Changes: Fearne Cotton
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to series nine of Changes. I am Annie Macmanus and I'm so glad you're here. Thank you so much for being here. Having recorded a lot of these episodes already over the last few weeks and months, I can tell you that I'm enjoying doing this podcast more than ever. The conversations are so stimulating and so life affirming and provide me with a connection to other people's thought processes and other people's stories that I really, really value. And it's such a privilege to be able to bring you those conversations week after week, after week. So yeah, I mean, it's all a bit schmaltzy, but basically, thank you for being here. It means the world and I'm excited for what we're going to be bringing you this series. Right, we are kicking things off this series with someone who you would probably call a TV presenter, a radio presenter, a podcaster, an all round kind of celebrity. But probably not many people would call her on first hand, a businesswoman. But that's what I think of when I think of Fearne Cotton. I think of her as being a really astute, clever businesswoman. Someone who's managed to curate an entire career around her personal passions and put herself front and centre of it. She has complete control over everything she does, and everything she does, she does very, very well. Fearne started out, of course, in the entertainment world working on children's TV, fronting the Disney Club on C ITV at 15 years old. She then went on to become a household name, presenting mainstream television shows like Top Of The Pops before joining BBC Radio One in 2005, which is where we met. Fearne experienced some difficult times personally when she was there, and in fact all the way through her twenties and has spoken a lot about struggling with bulimia and depression in that time. In 2015, Fearnee left Radio One. She wrote a book called Happy, which became the first of many Sunday Times bestsellers from her and launched her award winning podcast Happy Place soon after. Happy Place is now a brand which has expanded and expanded and evolved. There's a festival, which is on sale now, a publishing imprint, there's even an app. All advocate for a wider conversation around mental health, self-care and helping people live happier lives. Fearne's also done a lot of charity work over the years for Comic Relief, Mind, The Prince's Trust, Coppafeel, and so much more. Her latest book Bigger Than Us, which came out at the start of the year, is her most personal yet. Now, I've known Fearne a long time. We share a mutual experience, of course, from our Radio One days which I've always really wanted to kind of get into with her, and I was really happy to get an opportunity to do that with her on this episode. Fearne is married to Jessie Wood, son of Ronnie of Rolling Stones fame, and is mum to Rex and Honey and stepmom to Jesse's other two children, Arthur and Lola. It was brilliant to speak to Fearne, and I'm delighted to bring this conversation with you, where we find out more about her world and of course, her changes. Let's get into it... Fearne Cotton, you are so, so warmly welcomed to Changes.
Fearne [00:03:27] Oh, well, that welcome is also warmly received Annie Mac, thank you.
Annie [00:03:30] Good. Good. I mean, it was on the cards for a long time and I've just been waiting for the right time and the right reason for us to talk. And it happened at the start of this year. You posted on Instagram on the 19th of January. You were talking about waking up one morning on the first week of the new year, remembering that you were 41 and kind of ruminating on how quickly time was passing. You said "in that moment, I decided I want to be the best that I can be in what I do. I think I maybe felt embarrassed or undeserving of saying that previously. Why is it perhaps taboo for a woman to admit to such a thing?". And then you went on to say, "I've been squashed, sacked, abused verbally, but I don't want to entertain any of that anymore. I want to push myself, grow, learn and be the best I can at what I do!".
Fearne [00:04:17] That was a day I was feeling really mentally strong, wow! *Annie laughs*. Dunno if I feel that vehement today! *Both laugh*.
Annie [00:04:23] Sorry. It must have been cringe hearing your Instagram copy being read back to you then. But I mean, that is genuinely I mean, I messaged you that day. And I was like, okay, it's time. It's time. First of all, how are you since then? How has your 2023 been?
Fearne [00:04:37] It's been all right. I do think in a clichéd way, with age and experience, I am learning to relax into who I am naturally. You know, I haven't really changed over the years. Circumstances have, life has. But since I was a tiny kid, I've always had really excessive energy and really wanted to just move forward. There's this real urgency that I have to keep moving forwards, and that's not to some sort of strange ascent to, you know, what people might expect, sort of fame or outward success. But I have this desire to keep things moving. I hate the feeling of stagnancy. So I think as I've aged, I'm really settling into that and allowing myself to be really driven, to be really ambitious and I guess regress in a sense that I want to dream big like I used to. Perhaps without the naivety, because I think, you know, when I was a teenager in this industry, I had stupid dreams. Very fun dreams but-
Annie [00:05:48] Oh, I used to practice my Oscar winning speeches in the mirror all the time.
Fearne [00:05:52] *Laughs* exactly. Exactly. Stuff that doesn't really propel us to that sort of drive today but, I really want to allow myself to dream big without second guessing what people might say about that or what names I might be called for admitting such a thing. I find it really fun to dream up different circumstances and to attempt to achieve them. It doesn't always work out well, but it's so fun and I think I want a bit of that back, please.
Annie [00:06:22] Yeah. I mean, it is important to iterate at this point, at the top of the conversation, just how incredibly successful you've been at being able to facilitate some of these big, big dreams for yourself. Looking at Happy Place, it's a big thing. It's a big brand. And I think it's easy to look at you and your Instagrams and see all the kind of very honest, confessional things that you give us. You're so generous with what you share about your life, but behind that is a really fucking good businesswoman, and I'm so interested in that aspect of what you do. You know, you're a brand expert, you're businesswoman, you do publishing, you do podcasting, you do live events. It's been incredible to watch how you've built this world around you to facilitate exactly what you want to do and how you want to put things out in this world. What does Happy Place look like behind the scenes? Is there an office? Is there a team?
