Feanne's happy place

A few years ago, be­hind the smiles and sunny dis­po­si­tion, Fearne Cot­ton’s world was fall­ing apart. In the process of re­build­ing, she found not only her­self but a new chap­ter of her ca­reer, too. Emma Freud finds out what she learnt along the way

Red - - Red Woman - Pho­tog­ra­phy TAGHI NADERZAD Styling OONAGH BREN­NAN

Ihave known this month’s cover star since she wrote an un­usual let­ter to Comic Re­lief in 2003. She said that even though she was a kids’ TV pre­sen­ter and not a co­me­dian, please could she make a film for Red Nose Day at one of our projects in Africa. She was the first per­son we had ever come across who had ac­tu­ally ASKED to be in­volved. My boyfriend Richard [Cur­tis], who co-founded the char­ity, replied say­ing she was very kind to of­fer, but we had just sent Lenny Henry to visit a project in Tan­za­nia and didn’t need any­one else to make a trip. Un­de­terred, the 22-year-old found a friend with a video cam­era, looked up the ad­dress of one of our projects in Kenya and went there any­way, mak­ing her own Comic Re­lief re­port film, just in case. We didn’t use that film on our show, but the fol­low­ing year we asked her to be one of our pre­sen­ters and she’s been part of our team ever since. In 2009, we sent her up Mount Kil­i­man­jaro with Gary Bar­low and Ch­eryl Tweedy – a char­ity climb that raised more than £3m for our projects, dur­ing which she puked be­hind a rock on cam­era half­way up the moun­tain. In the 2011 cam­paign, Chris Moyles at­tempted a 50-hour con­tin­u­ous broad­cast on Ra­dio 1. Half­way through, he rang Fearne and asked her to join him in her swim­suit if the lis­ten­ers man­aged to raise £2m. That phone call caused the big­gest spike in do­na­tions of the en­tire two days and, when they reached £2,406,648, she ap­peared along­side him wear­ing her swim­suit, say­ing later, ‘It was the most awk­ward thing I’ve ever done in my en­tire life.’ De­spite the in­dig­ni­ties, we’ve stayed friends through­out, even af­ter the yoga les­son we took to­gether dur­ing which she was jus­ti­fi­ably re-chris­tened ‘Firm Bot­tom’. Just af­ter she posed for this is­sue’s glo­ri­ous front cover photo, she came to our house with her two-year-old daugh­ter, Honey, and her ridicu­lously good-look­ing hus­band, Jesse. Honey was there to visit our dog, rab­bits and tiny kit­tens. Un­for­tu­nately, she dis­liked them all, although was over­joyed to meet the small plas­tic tor­toise that keeps our real tor­toise com­pany. Af­ter she and Jesse left, Fearne and I moved to the gar­den, giv­ing me the chance to re­flect on how very dif­fer­ent she is from the girl I met 15 years ago. That Fearne was a sin­gle cog in the vast ma­chine of the TV in­dus­try, but this Fearne has been on a much big­ger jour­ney… Emma: So, how was the cover shoot? Fearne: Oh, joy. I got to play with the most amaz­ing clothes – a gor­geous, lus­cious peachy ball gown with loads of lay­ers of net­ting. It was heaven. Then I wore a mid­night-blue silk gown – the whole thing was the op­po­site of my ac­tual life. E: Your ac­tual life is so dif­fer­ent from when we first met. When were you last old-style drunk?

F: At my best mate’s wed­ding last year. I was ab­so­lutely shit­faced and danced all night. The thought of go­ing out late and then get­ting up with the kids just kills me, though I think when the kids are older I will.

E: Mine are older and I do. It’s worth the wait.

F: Also, I drink less be­cause Jesse doesn’t drink – he hasn’t done for five years now, which is in­cred­i­ble given his up­bring­ing. I mean, how the fuck has he turned out so bal­anced when his life has been so crazy?

E: So ex­plain how you got from young hell-raiser Fearne to this wise, mod­er­ate woman.

