Fearne Cotton: ‘Everything I do is about positivity, happiness and well-being’
Fearne Cotton was one of the first stars to speak out about her struggles with mental health, setting a precedent for us all to be more open. She talks to Sophie Heawood about self-acceptance, positivity and family life…
fearne cotton is having lunch after our photo shoot when her mobile rings. It’s the furniture company that delivered flatpack bunk beds to her house this morning, then drove off with one of the mattresses. She is diplomatically informing them that if they don’t bring it back by 6pm there is going to be mutiny in her house. ‘Because I start the bedtime routine at 6.30pm,’ she says after hanging up, ‘and otherwise my kids are going to be sleeping in my bed, which is hell.’
Let’s be honest: it’s cheering to witness fame and fortune being no help whatsoever in the battle against life’s cock-ups. And in Fearne’s case, it only adds to what she’s been saying for a couple of years now, which is that fame and fortune isn’t any protection against your life falling apart either. She should know: the past few years have seen her rebuild hers.
EVERYTHING I DO IS ABOUT POSITIVITY, HAPPINESS AND WELL- BEING
She has written in her books, Happy and Calm, about what it was like going into work at Radio 1 every day, painting on a brave face and an even braver voice while crumbling inside. About having a panic attack on the motorway and having to call the AA to take over because she no longer felt physically capable of driving her car. About a friend staging an intervention and taking her to see a doctor, which led to her taking medication for a short time and therapy, which she still does now.
Our country’s mental health conversation has opened up so much in those short years since Fearne, 37, began hers that she’s almost an elder in it. I wonder what it feels like to see so many other people in the public eye now telling their stories, too. ‘Amazing,’ she nods. In 2016, she went to the media awards show for mental health charity Mind, and there were ‘a few people who were willing to get involved’. By 2017, everybody was there – including Prince Harry. ‘ That was a real marker for everyone – like, oh my God, this is huge.’ Fearne has worked with the prince on various occasions and is friendly with him. We discuss what a difference it made when he spoke about how his mother’s death affected him. ‘He had to do a funeral procession in front of the whole world, at age 12. I hate how people go, “Oh well the royal family have got loads of money.” When are we going to get over this stupid idea that being royal is going to make you not have a traumatic experience, losing your mum in such a horrific, public, scrutinised way? I mean it’s barbaric people would think otherwise.’
Fearne is just as friendly and welcoming as you’d expect. Yet she doesn’t rush to agree with everything I say; a far cry from the sort of people-pleaser you might expect from her girl-next-door reputation. She’s optimistic, especially about today’s children. Who, she says, are going to change things for the better with their understanding of self-acceptance. In terms of gender, ‘I wear quite blokey, loose clothes because that’s the silhouette I prefer. But this idea of having to be feminine or masculine – the younger generation know what they’re doing more than we do. There’s a transgender kid at my stepkids’ school and nobody thinks anything of it other than that is who they are. That generation is way more savvy than we are.’
As it happens, Fearne’s own son, Rex, five, is really into fashion and putting outfits together, whereas her three-year-old daughter Honey is ‘a real tomboy’ who couldn’t care less about dresses. She makes sure they both see their mum lugging furniture around the house, ‘and I’ll always say, “Mummy’s very strong’’ when I’m doing it. Subliminal messaging! I don’t want them to go, “Daddy’s the strong one and Mummy’s the baking one.” I love to bake but I want them to know that I have also built the majority of the flatpack furniture in our house. I’m good with a screwdriver. My husband would do it, but he’s very laid-back so it would happen in about 2020. I get these things done.’
She and Jesse do feel slightly conflicted, though, because they also teach their son to hold doors open for ladies. ‘ This might go against feminism – I’m not sure these days – but I really don’t want chivalry to go. We can’t let it go. I’ve had men walk through swing doors and they’ve smashed me in the face. Please don’t do that!’
A modern feminism that includes old-fashioned chivalry is apt for Cath Kidston, with whom Fearne has teamed up to design a range of products (which she wears in this shoot). A keen artist who has always found solace in sketching, Fearne adored delving through Cath Kidston’s archives to work on the prints, and has added in a T-rex and a honeybee in tribute to her kids. She has also added supportive messaging, so it might say ‘carry me’ on a bag or ‘happy’ on a sleeve.
‘I want to create this feeling that everything is about positivity and thinking about happiness or well-being with anything I’m doing, whether it be a design project, a book, or on the radio,’ she explains. She is currently covering for Claudia Winkleman on Radio 2. ‘I’ve been so lucky that they’ve let me shape our show into whatever I want. It’s become about well-being and how we live. I think that once you start to be really authentic then things start to unfurl naturally. It’s not like I was pretending before, but I’m not having to over-egg things and say, “This is all
THE YOUNGER GENERATION IS WAY MORE SAVVY THAN WE ARE
great!”’ She adds that, in the past, ‘perhaps there was a “telly Fearne” and a “me Fearne”, but it’s just me now.’
It is at this point that I feel compelled to ask Fearne something personal. She has written about seeing a post-trauma therapist, but has never specified what the trauma was. In this new age of heightened sharing, will she now? ‘No,’ she replies, ‘ because I don’t want to.’ She pauses. ‘I’m not ready to talk about a certain portion of my life for many reasons. I’m still working on stuff, and I’m not going to put myself out there and expose myself and be even more vulnerable when I’m not mentally OK with everything. So that obviously was a line I had to tread very carefully.’
It makes sense, but I wonder if the new age of sharing will lead people to feeling short-changed if they don’t know everything about a celebrity. ‘I’m sure there are people who do think, “Well you told me something Fearne, so now tell me everything.” And it’s like well, no, that’s the part of fame that is weird – that there are no boundaries. I’m a very honest person; nothing I’ve said is untrue or not accurate to my life, but there will still be bits of my life that I’m going to have privately. The thing about social media is that you’re supposedly baring your soul and saying everything now. But there is a line between that and keeping bits that are dear to you, that you cherish. We mustn’t lose that. We have to keep some things within.’
She insists, though, that the only thing fame has really done to her, apart from providing access to ‘nice opportunities’, is make ‘people in the street shout across the road at me. And it’s usually just, “Oi Fearne, what’s Keith Lemon like?”’
Does she look back, like so many of us do, and cringe at her past. ‘Of course. I was on Disney Club, wearing purple corduroy. But you know what? Well done me, at 15! I was a suburban, working-class girl from a normal school, and I was polite and I worked really hard and I learned my craft, so now I can operate a radio desk without any help, thank you very much. You know me, Lauren [Laverne], Zoë [Ball], Sara [Cox] – we’re running the technical side too, same as the guys. The idea that anyone would think otherwise makes me so angry.’
Zoë Ball’s new breakfast show at Radio 2 is ‘just the best news ever – I can’t wait to listen. And Zoë is one of the nicest humans on earth, so I’m over the moon.’ Fearne has a new TV show herself, which will go out on both BBC Two and Netflix, called Project Interiors, in which skilled amateurs or low-level professionals will be given a space to redecorate. She insists it is ‘the most enjoyable TV project I have ever done’, and that it felt right, after she said no to a lot of other offers ‘that didn’t resonate. After having kids, you just lose your mojo a bit. I had also turned down things because I didn’t feel up to it’.
Well, she’s certainly feeling up to it now. Fearne @ Cath Kidston launches on Friday
that’s the part of fame that is weird – there are no boundaries