Fearne [00:07:11] It's quite an operation these days, and I think I'm more keen to show that side of it because obviously social media is sort of half a percent of my life and there's so much more that goes into it. Even a podcast, as you well know Annie Mac, these very relaxed sounding conversations take weeks of work. And I am an absolute nerd, I need to study that person, I need to feel like I'm fully consumed by their world, and if I don't do the prep, I would be terrified. So that tiny bit of Happy Place alone takes up a hell of a lot of time. Obviously, writing books, which obviously you know all about as well is laborious *Annie laughs*. And then on the editing or sort of book world note, we're publishing books now on Happy Place, so we have meetings throughout the year discussing what kind of books we want to publish, which kind of authors might be out there, who we can help sort of discover and elevate. The festival is an all year round project again, as you well know, because you're doing a lot of this stuff too. And we've got the Happy Place app now as well, which is a newer project for us. Each one of those projects has multiple meetings throughout the year. Relentless emailing, relentless discussion, constant brainstorming. As I said, I don't like stagnancy, but I'm also not the sort of person to sort of rest on my laurels. And it's really interesting hearing you say, 'oh, blah blah blah' about my success. I never feel that. I always feel like I'm hustling and I'm nowhere near where I'd like to be and I haven't achieved anywhere near what I'd like to achieve.
Annie [00:08:50] So what is the end game then?!
Fearne [00:08:52] I don't know.
Annie [00:08:52] Because- do you project forwards? Do you think, okay we're here now. I want to be there. I want to do America. Are you thinking bigger in that way?
Fearne [00:08:58] Sometimes, sometimes. Sometimes we are in a really well thought out way. We'll create a project and think, you know, how could this grow? But I think generally-
Annie [00:09:05] When you say 'we', sorry love, who's we?
Fearne [00:09:07] So, well it's quite an interesting configuration that we've got going on. So I went into business with my management company YMU. I've been with them since I was a teenager, so I've got really long standing relationships with them. Once we could see that this Happy Place thing was a thing, we started talking more deliberately about where we wanted to take it and what it could be. So I went into business with my management. So that gives me an amazing array of humans that I can work with because at my management we've got a live events team, a branding team, a digital team etc. But it's only in the last year that that hasn't been quite enough because of the amount of stuff we're doing. So we've just started hiring sort of exclusive Happy Place members. So we've got two full time team members now who help run the digital side of things and also the video content side of things. You know, it is a business and we want to make money, but also our ethos is that we have to be helping people where we can and also providing resources and information or joy for either free or a very low price point. And we are absolutely committed to that. And there might be the odd project that has a slightly higher price point. But the festival, for instance, we are committed to keeping that to, I think it was 35 quid for a day last year and it will be marginally the same this year. And what you get for your money for that day is a lot. You know, the access to talks, to classes, to experiencing things that you might not have before. So we're really committed to that. But I think again, as a female, I feel like I have to accentuate that whereas perhaps a man would be much happier talking about, 'we're here to make money! These are our financial aims!'. I still feel very nervous walking into that territory if I'm completely honest, and that's something that I perhaps need to work on *laughs*.
Annie [00:10:59] I don't know. I feel like it's something that people don't think of as quickly. You know, they won't think of you as being a businesswoman.
Fearne [00:11:06] No.
Annie [00:11:06] And I think it's important to really show that side of you, because it's clearly that you're so astute and so smart. Now, listen, here's my next question, because we have similarities, I think, in terms of how we've done our careers. Going from being the presenter, to then being forward facing and having businesses where having kind of ecosystems of people around us that are facilitating various creative endeavours. I guess I found my face and my name being at the front of things, a bigger, and bigger burden as the business grew. Do you relate to any of that?
Fearne [00:11:39] Yes, I do. Especially with the festival because you've got so many people in person there. I think with things like the podcast or the app, we take a lot of care to ensure that if there's anything triggering that we flag it. And you know, we're quite overly cautious about stuff like that. A festival is different because it's chaos, you know, you can't control it to an extent. But I think I'm able to manage that pressure because I find it so much less of a pressure than being on the TV or being on the radio. That to me, is the ultimate pressure and one that I actually can't cope with. You know, I don't do telly anymore. If something came along that really fired me up, I would seriously consider putting myself back in that space. But I find it almost- this sounds so dramatic, but sort of a bit traumatising to put myself out there in that way. And it's not that I'm going to go on TV and try and cause offence to anyone or hurt anyone, but I think just the notion of putting yourself out there and then being open to whatever commentary, whether you like it or not.
Annie [00:12:46] Yeah.
Fearne [00:12:47] I can't handle that anymore. I really can't. I'm not up for it. I don't like it. It makes me feel physically uncomfortable. So that's worse.
Annie [00:12:56] Was there one thing babe, that made you realise that? Like that kind of put the nail in the coffin? One moment or experience.
Fearne [00:13:03] I mean, there's probably loads to be honest, I think as you'll know, being on a live radio show is always terrifying. And I didn't used to find it terrifying. I used to just sort of- I mean let's be honest, sometimes I'd be like online shopping, doing a link, like at the same time.
Annie [00:13:16] It's interesting isn't it, how you change over- You know, you change, you grow, you evolve, and then your attitude to what you're doing changes too yeah.
