Though we’re not face-to-face when we meet, I can still feel Welch’s presence—ethereal and warm, like a benevolent ghost that tidies your kitchen while you’re at the grocery store. We’re in separate time zones: me in New York City and she at home in London, but the divide matters less than ever.
“Time is a weird, swishy blob right now. I’m naturally hermitty, but this is even a lot for me. It feels so fruitless. Structure? Why? Time is meaningless!” she declares. I can’t help but agree: This call is taking place in June, when social distancing due to COVID-19 is still in full effect. But despite isolation, Welch has found purpose within the time vacuum. She’s coordinated a collective poem with fans worldwide through Instagram, connected virtually yet deeply with friends—“All this makes you realize who you really love and how you’ll never take those people for granted again,” she says—and dropped “Light of Love” (a track made for but left off of her most recent album) to bring support to the U.K.’s health-care workers. The lyrics are as compelling as ever, the song’s subject determined not to hide from the darkness at hand, an effort Welch has been practicing for months.
“I’m not the most mentally stable person, so I’ve really struggled,” she admits. “It’s been hard, I think, especially so for people who are addicts and don’t have their support groups around.” (The singer herself is six years sober.) “It’s been a challenge to accept stillness. I’ve figured out that so much of my personality is based on leaving—packing up and going to a new place so I don’t have to deal with myself or my stuff. I usually just go. And now I really have to sit with myself.”
Her self-exploration extends to the physical too. Welch says 2020 has left her feeling “about 10 years old, and also about 134,” both inside and out, and that’s changed how she approaches her beauty routine.
“Wearing thick stage makeup for shows and traveling isn’t great for my skin, so it was good to not wear any for a bit. But after months of not using it, putting on makeup again felt creative and like some nice self-care. Self-expression is so important, and it’s helping me feel good about myself,” she says. “And, like, I’m 33! I need blush!”
She also lets me in on a personal beauty crusade: “I’m on a quest to bring eye bags back in. Please try to find a way to make them fashionable,” she pleads. “I have genetically enormous eye bags that I’m trying to embrace. I remember having big debates with my team about it with all my album covers, especially for How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful [released in 2015],” she recalls. “If we’d left my bags totally unretouched, I’d have looked exhausted, but I didn’t want to edit them out completely either. That’s my face!”
These days, she’s more at peace with aging, especially after filming the campaign for Gucci’s newest fragrance, Bloom Profumo di Fiori, alongside Hollywood icon Anjelica Huston.
“Getting to know a woman like Anjelica gives you a different idea of what female beauty is and how it’s not all tied up in how young you are. That’s incredibly inspiring,” says Welch. “But I quite like getting older now. I feel like my face is catching up to itself. I always kind of looked ‘old,’ even when I was a kid. The older I get, the more my face seems to make sense.” There’s one argument for not fighting time.
This story appears in the Winter 2020 issue of Marie Claire.