Me and You.
Damon Albarn’s sister Jessica was key to Blur’s early success – and he, in turn, helped her to be an artist. Now their children are the best of friends, too.
Damon Albarn, 46, musician
Jessica has always been a fantastic ally. She was very much part of the beginning of Blur. When she was at Hornsey [School of Art] and I was knocking around with Graham [Coxon] and Alex [James] at Goldsmiths and we started doing Blur gigs, she and her friends from college came along. They were very important in helping to create that initial buzz. Filling a small pub room with cool art students was a big part of how you got a record deal.
We were three artists and a musician in one house, growing up. Our mum, Hazel, made us sensitive to the power of the unseen and the poetry of nature and we were hippy children. I’ve taken it in a more esoteric direction than my sister but I think we believe in the same things.
I was more adventurous but Jessica was braver than I was. I remember one incident where a pheasant had got caught in a bramble bush and was in distress and I was too scared to go in there. But Jessica just went into the bramble bush, saved the bird and let it go.
We went to the same school until we were 16. Jessica was more popular and sociable than I was – I think she still is in a lot of ways. I’m more single-minded: I mean, I love my friends dearly but I’m a bit more ruthless when it comes to work over friendship.
Our kids were similar ages growing up so we did that parenting thing together, and we have a family place in Devon where we’ve spent a lot of happy holidays.
She’s a very good cook – not better than me though; we’re probably exactly the same. In essence, we are just a normal, functioning family who like each other’s company, and food, and tastes in things.
Jessica Albarn, 43, artist
Damon and I worked out early on that he was going to be the musician and I was going to be the artist – he’s very, very competitive so there wasn’t room for me to be a musician, too. His work ethic has been really inspiring, as well as his guts and sheer capacity for putting himself out there. The best advice he’s given me is: if you want to be good at anything, concentrate on one thing. I really did listen and decided to concentrate on my drawing. He has supported me a lot over the years as an artist. He hasn’t opened doors for me but he’s gone to my shows and watched my back. He’s been a proper big brother.
I’ve felt protective of him, too. He used to take a heck of a lot of risks, like climbing up the sides of stages. But that wasn’t just his performance persona. He used to do crazy things all the time as a teenager that used to really put the wind up me. When we lived in Essex there was a very high viaduct at this disused train station [now the East Anglian Railway Museum] where Blur later had their first gig. I’m scared of heights but he would walk across it and stand on the edge. It wasn’t until he had his daughter that he got a bit more responsible.
People got the view in Damon’s early days that he was very arrogant and could be grumpy and difficult. But there’s another side to him that they didn’t see. He’s very good with kids and he’s been a great uncle. We have a strong relationship, and it’s developed with having children – it’s lovely to see them hanging out. It’s probably been a great comfort in all the madness.