. It was always like that when we changed schools when we were younger. The teachers gave us so much trouble but would cry when we left." Mika was born Mica Penniman in Beirut in 1983, during the Lebanese civil war. "My family was evacuated to Cyprus and then we ended up in Paris," he recalls. "So many family members went there. Growing up I was surrounded by Lebanese people. There was this whole community with typical cheek-pinching and hugging and loudness and speaking Arabic. So I got both cultures. I was a little French Parisian boy but at the same time I was very much Lebanese. "If you walk into my family house now it's obviously a Lebanese household. The food, the smell, the warmth of it. There's always people hanging out. Even when I'm on the road, friends of mine will be hanging out with my family. It's very loud and embracing and there's always something to get excited about or have a big family argument over." Although his father worked in finance, and was himself the son of a US diplomat, Mika denies being a rich kid. "My parents spent every penny they had on our education and my music teachers and art teachers for all of us. My father had a good job most of the time, but he also got into a lot of trouble because my mother always overspent on us. We weren't glamorous. We didn't have a fantastic lifestyle. But we certainly got the education they wanted us to get." Creativity was emphasised? "Yeah, absolutely. It wasn't about number-crunching or playing chess. It was about being really stimulated and working hard." His parents weren't musical, but loved to play records. "When I grew up in Paris, the stuff that was on the family hi-fi was everything from Serge Gainsbourg to Jacques Brel to Joan Baez to Fairuz, so I had a very eclectic musical palate and that meant I've never been a snob about music." The Pennimans moved to London when Mika was still a child. They had recently gone through a very difficult time. "My father went on a business trip to Kuwait and the night he was there the Gulf War started. He was evacuated from the hotel and ended up being safeguarded in the American embassy, but effectively being taken hostage. If he had stepped out of the garden of the embassy he would have been shot dead. So he was stuck there for about seven months. It was really horrible. We never really knew what was happening. We got a few faxes once in a while, but it was a nightmare. I was young, and we were a big family, and we got into a lot of trouble financially because he wasn't around." In London, Mika attended the LycÃƒÂ©e FranÃƒÂ§ais Charles de Gaulle. In Paris, his naive quirkiness - turning up wearing a clown outfit or dragging a full-size Christmas tree into class - had annoyed the teachers, but endeared him to the pupils. In England, however, he was bullied. "I showed up in school wearing my bright red trousers and matching bow-tie. Instead of just getting into trouble for it, I was tortured and I recoiled." He suffered homophobic name-calling. He remembers it as being like Lord of The Flies, and recalls the fear of walking between classes; he fantasised about having a remote control which would allow him to fast-forward past the bullying. The psychological pressure exacerbated his dyslexia, and at the age of 11 found himself suddenly unable to read or write and barely able to speak. "So I left school in order to change to the English system, and that took a while because I was a bit of a mess." Continued..... Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
Create an account or sign in to comment
You need to be a member in order to leave a comment
Create an account
Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!Register a new account
Already have an account? Sign in here.Sign In Now