Fearne Cot­ton opens up about cop­ing with de­pres­sion

Fearne Cot­ton may be fa­mous for her up­beat per­son­al­ity, but the TV and ra­dio pre­sen­ter’s bat­tles with de­pres­sion have in­spired her to write a se­ries of self-help books, and now launch a pod­cast. Maria Lally went to meet her

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DRESSED IN SKINNY JEANS, baggy jumper and Con­verse train­ers, a make-up-free and flus­tered Fearne Cot­ton rushes up to me in the ho­tel lobby, apol­o­gises for be­ing (barely five min­utes) late and or­ders us both a cof­fee. It’s far from her rock-chick im­age, but then the TV and ra­dio pre­sen­ter has al­ways been a bun­dle of con­tra­dic­tions. De­spite her re­lent­lessly chirpy and sunny per­sona on the air­waves, the 36-year-old has also spo­ken frankly about her de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety. She has a rock’n’roll hus­band – she’s mar­ried to Jesse Wood, son of Rolling Stone Ron­nie and also a mu­si­cian (the cou­ple mar­ried in 2014 and have two chil­dren, Rex, four, and Honey, two), yet she’s tee­to­tal, loves bak­ing and goes to bed at 9.30pm ev­ery night.

And in 2015, seem­ingly out of nowhere, she walked away from a high-pro­file job pre­sent­ing her own BBC Ra­dio 1 show, with no clear plan of what to do next.

‘It was ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fy­ing as I had worked since I was 15. I was tak­ing the lin­ear route of pre­sent­ing – Top of the Pops, ra­dio etc. But then I reached a point where I asked my­self if I was happy climb­ing this lad­der. I’d done it for 10 years, I loved it and I felt bloody lucky to work there, but Rex was a baby, and I was out of the house ev­ery day. I also felt like tak­ing a risk.

‘It wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion. I had no se­cu­rity. I don’t have wealthy par­ents or any­body to ask for money. I was jump­ing into a pit of noth­ing­ness, but that felt quite ex­cit­ing. And I knew I was pas­sion­ate about writ­ing, men­tal health, cook­ing, de­sign­ing, and I had a fairly healthy so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing [she has al­most 7.5 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter and more than two mil­lion on In­sta­gram]. So I felt brave enough to just go for it.’

Fearne’s de­par­ture from Ra­dio 1 co­in­cided with her sec­ond preg­nancy. And de­spite her con­cerns that she might never work again, she has carved out a new ca­reer for her­self as a suc­cess­ful au­thor: her five best­selling cook­ery and self-help books have sold more than 273,000 copies. But it is Happy, pub­lished last year, that has had the big­gest im­pact. In it, Fearne re­vealed for the first time the full de­tails of the de­pres­sion she suf­fered from dur­ing her 20s. And this month, she launches Happy Place, a pod­cast based on themes that run through her own life – namely fam­i­lies, ca­reers, mother­hood and men­tal health – and also fea­ture widely in Happy and its fol­low-up, Calm, which was pub­lished in De­cem­ber.

‘Af­ter Ra­dio 1, I started a mag­a­zine col­umn and be­gan open­ing up about my de­pres­sion for the first time,’ she ex­plains. ‘I felt pas­sion­ate about it, and won­dered if it was some­thing I should put in a book. But would peo­ple judge me? And would I then feel worse?

‘I wrote up a list of pros and cons, and the pros were so pow­er­ful that I went ahead. Af­ter­wards I had so many peo­ple email­ing

and con­tact­ing me on so­cial me­dia to say it helped them feel less alone, like they weren’t the only ones go­ing through it.’

Of her de­pres­sion, Fearne says, ‘I thought it was nor­mal 20-some­thing mo­ments. I’d al­ways been a gen­er­ally happy per­son, but the spark in me be­gan to ex­tin­guish and I was in a very low place. I could be overly sen­si­tive and over­anal­yse every­thing – I was never feel­ing good enough, or smart enough.

‘But I also got used to be­ing in this fog, putting on a fake smile and go­ing to work ev­ery day. In pri­vate I would cry and feel numb. A very good friend sug­gested

I see my doc­tor – it was then I re­alised some­thing was very wrong.’

Fearne was pre­scribed an­tide­pres­sants but never saw a ther­a­pist, pre­fer­ring in­stead to grad­u­ally over­haul her life­style. ‘There used to be a se­crecy and shame around de­pres­sion and men­tal health. But say­ing you have it out loud re­duces that and starts a con­ver­sa­tion.’