Fearne [00:13:24] Yeah, I mean, I went through some pretty gnarly personal stuff that was very hard to navigate and all whilst being on the radio and all whilst having lots of people talking about me. And it was an incredibly lonely time. It was a time when nothing really made sense and that was the start of a bit of an unravelling really, where I thought, God, this is terrifying being in this world. This is not what it used to be. And I, I don't know if I'm built for it. I mean, I know I'm not built for it now. I got offered a tiny little thing to do last week and I just thought, I'm not ready to do that. I'm not ready to put myself out there. I've luckily created a little safe space myself where, if people criticise the podcast, I'll listen. I'll say, right, we'll do better, we'll do whatever. But when it's just putting yourself out there for people to throw abuse at you or make assumptions about you, I'm not built for it and I don't want to put myself out there like that.
Annie [00:14:24] So is it the difference between kind of feeling safe?
Fearne [00:14:25] Yes.
Annie [00:14:26] Exposing yourself in this way because it's your world.
Fearne [00:14:29] Yeah. It's all about safety. I do not feel safe going on a live TV show or a live radio show. I feel the most unsafe you could possibly feel. And again, that will sound very dramatic to someone that hasn't experienced the very, very dark side of that. But it is horrific. Absolutely a horrific feeling for me to step back into that space. And I think I've got to an age where the pay off is not worth it. You know, being famous or being known, you know, the thing that I have to deal with now and again, it's no biggie, but you might get the postman saying, oh, what are you up to these days? And a bit of it's like, *bangs chest* ahhh! Like ego crushed.
Annie [00:15:10] Haven't seen you on the telly lately.
Fearne [00:15:12] Yeah I know! Or like I had a lighting guy say it when I bumped into him once like, oh!, haven't seen you on TV for years. And it's like, oh for fucks sake I work harder now than I ever have and I'm more creatively fulfilled, but I'm not doing the stuff that is mega, mega visible all the time. So I've had to come to terms with that, which is just an ego based thing, and that's fine. I can deal with all that. I understand how that works. It still requires a bit of a daily discipline and work, but I know how it works and I'm unfazed by it now. I can go, well, I'm doing lots of lovely things and I'm much happier, so I'll stick with that.
Annie [00:15:46] It being an ego based thing because you sense that you not being on the television now is some sort of a failure?
Fearne [00:15:53] Maybe.
Annie [00:15:54] Is that it? Or is it the nature of how you left television? I'm interested in that because you've been --- when I've just listened to your interviews that you got dropped off TV shows and it feels like a very insidious way of basically being fired, because you're not told to your face, there's no conversations. You just see someone else on the television doing your job. There's no kind of direct communication which must be horrible. Tell us about those instances, as much as you wish of course.
Fearne [00:16:17] Yeah. No, I'm more than happy to talk about anything. I think at times I have seen it as a failure because I think especially when it's, you know, unlike a lot of jobs, that part of the media is based on your personality. So when people are either firing you or giving you abuse, you question yourself. Is there something wrong with me? Am I annoying? Am I silly? Am I wrong? Unlike other parts of my job now where it's about skill, it's about learning something and it's about being good at doing an interview or writing a book, and that there can always be improvement. But when it's your personality, you can't improve that, that's who you are.
Annie [00:16:58] No, it's who you are.
Fearne [00:17:00] So I, I often felt crushed by that when I was sacked from something. And these are very incremental things, like I had a very, very fortunate and regular TV career from 15 probably until my early 30s, where I was really lucky. I was constantly doing TV projects. Sometimes I liked them, sometimes I didn't.
Annie [00:17:24] So let's just remind people, you did Top of the Pops. You did Love Island in 2006.
Fearne [00:17:28] I know, that's quite unbelievable.
Annie [00:17:28] You did The Xtra Factor in 2007, you did all the Red Nose Day Children In Need, Strictly Come Dancing Special for Children In Need. Ten years as a team captain on Celebrity Juice. You really did the most mainstream big event television that there was.
Fearne [00:17:42] Yeah, it was really you know, it was a real good time of learning. And there are parts of that era that are unforgettable. You know, like getting to work with Sir Terry Wogan, who I still miss more than I can put into words. That was a gift, and I don't take any of that for granted. But there were, of course, bits of it that felt like I was forcing myself into it because wait, am I not meant to be on this like train that's heading to somewhere? Like, don't I have to keep on it to get to that holy grail of being a massive presenter, which I never felt I really did. I always felt like I was slightly clinging on for dear life. And then I think-
Annie [00:18:23] And who was the Holy Grail? Would that have been like an Ant and Dec or?
Fearne [00:18:25] Yeah, definitely. Who I ADORE. But yeah, all those sort of very held, you know, sort of in high esteem presenters, I very much still do look up to them. I think they're highly skilled individuals, they're so good at what they do. And I think I've always been very sensitive to any outside criticism so have probably questioned if there is something sort of strangely wrong with me over the years, whereas I don't believe that now. I think, you know what I, I wasn't quite right for those jobs. Perhaps my perspective is very different.
Annie [00:18:59] Which jobs?! But you did them all for years, you were amazing at them!
