EMMA WIL­LIS

The in­ter­view all celebri­ties should give

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents - Words LOT­TIE LUMS­DEN Pho­tographs MATTHEW ADES

Emma Wil­lis is tuck­ing into a sir­loin steak with pep­per­corn sauce. “This is my break­fast,” she tells me. We are in a buzzy Soho restau­rant – the sort of place where art crams the walls and the staff are as in­sou­ciantly chic as the clien­tele. The hum of trans­ac­tional con­ver­sa­tion sur­rounds us as busi­ness deals are sealed over grilled lob­ster and fries.

No one bats an eye­lid as Wil­lis takes a seat, and you get the im­pres­sion this is ex­actly as she likes it.

“Hey, let’s or­der some chips, too,” she smiles, con­spir­a­to­ri­ally look­ing around. “I’m starv­ing.”

This is the sev­enth time I have met Wil­lis. In that time, I have met her mother and her fa­ther. I have joined the fam­ily for din­ner (yes, the rock­star hus­band was present, noodling away on his gui­tar); taken a shower in her bath­room and laid down on the floor be­side her in her garage, as we both sup­pli­cated our­selves to her per­sonal trainer. I tell you this not to boast, but rather to give you an idea of what we’re deal­ing with when it comes to Emma Wil­lis: a com­pletely open book. There is never any loi­ter­ing pub­li­cist, nei­ther are there any pauses while she grasps for the PR-ap­proved an­swer to my ques­tions. No, Emma Wil­lis is the real deal.

I know this be­cause as soon as we sit down and I bring up the topic of her gi­nor­mous ca­reer re­nais­sance (in 2017 she cleared another se­ries of The Voice, one more se­ries of Big

Brother and two of Celebrity Big Brother, started work­ing with UNICEF and launched a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Next), she rolls her eyes.

“Oh, you know me, Lot­tie,” she says. “I al­ways think that this is as good as it gets; that I’ve prob­a­bly reached my peak and got nowhere left to go. My one good year is over…” She cov­ers her face with her hands, adding, “And I didn’t take it all in!”

Proper fame – the sort that means you’ll find the oc­ca­sional pa­parazzi at the end of your gar­den, and never have to worry about not turn­ing left on a plane ever again – came to Wil­lis rel­a­tively late. Yes, she was a model at 17 (not ma­jor league, though, by her own ad­mis­sion), and a stint as an MTV UK pre­sen­ter fol­lowed a few years later, but it was only when she hit her mid-thir­ties and took over from Brian Dowl­ing as the host of Big Brother that she hit main­stream con­scious­ness. Like Ge­orge Clooney and Tina Fey be­fore her, fame earned later in life has be­stowed on Wil­lis the gift of real, earthy charm. Hers is a star sta­tus won by hard, re­lent­less graft, nu­mer­ous pit­falls and the knowl­edge that peo­ple may only be nice to you be­cause you’re on telly. If there’s celebrity KoolAid to swal­low, she ain’t tak­ing it.

She’s 41 now, with three kids un­der her belt and a ca­reer that shows no sign of slow­ing down any time soon, not to men­tion a mar­riage that has weath­ered ad­dic­tion (his), me­dia in­tru­sion (both), and the gen­eral hum drum­mery that a 13-year bond brings (more of which later). With this in mind, we sat down to dis­cuss what she’s learned along the way.

MAR­RIAGE WOULD BE BOR­ING IF YOU DIDN’T AR­GUE

“Matt and I cel­e­brate our 10-year wedding an­niver­sary in July. The day we got mar­ried we de­cided we’d have a party to cel­e­brate that mile­stone. I don’t know what we’ll do, and it will prob­a­bly end up be­ing a rub­bish party, but we will def­i­nitely do some­thing.

Matt and I first met 13 years ago on MTV and have both changed since then. I’m bossier and more bor­ing, while Matt is more sen­si­ble and tows the line bet­ter. Our pri­or­i­ties are each other now, rather than our­selves.

It works be­cause we have sim­i­lar mind­sets. He’s a big kid, which I love, even when he leaves tow­els all over the floor. We just fit. Sure, we ar­gue, and piss each other off. We bicker about me want­ing to do a mil­lion things in the day and him not want­ing to. We’ll be go­ing to leave the house to take the kids to school and he’ll be tin­kling on a bass on the sofa. But it would be bor­ing if we didn’t ar­gue. If noth­ing both­ered me, I wouldn’t care as much.”

WHEN IT COMES TO MONEY, YOUR PAR­ENTS ARE RIGHT

“I’ve al­ways been good with money. We were work­ing class and my mum and dad worked ev­ery hour God sent.

The only rogue patch I’ve had was aged 18. I’d moved to Lon­don to be a model and landed a TV com­mer­cial that earned me money ev­ery time it was played. Sud­denly I had the kind of cash I’d never seen be­fore. My dad

told me to buy a flat. I was like, ‘Are you jok­ing? I’m 18!’ Now I re­gret not do­ing that be­cause I could have had a lovely pad in Ful­ham or some­thing. In­stead I bought my first car – a £2,000 me­tal­lic lilac 1967 Beetle. I used to razz around in it and drive to Heathrow when I was go­ing on jobs abroad. Then one day it blew up on the M25 be­cause I hadn’t put any oil in the engine.

Not that it’s al­ways been easy. In 2005, not long after I met Matt, MTV de­cided not to re­new my con­tract. It meant that I didn’t have a job or any money. We lived to­gether and he sup­ported me be­cause I had noth­ing.

