Singer Mabel on horse riding to battle anxiety, and coming to terms with her mixed race identity
Mabel didn’t always consider herself an outdoorsy person, but all that changed when she decided to get a hobby other than singing.
“When your hobby becomes your job, you need a new hobby,” says the 26-year-old says – and her first step was getting a dog, an Italian greyhound called Imani, shortly before the first lockdown.
“I was like, OK, I need a bit of emotional support, so I got her to come on my last tour with me. She was amazing. It was a nice reminder like, cool – she needs to go outside for walk, so let’s go outside and get some air. It gave me a good sense of routine.”
Mabel – full name Mabel McVey – liked the fact she was forced to go outside so much, that she soon got another dog, Tahini, also a greyhound, and decided to get back into horse riding, which she did as a child.
“Some of my favourite memories of this year have been riding my horse,” she says. “I’ll ride my horse and take my dogs, and they’ll run next to the horse, and after that we’ll go to the studio – and I go in with this super calm mindset, which has been so life-altering.”
She calls this new set-up in her life very wholesome. “I’m a very chaotic person, but that is the most mature, wholesome decision I’ve ever made for myself.”
Mabel’s two dogs now travel with her everywhere, and she says: “We’re a really funny, dysfunctional little family.”
She credits dog walking and horse riding with helping her anxiety, something she says “has been around for as long as I can remember”, but is “heightened when you’re well-known”.
Mabel comes from a famous family – her parents are Swedish singer Neneh Cherry and English music producer Cameron McVey – and she released her debut single in 2015. “During the time of making the album [her second album, About Last Night… comes out on July 15], lockdown, and spending more time with my family, I realised the negatives that come with the job are nowhere near the positives of it,” she reflects.
“When I think back to all the amazing things I’ve achieved as an artist and the things I’ve experienced, it is something I want to carry on doing – yes, it comes with some things that are difficult to deal with. But, in general, isn’t the human experience quite challenging?”
Mabel accepts the attention can sometimes be tricky to navigate. “Regardless of how confident you are or not, I think all of us, at some point in our lives, are worried about what people are thinking about them,” she says. “Being in the public eye, you get to know what people are thinking about you all the time. I was quite young when I started doing what I do, and it took a minute to accept the fact that everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but it can’t change the way I feel about myself.”
As well as her animals, Mabel takes care of her mental health by making music, and taking the occasional social media break. “If you feel like it’s becoming the source of your happiness, and the validation is what is getting you up in the morning, or making you sad if you’re not getting it – you need to take a break, and you need to find physical, actual things out there in the real world that make you happy,” she advises.
After moving around a lot as a child (she was born in Spain, and lived in both the UK and Sweden growing up) Mabel says: “I didn’t find my voice properly until I moved to London” when she was 18.
“Moving around a lot as a child is amazing, and I see that as an asset, but I think for a long time I was like, ‘Where is home?'” she says. She’s multilingual (speaking English, Swedish and a bit of Spanish), and grew up with her mother’s African American stepfather, jazz musician Don Cherry, and her Sierra Leonean biological grandfather.
“It was like all these different puzzle pieces, and I didn’t really understand how they fit together. Here [in London], there are so many different cultures, but there [in Sweden], I definitely didn’t look Swedish. I would have this confusion about my identity – being mixed, I understand my privilege 100%. However, at the same time, you’re left with this conflict within yourself, where I felt like I was scared to own my blackness. But also if you put me in a room with white people, I’m never going to be white, either.”
The fact that London is such a “melting pot of all these different cultures” helped Mabel navigate these feelings, and she says this all culminated in winning the Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist in 2020.
“Winning my Brit Award and being at the O2 – you’re in London, you’re in the most important arena,” she says. “Feeling like I’ve always struggled with my identity, but feeling like I love London, and London loves me back – that was a really precious moment.”
Mabel is celebrating playing live in London again this summer with a special gig to round off Somerset House Summer Series with American Express. To win tickets in the Amex Summer Drop campaign, visit amexsummerdrop.co.uk.
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