Fearne [00:19:01] Any of them. Oh I guess I could do them! I could show up and I could do them. But I don't think I was always what the TV producers wanted. I was never quite sure, like, what do you want from me? Like, what is it? Whereas now I know how to do a good interview, if I put the prep in and the work, if I show up in a good frame of mind, I will do the best interview I can do. I've still got loads of improving to do. I want to be a million times better than I am at interviewing. But I know that if someone were to criticise me, that's more about taste rather than skill because I'm putting in the hours and the work and I know what I'm doing. Whereas with doing like, reading an auto queue and being on TV, I don't know I just felt like, what is it that's wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? And then when you get sacked, that's like another sort of sucker punch. Like, oh my God, there is something wrong with me because I'm not wanted, I'm not validated. And there's still this real childish part of me that's probably maybe like me as a teenager, because, you know, like you Annie, I don't come from this world. I'm from a regular working class background. So I see telly people as these sort of like otherworldly creatures. And I'll think, oh my God, they've asked me to do something. They've given me that validation. They like me, I'm worth something. And there's still a tiny bit of me that if I get asked to do something goes, oh God, they like, they like me, the telly people like me. And they don't even exist, these telly people. But that's kind of this strange, childlike approach I can still have to it, but on a much lesser degree today.
[00:20:33] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:20:42] So you mentioned your childhood change. Landing a job in TV at 15. A fairytale-esq story, isn't it.
Fearne [00:20:48] Yeah, it was.
Annie [00:20:48] Of a young girl going to drama club in her local church hall, state school, as you say, working class upbringing, just falling in love with drama, then getting this job at 15. And then there's a moment as well where I heard you mention being 18, and I'm interested in that change Fearne, what happened when you turned 18 and were kind of, set free from the kind of quite sheltered world of doing TV as a child, I suppose.
Fearne [00:21:11] Yeah, I mean, it was unbelievably sheltered and I'm so grateful because the main TV producer I worked with from 15 to about 19 was called Maddy Darroll, and she's still someone I speak to all the time. For some reason, at that audition at 15, she saw that there might be some potential and she really worked with me to bring it out of me. We didn't have social media back then, which was an absolute godsend. We worked very hard, but we were really looked after. We were really guided and taught. The whole thing felt totally magical and colourful and vibrant. And I think being ejected from that world, willingly I felt I'd reached my sort of natural expiry date. You then go, ohhh, bloody hell. And I remember doing my first ever Top of the Pops and I was 19 and obviously like you, I'd watched Top of the Pops for my whole childhood. It was like, just this incredible world I wanted to be part of. And I remember being told, just turn up, and I just sort of wore any old clothes, no one had stylists back then, and you'd be thrown into the studio and they'd go, right, here's some bits of paper with the script on, and we're live! And you're like, what? But you didn't tell me how this is going to work. Like what? But how? And when do I go over here? And no one told you anything! And I was terrified! Absolutely terrified. That was like a real baptism of fire, sort of straight into that world. No lovely mollycoddling or producer giving you a hug it was just, do the job. And holy God, you know, I seriously had to get myself in gear for that. And I, you know, I found a new rhythm with it and it was fine, but it was a real shock. A real shock.
Annie [00:22:54] And then how did you find the aspect of being a woman, technically at 18, and this kind of sexualisation, I suppose, of your body being seen as a woman and being fair game, I suppose, to people's views of you and your body?
Fearne [00:23:09] I find it really confusing to even talk about now because I've never felt sort of sexy *laughs* or kind of massively feminine in my sort of expression. I've always felt a bit awkward but I understood the power in it. And there were some sort of suggestions along that sort of timeline that it would be a good thing to do lads mags, because then you're seen as a woman, which I sort of naively didn't question because I was 19 and I just was like, oh, that's just how this thing works.
Annie [00:23:48] I mean, I mean, it was.
Fearne [00:23:50] It was! And it did work.
Annie [00:23:51] It was how it worked. It was very much popular culture.
Fearne [00:23:52] Whether it's right or wrong, it worked. All of a sudden people saw you as a woman. I don't know if I'd do things differently or not. I'm not sure. Sometimes I look back at those pictures and think, well that's quite fun, you know, and I was, you know, having a relatively good time at the shoots themselves, but I didn't feel like it came naturally to sort of wear some latex outfit and be parading around the studio. But I did it. And sometimes I feel regret and sometimes I don't. This is the sort of confusion. I had a lot of body dysmorphia. I mean, sometimes I still do. I've obviously talked a lot about body image over the years. I sort of fell into being bulimic at 19 very out of the blue from a feeling of life being utterly out of control around that time. And I think some of it was just, I don't like being in my skin. I don't know what I'm meant to do with this body and I don't know how to dress it and I don't know how to feel comfortable in it. And I look back and I think, oh God, like I wished that I could have just grabbed the 19 year old me and gone, just be you, it doesn't matter. Just dress a bit weird. Don't worry about it. Just sort of experiment and go with it. But there are so many pressures or there were back in the sort of late nineties, early noughties for female presenters to sort of look a certain way, be a certain way, for you to stay in the job. And I was terrified of losing the job. So a lot of the time I sort of did what I was told, I guess.
Annie [00:25:25] Yeah, or did what you felt you had to do to stay relevant.
Fearne [00:25:29] Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. And that's something I still interestingly, on a much lesser degree, can battle with. If someone goes to me, ahhh, this would be a good thing for you to do, and I go, oh God, maybe it would. And then I get to a point where I go, that's made me really, really not want to do it. So I'm not doing it *Annie laughs*. I'm not doing something that's 'good' for me.
Annie [00:25:49] Such a lovely position to be in, you know, in your life. In your 40s now and just being like, no.
