Jane Birkin’s insider guide to holidaying in style
From sun-soaked trips to Provence with Serge Gainsbourg to family adventures in Turkey, Jane Birkin has been travelling for over seven decades. And now the singer, songwriter and actress is coming to London on 9 July to perform her latest album Oh! Pardon tu dormais… at the Barbican. Here she shares her life in travel, from her dream destinations to where she likes to switch off.
The songs Jane Birkin writes and the stories she tells are laden with her past. And these are glossy, exotic adventures worth remembering – from appearing nude in Michelangelo Antonioni’s era-defining 1966 film Blow-Up, to lending her delicate unguarded vocals to Serge Gainsbourg’s Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus in 1969.
Now 75 years’ old, the British-born Paris-based muse, model, actress and activist has recorded over 20 albums, appeared in more than 65 films, written a book, inspired one of the world’s most recognisable designer handbags, and left an indelible mark on modern style with her gappy smile, long fringe and her slashed-to-the-navel white shirts.
Birkin is still as busy as ever. On 7 July, she will be appearing at the Barbican in conversation with the film critic Jonathan Romney, following a screening of her daughter Charlotte Gainsburg’s directorial debut and intimate exploration of her mother’s life, Jane by Charlotte. The film – which premiered last year at Cannes, comprises a series of conversations between the two women, as they reminisce about the past, capturing Birkin as a mother, wife and artist “with the eye of the daughter.”
On 9 July Birkin, alongside her band, performs her latest album Oh! Pardon tu dormais … also at the Barbican. Filled with soaring strings, chiming guitars and Jane’s hushed vocals, the haunting and enigmatic music has been described as a soundtrack to Birkin’s complicated and decadent life.
When not working, Birkin spends most of her time exploring the coast around her seaside home in Brittany. Here, she shares her most precious travel moments, anecdotes from abroad and why Paris will always have her heart.
I first wanted to go to France because my father was there during the Second World War when he was a navigator [in a clandestine naval unit]. He used to drop people off and pick people up on the French coast of Brittany, at an enormous risk to his life. I knew that he was a hero with people during the French Resistance. And he thought they were the heroes. So the French for me were already very romantic.
I was sent to a French finishing school at 16 to learn how to marry the right person. I lived in a flat on Boulevard Lannes [in the 16th arrondissement] above singer Edith Piaf and learned how to make chocolate truffles. It never was very useful for marrying the right person because straight away I went for an audition for Carving a Statue, getting the part when I was 17. So I never went into the marriage business.
French girls were always so beautifully turned out. When we took the Metro, they used to have a good laugh at us because we were so obviously English. We’d have maxi skirts on and slip-on shoes. And these French girls had sleek hair, pearl necklaces and twin sets in a Bordeaux colour – they all looked identical.
I have just been in Antwerp. We were in a gorgeous little hotel. I did readings for a play I’m going to do in a year’s time, L’Amante Anglaise by Marguerite Duras, in the daytime and then I did concerts at night. I enjoy performing because you have a lovely time visiting towns where people show you the secret things that you wouldn’t see normally.
Istanbul is a truly romantic place to go, that’s for sure. When my youngest daughter [Lou Doillon] was 14, I said, ‘Look, here’s a pin and stick it into the atlas and I’ll take you wherever the pin takes us.’ And she stuck it in and it fell between Iceland and Istanbul. So I said, ‘Whatever you like.’ And so she decided on Istanbul. From Topkapi Palace to the Blue Mosque, it’s a magical city, full of mystery and charm. There’s a little hotel, which is called The Green Hotel, and also the hotel where Agatha Christie disappeared [The Pera Palace]. The people were also absolutely charming too.
I’ve bought a house in Brittany, which is exactly on the spot where my father arrived during the war. So it’s fairly romantic. I spend time there with my bulldog Dolly and my grandchildren. On the beach you can move the rocks and find strange creatures underneath – it’s full of crabs. It’s really like Cornwall, and I love being there. And it’s wonderful because I can just hop onto a train and then we are off. Two days ago we were in Antwerp and before that I was in Carpentras, as I wanted to see the oldest synagogue in France [Carpentras Synagogue was built in 1367].
I miss everything about Paris when I am not there. I love the city. And I love the Parisians, and the French with all their strangeness. By that I mean that the English are far more polite. If you fall over, you’re bound to be picked up by somebody who’ll take care of you. They say, ‘Watch your step, love,’ on a train or on a bus. In France, you have to fight for a seat – it’s quite different. But I love all the differences. Plus, French men are very attractive.
If I could go anywhere in the world right now, I’d go back to childhood.
Jane Birkin performs Oh! Pardon tu dormais… at Barbican on 9 July.