F: Okay, I started in TV at 15, came from a work­ing-class back­ground and had no clue about the life­style. I stum­bled through do­ing all man­ner of weird, won­der­ful, great and aw­ful pro­grammes. I en­joyed parts of it, but also felt that I didn’t re­ally be­long.

E: You ap­peared so self-con­fi­dent?

F: I thought ev­ery­one else was con­fi­dent and de­served to be in that space, whereas I didn’t know if peo­ple liked me or if I was go­ing to get sacked. There was a Fearne that used to pre­tend to be the per­son I thought ev­ery­one needed for the job, amal­ga­mated from bits of other peo­ple.

E: How would you de­scribe your­self back then?

F: I was nat­u­rally very en­thu­si­as­tic – I’m like a Jack Rus­sell with a new toy and I have that ap­ti­tude to be mas­sively,

‘THERE WAS A FEARNE THAT USED TO PRE­TEND TO BE THE PER­SON I THOUGHT EV­ERY­ONE NEEDED’

fe­ro­ciously ex­cited. But I was a kid, you know, and it was scary. E: So what changed?

F: I grew up, but my work didn’t. Then, a few years ago, while I was work­ing at Ra­dio 1, I went through a re­ally bad patch, where I be­came a much rawer ver­sion of my­self…

E: How bad was the bad patch?

F: Bad.

E: How long was it?

F: Over a year. Maybe two. There were some ex­ceed­ingly dark bits where I thought, ‘I don’t un­der­stand how to trust, how to be me, how to feel okay with eyes on me.’ I just felt fucked, ba­si­cally.

E: What was the low­est point?

F: I was off work be­cause I wasn’t ca­pa­ble of be­ing around hu­man be­ings and my mum and aun­tie came over. They brought me a bag of veg­e­tar­ian sausage rolls be­cause they could see I wasn’t look­ing af­ter my­self. When they showed up, I thought, ‘Fuck, they’re not the sort of peo­ple who would drop in – this must be bad.’

E: You know it’s bad when you get the veg­gie sausage rolls… F: That same week a good friend tipped up and said, ‘I’ve booked you an ap­point­ment with a doc­tor to­day.’ She drove me there, it was piss­ing with rain, a hor­ri­ble day, and

I felt like a shell of a hu­man. I broke down in front of this man I’d never met. He said, very sim­ply, ‘You are de­pressed.’ I was put on a course of an­tide­pres­sants, even though I didn’t re­ally want to be on them, but I had to do some­thing to get my head above the ground. They gave me a numb­ness un­til I was able to try a dif­fer­ent route.

E: Were you still able to do TV work?

F: That dark patch came with a huge con­fi­dence blow where I just didn’t feel good enough to do TV. A big part of my get­ting bet­ter was giv­ing 18-year-old Fearne a break and not beat­ing her up any more for be­ing en­thu­si­as­tic and naive. A very wise per­son said to me, ‘Be kinder to that YOU. Go back in time and imag­ine sit­ting with that ver­sion of your­self and just say, “I un­der­stand why you’re like this, and you’re al­right.”’ And so, rather than shun­ning that ver­sion of my­self, I tried to em­brace it. I am still that ea­ger, bub­bly per­son who is a bit on the back foot and wor­ried about get­ting found out – she’s still a part of my story.

E: Did you fall a bit out of love with TV at that point?

F: Yes, I re­alised how ephemeral and flimsy the whole struc­ture is. I re­alised none of the suc­cess was boost­ing me in­ter­nally, it’s not ac­tu­ally real. So I took a leap of faith and started to strip back the lay­ers. I left Ra­dio 1, which was ter­ri­fy­ing. I had no job and I was a new mum, my so­cial life changed – I didn’t want to go out and get drunk and all that stuff any more. But, over the next year, some great friends ral­lied around and I talked to bril­liant ex­perts. It was very slow, but in the last few years – espe­cially the last 12 months – I’ve felt good. This year has been ex­tra­or­di­nary, with the mo­men­tum of the work that I’m do­ing and where it’s lead­ing me. It might not be as big and shiny as it used to be, but I’m hap­pier than ever.