Fearne [00:25:56] Yeah, am not doing it.
Annie [00:25:56] It may be good for me, you know, as what other people think, but not- if you don't instinctively want to do it, just to be able to say no. Ahhh, it's amazing.
Fearne [00:26:06] Heaven. Heaven!
Annie [00:26:06] Okay. So you mentioned the bulimia, I know you've talked about the bulimia a lot. Can I ask about the change, I suppose, around then? So you say it happened when you were 19. How about your memories of being able to stop being bulimic and come out of it, I suppose?
Fearne [00:26:21] Yeah. I mean, it was very, very incremental because at first I was very, very poorly. You know, I was- bulimia was like sort of this escape that I was using all the time. All the time.
Annie [00:26:35] Did it consume you?
Fearne [00:26:36] Sometimes. Sometimes. If I was particularly stressed out or felt very out of control, then yeah, I would be consumed by it all day. And I think that probably went on for a couple of years. And then there'd be huge periods where I didn't think about it and it didn't happen. But then as soon as I was stressed, under pressure, felt sad, it was the first thing to go. And it was really meeting my husband at 29, so it was yeah, it was a decade of sort of dealing with this situation, and meeting my husband and sort of thinking for the first time, oh, this feels like maybe a new chapter altogether and this is where I want to be. And it didn't stop immediately. But I think very early on in our relationship, I was like, I can't do this anymore. I don't want to do this. I can't do it. I didn't go down a particularly structured route of getting better. I just stopped. And it took a lot of willpower and it took a lot of really focusing on what I wanted for the future, which was to have a healthy body so I could hopefully get pregnant and be a healthy person for the people that I loved. And yeah, I mean, maybe again, I would do that differently today and I would seek a bit of help because I do think it's invaluable. But I luckily managed to just stop. And that was it.
Annie [00:28:06] Mmm. Now there's a period where, when you wrote your book Happy, that it feels to me, looking in from the outside, like a huge, huge change, which is when you went from withholding to sharing.
Fearne [00:28:18] Yes. Yes.
Annie [00:28:20] And all those inner feelings, all that turmoil, you know, you wrote down, which as we all know is the best way to understand who you are, is to write. And then you shared it. What was that experience like, that change?
Fearne [00:28:33] It was mad. And I wonder if you relate to this too Annie, because I think especially being on the radio, there isn't much space to be you. You are to an extent, and I guess our roles were slightly different in terms of, you know, you were there to bring us the best, best music and the best new artists. I was there to sort of half entertain, half do the music thing, so it was quite a confusing place, but I didn't feel I could say anything remotely honest on the radio. And I think things have changed at Radio One now and there's a bit more room for it. But when we were there it was like, make them laugh, make the listeners feel part of this and interview people. And I thought, okay, well that's the job. I'm not going to go outside of that. I wasn't courageous enough, I certainly wasn't confident enough to do that. So I think leaving radio led me to question a lot and how much I had to lose if I was just honestly me, a very flawed person with regrets and mistakes made and all of that stuff. And it did feel very risky. I've now realised it's unbelievably fruitful *Annie laughs* in terms of human connection, more opportunities, relaxation because I'm not pretending to be someone else anymore. So it's been amazing. But writing that book, I did think, God, this feels extremely risky. And I was told by certain people in the industry, once you've said all this stuff, you'll be asked about it forever. There's no going back. And I felt terrified about that, like, oh God, this could be horrendous. Only actually, although I talked about my mental health first, I didn't talk about the bulimia stuff till like-
Annie [00:30:19] For a while.
Fearne [00:30:19] A few years ago.
Annie [00:30:20] Yeah, yeah.
Fearne [00:30:20] I felt so weird about it. I couldn't say the word out loud. I felt maybe a bit embarrassed. And this is my experience, for anyone else with bulimia, your feelings will be different, it'll be your feelings, but I felt embarrassed like it was- I had a lot of regret around it. A lot of regret. And I had to admit that I wasn't coping as well in the industry that I'd been in for a very long time, once I sort of understood why I had it. So it's been a real like peeling back the layers. And there's still stuff that I haven't talked about. Maybe I won't ever talk about it, but I don't say things unless I feel really ready to go there, on a level where i's not going to cause me to be up panicking all night. So, I'm pretty comfortable talking about a large portion of who I am.
Annie [00:31:08] Mmmm. And was there a sense of liberation and relief, I suppose, upon people reading about your mental health issues? I'm sure you were terrified at the start, but once you saw people's reactions to Happy, which was so hugely successful as a book, were you like, okay, I can see another path. I can see, you know, did it open doors in your head to a possibility of having a different type of career, I suppose?
Fearne [00:31:32] I don't think it did for ages. Like at first I was so terrified and I did get some journalists ask me questions like, well how can you have felt depressed? What about people out there who are struggling single mums, or whatever and I was like *stutters* but I know, I know and I want to connect with everybody on this level. I don't want to be vilified for saying how I feel. I know people are, you know, have bigger struggles and, have faced huge adversity. I understand that. But I think it's deeply important on so many levels that we talk about life honestly, because otherwise we're constantly caught in a trap of believing that certain individuals have it all sorted and we put them on a pedestal and then we make ourselves lesser than. Oh, it's alright for them. I'm always going to struggle. And that's not helping anyone. It's not helping any of us heal, get better, see life in a very connected way. So I had to really battle through that at the start. People going, why are you talking about all this stuff? What is this? Which was probably exaggerated in my head.