While she was writ­ing Happy, Fearne con­tacted the men­tal-health char­ity Mind for ad­vice on writ­ing about de­pres­sion, which led to a meet­ing with its CEO, Paul Farmer. He then asked Fearne to be­come an am­bas­sador (‘I was so hon­oured,’ she says). And af­ter meet­ing Stephen Fry, Mind’s pres­i­dent, she in­vited him to be­come one of her first in­ter­vie­wees on Happy Place – other up­com­ing guests in­clude for­mer Vogue ed­i­tor-in-chief Alexan­dra Shul­man and Dawn French. ‘Dawn spoke about adopt­ing her daugh­ter Bil­lie, di­vorc­ing Lenny Henry, re­mar­ry­ing, be­com­ing a step­mum. All those piv­otal mo­ments we go through. Af­ter all, you can be this megas­tar co­me­dian, but it doesn’t negate how things af­fect you emo­tion­ally.’

Fearne says she’s par­tic­u­larly ex­cited about in­ter­view­ing Stephen Fry, who sus­pended his Twit­ter ac­count af­ter be­ing trolled on­line, and plans to ask him about the role so­cial me­dia plays in de­pres­sion.

‘So­cial me­dia is both a dark and bril­liant thing for men­tal health,’ says Fearne. ‘If I’m feel­ing down I won’t go on it be­cause it’s nearly im­pos­si­ble not to com­pare your­self

‘I got used to putting on a fake smile and go­ing to work. In pri­vate, I would cry and feel numb’

un­favourably to oth­ers and to feel a bit down. I only scroll through when I’m feel­ing happy. If I feel down I have a so­cial me­dia detox for a while. You have to re­mem­ber you’re not look­ing at peo­ple’s real lives but just edited high­lights of it.

‘Like tonight, for ex­am­ple,’ she says, re­fer­ring to the Na­tional Tele­vi­sion Awards cer­e­mony she’s at­tend­ing later in the evening, ‘I may look half-de­cent in my out­fit, take 10 pic­tures, put the best one on In­sta­gram and peo­ple will go, “Oh you have the best life.” What they don’t see is that I get anx­ious do­ing a red car­pet. Ev­ery­body’s look­ing at you, shout­ing your name, tak­ing your pho­to­graph and it can be strange and over­whelm­ing. But I went to see an amaz­ing breath­ing coach called Re­becca Den­nis who taught me some ex­er­cises that re­ally helped.

‘Then to­mor­row there’s a 90 per cent chance I’ll be in a track­suit with my hair in a bun, no make-up, and my kids will be throw­ing pasta at me. So I try to show both the glam­orous and bor­ing bits on my In­sta­gram ac­count be­cause I think that’s a fairer por­trayal.’

On the sub­ject of anx­i­ety, last year Fearne had her first panic at­tack. ‘I was driv­ing on a mo­tor­way and my chest be­gan to tighten and I felt like I was go­ing to black out. I pulled over and had to be driven home,’ she says. ‘There was a lot go­ing on in my life, with fam­ily mem­bers be­com­ing ill, and I was just be­com­ing ex­hausted from plate-spin­ning.’

She says that yoga and run­ning have also helped her emo­tion­ally. ‘I’ve al­ways loved run­ning, and when I be­gin to feel down, anx­ious, or over­whelmed, I get my train­ers on and go for a run.

‘I pri­ori­tise my health, get early nights; I don’t drink, I avoid sugar and I sur­round my­self with good friends and spend a lot of time at home, where I’m hap­pi­est. I still have my de­pres­sion trig­gers, but I now know how to han­dle them.’

Fearne’s mother and grand­mother also suf­fered from de­pres­sion and she won­ders whether it runs through her fam­ily, or if it’s sim­ply due to cir­cum­stances. ‘My mum had de­pres­sion through­out her life and I’ve had it – but my brother hasn’t. I don’t know if it’s hered­i­tary but what I do know is that the older gen­er­a­tions didn’t talk about it – I only found out about my grand­mother’s de­pres­sion af­ter she passed away. I’m very open emo­tion­ally with my own chil­dren.’

The strong work ethic that spurred on Fearne’s ca­reer is some­thing she’s in­her­ited from her par­ents. Her fa­ther is a sign-writer and her mother jug­gled four jobs along­side rais­ing Fearne and her younger brother, Jamie. ‘She cleaned for our neigh­bours up the road, de­liv­ered Next pack­ages, worked as an or­thodon­tic nurse and did my dad’s pa­per­work,’ says Fearne. ‘She used to take us with her when she went to do her clean­ing jobs, so when I tell her I’m wor­ried about my kids’ diet or whether they have too many plas­tic toys, she tells me to get over my­self. My par­ents were mainly

Clock­wise from left Fearne with her fa­ther-in-law Ron­nie Wood and hus­band Jesse; with close friend Holly Wil­loughby on

This Morn­ing; in­ter­view­ing Princes Wil­liam and Harry in 2007

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