E: You looked that dark­ness in the eye and re­ally worked it out, didn’t you?

F: I had to, be­cause oth­er­wise I would still be in the kitchen with my aun­tie and a veg­gie sausage roll.

E: It seems as though suc­cess used to be one thing to you, but now you’ve re­de­fined what you’re aim­ing for…

F: I got to the point where I thought, ‘I’m just go­ing to be me and if peo­ple don’t like that, or think I’m not cool or in­ter­est­ing enough, then it doesn’t mat­ter any more.’ So I de­cided to write an hon­est book about find­ing joy in every day and let­ting go of ‘per­fect’. The amaz­ing re­ac­tion to it made me think, ‘Oh, I can just keep be­ing me then.’

E: In TV, you were a cog in a big ma­chine, but you weren’t in charge. Now you’re run­ning the show with your books and pod­casts. Is that sense of em­pow­er­ment a joy?

F: It is. It’s find­ing your voice and hav­ing the con­fi­dence to say, ‘I be­lieve this is right and I’m go­ing to say it, what­ever the out­come.’ Events un­fold if you’re open to the right stuff, but the ‘right stuff’ can be tough is­sues that you need to look at. When I had my low patch, I didn’t want to deal with those is­sues, but I can see how it’s en­riched ev­ery­thing I’ve done since. If you’re open to it, if you’re ready to be vul­ner­a­ble, coura­geous, will­ing to try new things, look like a fool if things don’t go well and feel all the emo­tions that come up, the right out­come will un­fold.

E: If you’ve reached some sort of clo­sure, does it mean you’re ready to do more TV work?

F: Yes, I think so – I’m do­ing a new show now, which has been a re­ally lib­er­at­ing turn of events this year, and I don’t feel like I’m com­pro­mis­ing who I am to do it.

E: Does it feel dif­fer­ent?

F: When I was in the dark place, I thought, ‘I’m not good enough. Other peo­ple have got more con­fi­dence, they’re more well-equipped men­tally, they’re bet­ter than me.’ I just parked 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence like it didn’t mean any­thing. Now I feel I can use all of that ex­pe­ri­ence, but I can still be me. I haven’t got to be the old Fearne on TV – I can do it in a way that I feel safe.

E: Are you still paint­ing, too? We still have the art­work you gave Richard af­ter the first Red Nose Day you pre­sented.

F: I’m paint­ing a bit, but I’ve just started to use that side pro­fes­sion­ally – I’ve cre­ated a print for Cath Kid­ston. It was a huge cre­ative out­let for me. I worked with the print team and it’s re­ally gor­geous. This is the first pe­riod in a while where I’ve re­ally thought I’ve got some­thing to give.

E: How im­por­tant has your ridicu­lously hand­some hus­band been in this whole process?

F: Mas­sively. We’d only been to­gether a few years when the bad bit came. But we had what felt like such a game-chang­ing, world-stop­ping love for each other that we said, ‘Noth­ing else mat­ters, what­ever car­nage hap­pens, we’ll get through it.’ We’ve both been able to re­ally sup­port each other through that. Now, seven years down the line, we adore each other’s com­pany and we’re best friends. We ob­vi­ously have loads of ar­gu­ments like ev­ery­one does, but it’s fine, be­cause we’ve been through loads of shit and our lives hope­fully won’t ever be that tur­bu­lent again.

E: I can see that. It glows out of the pair of you.

F: He’s so amaz­ing.

E: He’s so good look­ing.

F: I know, he’s so hand­some.

E: He re­ally, re­ally is.

At that point, the pro­tec­tive, kind and (had I men­tioned?) good-look­ing hus­band ar­rived to pick her up. Fearne Cot­ton has changed a lot over the last 15 years – she’s wiser, kinder, more wary, more beau­ti­ful. But I still see and ad­mire in her the pas­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion of the girl who was turned down as a Comic Re­lief pre­sen­ter, so made the trip to Africa to shoot the film her­self.

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