Annie [00:32:36] But it was still new then, it was still new as well. Like it's so normalised now, this aspect of people getting on Instagram and being like, I've had an awful day and I feel rough and this is why. But that really wasn't, that was not a done thing. Instagram was still a very shiny, happy, glossy, you know, presentation of life.
Fearne [00:32:55] Totally. So I felt very defensive, I think, at first. And then I questioned myself a lot, you know, well, did I really feel that bad? I, I know I felt that bad. I was in a black hole. I was on anti-depressants. I know how I felt. But everybody else's opinion was very confusing. So it was a very muddled time. It wasn't like I've released this book, yay! Now I'm going to go and talk about wellness forever. I had no clue what I was doing. It took ages and then I think the podcast was very helpful because again, I got to connect with people on a really intimate level that I hadn't before in an interview setting, but I think I'm still finding my feet with it all now.
Annie [00:33:37] It's kind of like an exercise in being fluid.
Fearne [00:33:39] Yeah.
Annie [00:33:39] Just keeping doors open and trusting yourself and trusting the process and seeing what comes. It's a huge part of it, isn't it?
Fearne [00:33:47] It's an exercise in self-compassion as well. Because, if I'm to have empathy and compassion for whether it's my listeners, the beautiful people that come to the festival, people that are engaging in our Instagram accounts, whatever it might be, all my guests, then I've got to give myself a break and have that self-compassion. So I have to keep coming back to that again and again so I can have that connection and really feel it. And I don't want to deny myself of healing. I don't think it comes naturally to anyone, really. But certainly not after however many years I've been sort of bombarded with outside commentary. It really doesn't come easily.
[00:34:27] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:34:36] Babe, let's talk about Radio One. So, you mentioned it there. You joined in 2005. You stayed for pretty much a decade.
Fearne [00:34:44] Yeah.
Annie [00:34:45] And if we look at the context of which you joined it, so, you know, 19 you say your bulimia started, so you're kind of well into your twenties in the midst of high fame and inner turmoil, I suppose, just trying to survive. And then you joined Radio One, you did the chart show with Reggie, and then you got the big mid-morning slot. Traditionally called The Jo Whiley Slot.
Fearne [00:35:05] Yes *laughs*.
Annie [00:35:06] And you were doing live lounges and you were interviewing the biggest bands in the world. What did life look like then, in 2005 for you?
Fearne [00:35:16] A massive roller coaster. I mean it was- that period of my life was utterly wild. I mean, it was obviously terrifying taking over from Jo. Not only as a fan of Jo, but you understand why she's so revered, renowned, respected, and you're meant to fill her shoes. I mean, I'm so glad that I was naive enough to say yes, because I would never say yes today, I'd be like nope, not doing it. But back then I was naive enough to go, I'll give it my best shot. And I knew that certain people didn't want me there.
Annie [00:35:48] Who?!
Fearne [00:35:48] There was definitely a feeling.
Annie [00:35:51] Like other DJs? Or listeners?
Fearne [00:35:52] Maybe not DJs, but there was a sense, I think within the radio world that I wasn't welcome. And I really felt it at first.
Annie [00:36:03] Wow, I had no idea.
Fearne [00:36:04] Yeah, I'm not sure I ever felt massively welcomed there. By lots of people I did! And I've obviously got friendships that have continued. And I'm so glad that I still get to speak to you and Greg and some brilliant people that I- and Scott, who I adore. But I did feel at times like- because I came from the telly. I wasn't the sort of diehard radio person.
Annie [00:36:25] So you weren't a radio bod.
Fearne [00:36:26] Yeah, I was a telly person.
Annie [00:36:28] Right yeah, got you.
Fearne [00:36:28] And it's like, *sighs* oh, the telly person trying to do radio *Annie laughs*. You know, I really felt that, it weighed heavily on my chest. It was horrendous. But as I say, I was very lucky, I was naive enough to crack on with things. But I felt the pressure. But I dealt with it a lot better back then, you know, obviously there was sort of undulating bulimia, but I mentally sort of felt fine. You know, I could sleep at night without any trouble at all. I would go from radio and fly to the states, do some filming, do a TV show over there, come back, do a bit more radio. I was constantly on a plane. It was so exciting. There was bits of it that would just- I look back and think, what the hell? That was my life. You know, now my life is like school run, back, the kids tea, bath. It's very different. Interspersed with interviewing brilliant people but it's very normal. Back then it was anything but. It was like- I remember one day leaving the mid-morning show, I'd done the show, got on a flight, flew to L.A., filmed with Paris Hilton that night, went clubbing with her, went to a Kylie concert the next day, went back to a hotel room, partied, more filming, flew back, landed on the Monday, went straight back into radio.
Annie [00:37:42] Oh my God babe.
Fearne [00:37:43] I could never do that now! *Annie laughs* It was absolutely bonkers. And there were bits of it that were brilliant. And I was much more- I don't know if I was blinkered or unaware or robust. I still don't really know, but I could get through a lot of outside commentary and obviously I had this sort of- it was an element of suppression and there was an element of it coming out in destructive ways with bulimia and all that sort of thing but I got through it! And I was sort of- I didn't feel mentally that scarred by it. I think it's only now I look back and go, eugh God, there was so much wrong *laughing* with that whole era of my life and I don't have huge regrets in some ways, I've learned a hell of a lot, but I could never go through all that again. No way. I want peace. I don't want a dramatic rollercoaster, which it was. I need calm these days.