At one point I thought I was go­ing to have to move home to Birm­ing­ham.

I started think­ing, ‘Who do I think I am? This is ridicu­lous, it’s time to go back home and stop liv­ing in a fan­tasy world.’ But then Big Brother’s Lit­tle

Brother came along and it was all OK. Matt and I have al­ways had phases where we sup­port each other. At the mo­ment Busted are tak­ing a break and he’s fo­cus­ing on do­ing act­ing classes, so he’s not earn­ing. We have sav­ings and I’m work­ing, so it works. I say, ‘Go to your act­ing class and get re­ally f*ck­ing good, be­cause one day I won’t have a job and you’re go­ing to have to sup­port me!’ That’s mar­riage and a re­la­tion­ship. I want him to do what makes him happy, and if that means study­ing for a lit­tle while, then great.”

LIS­TEN –JUST NOT TO EV­ERY­ONE

“I do read re­views about my work, and also Twit­ter. Gen­er­ally peo­ple are nice, but of course you get the odd neg­a­tive per­son, es­pe­cially with Big Brother be­cause it’s a show based on per­sonal opinion.

There was a point when I was younger when I would let it af­fect me. No­body wants to hear hor­ri­ble things about them­selves. But, for me, the minute I had children, ev­ery­thing changed be­cause I had to stop think­ing about me. So am I go­ing to worry about some­one say­ing I’ve got fat legs or not lik­ing my dress? Yes, it will bother me, but I’m not go­ing to let it ruin my day. That’s the way I deal with it. Al­though some­times I’ll think about it for hours and hours! But then I have to be like, ‘Stop it. It doesn’t mat­ter.’”

YOUR CA­REER WILL CHANGE AS YOU CHANGE

“I’m a re­al­ist when it comes to work. Noth­ing lasts for­ever. Ev­ery­one has a shelf life and peo­ple move in and out of favour. If you think you de­serve to be in any job above any­body else, that is delu­sional. Which is why hav­ing some form of side hus­tle is a good thing. I love what I do and I want to keep do­ing it, but it’s im­por­tant to have other fo­cuses, so I’ve been con­cen­trat­ing on a few other projects.

I got ap­proached by Ey­lure a year ago to de­sign my own range of false eye­lashes, which are some­thing

I wear all the time. I said yes, but only if I could be in­volved in ev­ery step of the process, and luck­ily they just let me cre­ate – I’ve de­signed three sets, based on my children’s lashes. And I have another project com­ing out at the end of the sum­mer that isn’t TV. I’d also love to do some­thing with hos­pi­tals – my mum was a nurse for 40 years and it has in­stilled an in­ter­est in me.

It takes a while to fig­ure out what you want to do and where you’re most com­fort­able and happy, and as you get older, your in­ter­ests change.”

YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY

“When I was 18 I went to Australia for work and I re­mem­ber an agent telling me I was too fat. I cried be­cause I was liv­ing with a fam­ily friend who was a chef! But I wasn’t fat, or heavy – or even skinny. I was just nor­mal with a round face. And every­body else in Australia was a god­dess!

Peo­ple go to ex­tremes, but I was never pre­pared to make my­self ill to achieve that. No f*ck­ing way. I al­ways knew I wasn’t go­ing to be a su­per­model, so it wasn’t worth it for some­thing that wasn’t even achiev­able. At Fash­ion Week I was never good enough, so even if I had got any­where, I’d have needed to live off red wine and peanuts for a month. Or grown, be­cause I wasn’t tall enough!

[Cast­ing agents] need to start tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity. You don’t have to tell some­one they’re too big when they’re a size 8. Some­times you have to con­sider peo­ple’s feel­ings, well­be­ing and health.

I heard the other day that the Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil have set up a hot­line for mod­els to call if they feel un­der pres­sure or need help, which is bril­liant. There was never any­thing like that in my day.”

GET COM­FORT­ABLE WITH BE­ING UN­COM­FORT­ABLE

“I was a very shy kid. And never very con­fi­dent. If I’m hon­est, I’m only just begin­ning to gain con­fi­dence in what I do now. And that’s be­cause of ex­pe­ri­ence. I never want to get com­pla­cent but the more hours you put in, the more you re­alise that you must be do­ing some­thing right.

I still get ter­ri­fied of do­ing live TV. Not so much on Big Brother or

The Voice, but things like pre­sent­ing the Brit Awards last year. But, for me, the minute I lose my nerves is when I mess up. If I don’t feel ner­vous, I worry.

It’s good to test your­self, but when I worked at MTV on my first pre­sent­ing job, I was re­ally out of my com­fort zone. At the cast­ing I thought ev­ery­one would take the piss out of my Birm­ing­ham ac­cent and I be­lieved they only wanted me there as the to­ken model. Even when I got the job, I strug­gled. On the first day I couldn’t even say ‘Wel­come to MTV’ into the cam­era with­out dis­ap­pear­ing into my own body. The guy in charge made me sit there and say it over and over, all day. I thought they’d never keep me on.

And I still have those nig­gles. I al­ways think that what I’m do­ing now could be the best it gets. I get it into my head that peo­ple have tried me out, used me and are done with me, and that it must be time for some­body else. It’s not so much a lack of con­fi­dence now be­cause I feel able, but that I be­lieve it’s only a mat­ter of time. I know I’ll be al­right, though. I never planned to work in TV or to be a model – so what­ever I do after this, I prob­a­bly won’t have planned ei­ther.”

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