Annie [00:38:42] Did you ever feel at peace with yourself on the radio? Did you feel worthy in the end?
Fearne [00:38:47] In the end, I definitely did. I think I grew a real trust with the listeners, which took a lot of time, especially in that mid-morning slot. I grew beautiful relationships with artists, which I'm sure you'll agree is one of the beautiful benefits of doing that job, that you make really beautiful relationships and you're sort of threaded through bits of their career and it's- you feel like you're part of their experience, it's so special and I've got that connection with a few artists still now that I'll never forget and I feel privileged that I got to be part of their journey. And I did really feel in my swing, you know, and I think I really started to enjoy interviewing properly during the live lounge days. And I think by the end of it I had a lovely group of listeners that really liked what I was doing. And at times it was sort of blood, sweat and tears to get there but I'm really glad I did and I felt like I left on a high, which is what I really wanted. But I found it a very, very difficult place to be. A very difficult place to be, hence why I left.
Annie [00:39:47] Did you feel supported in there or not?
Fearne [00:39:49] By certain individuals I felt I felt a level of support. But I do also believe that there was this culture that as the DJ, you were the lucky one. You should bloody well turn up, get on air and do the job. And I, I didn't experience, I guess much care in that department. And again, without sounding dramatic, to go on the radio every day and to talk to millions of people and not fuck up and to be entertaining, informative, everything that everyone's expecting from you, be the best every day, is at times an insurmountable pressure. If you've got shit going on at home, family dramas, you could be going through all sorts. Death, break-ups. You have to get on there and you have to do that. And I don't feel- I don't know what it's like there now because I haven't stepped foot in the building for years, but I don't feel like that was very taken into consideration in terms of, you have got to go out onto this sort of battlefield every day and do that job, so therefore we're all here to make sure you're alright doing it. And I was doing that when I was going through hell. And I was still expected without anyone saying are you alright? No fucker asked me, 'are you alright?' ever. I went in the studio, no one spoke to me, I did my job, they all knew what was going on, I left, I went home, I felt like shit. I would wake up, do the same the next day. And again, it sounds dramatic, but I like myth busting and letting people know what's going on behind the scenes. It can look like a glamorous job, it can look super fun, it can look very easy. That's because, you know, we've tried to make it look as easy as we can when we're doing the job because we've worked very hard at doing it. Someone like Scott Mills works that desk like a spaceship, makes it look like the easiest thing in the world. It's so tricky to technically do what he's doing. Or for, you know, you talking about music in such a knowledgeable way, that takes years and years of skill. So, you know, it is a really big ask to go out on the radio every day and put yourself out there in that way, especially when you're going through stuff that is personally extremely trying. So I really hope that now they have a much better system in place for DJs if they are struggling in their real life or dealing with stuff. I hope that all workplaces have that. You know, I've luckily done a lot of work in the last five years with big companies where they have got really good sort of wellbeing hubs, support networks. It's brilliant. Not every company does, but it's really kicking off. So I hope that all workplaces have that level of care for the people that work there.
Annie [00:42:34] Yeah, and I guess it's just such a whole other intense layer when it's outward facing entertainment like that, it's just a whole other thing to have to deal with.
Fearne [00:42:43] Yeah, it's huge.
Annie [00:42:43] I remember calling you when I was thinking about leaving radio and you being really helpful, and it was really, for me personally, I guess comforting to see someone like you who had such a huge job there leaving and being so successful and comfortable in your place and being able to kind of curate your career as opposed to, you know, be reactive to what people are asking. Be proactive and make it what you want. Upon leaving Radio One and making that decision, I've heard you say that it took you a good six months of thinking intensely about it. How did it feel when you told them that you were going to leave?
Fearne [00:43:23] Um, it felt pretty good. I was really, really ready to leave. I'd been through sort of hell and back mentally, and I needed a big change and that felt like the obvious one.
Annie [00:43:35] And had you identified Radio One as kind of an issue within that? Like, you felt like it was contributing to you feeling shit?
Fearne [00:43:42] Maybe. I don't think it was- it wasn't the whole problem. But I think putting myself out there every day wasn't helping me get better.
Annie [00:43:48] Sure.
Fearne [00:43:50] And I needed something very different. And it was entirely risky. I was doing Celebrity Juice, but nothing else. I had nothing else to fall back on. I was terrified, but it was still better than feeling how I did. And it took, yeah, a long time. It felt- it still felt somewhat liberating to say I was going. And I guess it felt nice to be able to just walk away from a lot of stuff that had been quite tricky, although I've had to deal with that later because you can't put stuff to bed as easily as I thought by just leaving somewhere or an experience. But I found it very difficult constantly having the reaction be, but why?! Like you do the biggest radio show, music show out there, like why? Why would you leave? Oh my God. Like the music industry will just drop you in a heartbeat. Well, I know. I know how it works. I know I'm worthless after I leave this intensive music industry.
Annie [00:44:49] Nothing rolls up quicker than the red carpet *laughs*.
Fearne [00:44:52] Holy shit. Like it's- let's just be explicit for the listeners here. If you're not important in the music world and you can't help artists, you don't exist. You ain't being invited to the Brits or gigs any more. All those contacts go out the window. I knew all that. I wasn't stupid, but people kept telling me. And I was like, oh bloody hell, I know! And again I think part of the problem with being in the public eye is how much of your self-worth revolves around what people know you for rather than what you enjoy.
Annie [00:45:23] Yes.
Fearne [00:45:23] And I really had to examine that and go, okay, you know me for this, and you see there's worth in that, but I have to do something different and not worry about that so much. I'm still in that process. So it was... challenging at times, shall we say.
[00:45:40] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:45:50] Fearne, I need to ask you about your adulthood change, which is such an interesting one. The biggest change of your adult life, you cited becoming a stepparent and parent. I mean, step parenting is something I know you've talked about. I'm fascinated by the transition there. Walking into a relationship where there's two children, there's these, you know, fixed concrete relationships that you then have to find your place within. How was that experience for you?
Fearne [00:46:15] At first it was a real novelty and I was like, ohh yay! I get to like, take these kids to Westfield and go to Giraffe *Annie laughs* and like all the stuff I'd never done. I just thought, this is so fun!
Annie [00:46:26] And how old were they when you became their stepmum?
Fearne [00:46:28] Lola was five and Arthur was nine. *High, excited voice* So, like, Lola was this- I mean, Lola is nearly 18! She's this two inches taller than me, gorgeous woman. She was five. She had like, missing teeth and wavy, messy hair. I mean, she was delightful and Arthur was this shy little nine year old, now he's a 21 year old man. I mean, it's mind blowing. But I soon realised, okay, this can be fun, but it's also a responsibility and you're going to impact these kids by, you know, how you guide them in life or how you're there for them. So I was like, bloody hell, I need to give this a bit more thought. And that's been again, a real learning curve and incremental over the last 12 years that I've really been able to find my place within that dynamic and also, you know, bring Rex and Honey into the equation as well. And that was a whole other sort of shift and working out how everyone felt about it, etc.. But one of the things I'm most proud of as an adult is having the most beautiful relationship with my stepchildren.
Annie [00:47:35] Ahh babe.
Fearne [00:47:36] Ahh! I could cry talking about it. I love them so much. We get on so well. It's a really beautiful, interesting relationship that I have with both of them, that does differ to my own children somewhat.
Annie [00:47:51] Yeah.
Fearne [00:47:51] But is so special to me. And I'm so grateful that they, you know, they were tiny, but they welcomed me into their little worlds at the time. And like, now, like my stepson rang me yesterday out of the blue from uni and I'm like... I could weep.
Annie [00:48:07] Owhhh.
Fearne [00:48:08] Like the fact that he's- he wants to have a little chat. That means more than anything, that's better than any work accolade or whatever is the fact that me and Jessie have really worked hard to ensure that all four kids are as happy as they can be at any given time and feel like we're all part of a family and there's no separation. And I just feel so, so fortunate that I've got those relationships.
Annie [00:48:34] I can imagine just the level of communication that you would have to strive to, to achieve something like that, and being so perceptive of other people's feelings and thoughts. It's a very good exercise in doing what you do anyway, because all you're doing is understanding people and communicating with people. It all kind of ties in.
Fearne [00:48:52] It's harder in real life. I find it much easier asking a stranger about their problems. You know, there have been times, especially now Arthur and Lola are- well, Lola's nearly an adult and Arthur's a grown man, that you want to either make sure they're okay or have a bit of a check in, or ask them something that might be a bit personal and it does feel profoundly awkward. And you slightly fear because you're not their blood relative, are they going to reject me? Are they going to think I'm a moron? You know, I have felt very overly cautious of that. But we have got really great relationships. And yeah, you're right. It's just taken a hell of a lot of communication with me and Jessie and, it's been really full on at times but unbelievably rewarding.
Annie [00:49:35] Babe, has your relationship with change, changed over the years?
Fearne [00:49:40] Yes, and d'you know what, that's very interesting. I think, in some ways I've got worse at change, because I was so flexible back in the day because I had to be, because I was constantly travelling, moving, new job, whole new crew, never met them, got to be totally, you know, comfortable in their presence immediately. And it was every day. So I got really used to it. Whereas now I think part of it is having kids. I'm so scared of change. Like if we go on holiday, I'm like checking hotel windows have got a lock on and I'm really anxious about that and safety and going abroad or going away anywhere makes me feel quite nervous and oh my God and is that going to be there? Is this going to be there? So I'm probably not as great with change, if I'm honest, but I do think that will change as well *laughs*.
Annie [00:50:31] Listen, you're an absolute legend. I'm so grateful for your time, babe. Thank you. I will enjoy watching Happy Place thrive and grow. And yes, thanks for everything.
Fearne [00:50:42] Ahh, thank you, Annie.
Annie [00:50:47] Fearne Cotton, ladies and gents. The woman herself. And I have to tell you that that Happy Place festival, which she referred to in the conversation, is happening, and tickets are available now if you want to go. Guest speakers include Vicky Pattison, Adele Roberts and Kate Holderness, Nick Grimshaw, Jonny Wilkinson, Tom Grennan, Giovanna and Tom Fletcher, Sophie Morgan, Cel Spellman and many, many more. All are joining Fearne for a weekend of uplifting and powerful conversations alongside a big old mix of activities as well. Takes place at Chiswick House in West London on the 2nd and 3rd of September. Thank you so much for listening. It's been an absolute pleasure. As I said, so many brilliant conversations to come, but don't forget to rate and review this one and of course, share it with everyone who you know who's a Fearne fan, or maybe who you think should be a Fearne fan. Do share it around. We're releasing episodes every Monday and we of course, will be back next week. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. See ya!