Fearne Marie Cotton was fifteen years old. She had just won an audition to be a presenter for the Disney Channel in a national search for talent. Not that she had any intention of becoming a presenter; she had always had her mind set on being an actress. And that, to all intents and purposes, is the role she thought she was auditioning for. It had been her dream for the last ten years, ever since she started taking drama and ballet lessons, in and out of school. Never in a million years had she thought about presenting children’s shows on television.
If the secret of success is an unhappy childhood, then Fearne should never have been destined for greatness in the world of television because her childhood was everything but unhappy. There are no horror stories of abuse or lost parentage, or being moved from home to home, refuge to refuge, traumas that spiralled out of control, or being raised by druggie parents. No indeed, her story is quite the opposite. She was born on 3 September 1981 in Northwood, north-west London but grew up in the nearby suburb of Eastcote, in Abbotsbury Gardens. From the very beginning it was quite clear that she was fortunate enough to have a pretty stable upbringing, unlike so many of Britain’s most famous celebrities.
And perhaps what is more remarkable is that today, Fearne is one of the most popular faces on television, both in the UK and in America, an ex-children’s presenter, a rock chick with royal approval and a star. Much of her success she puts down to her mother, Lynn. ‘She is exceptional,’ says Fearne. ‘She knew I didn’t love school and wanted to do something different with my life and she didn’t try and stop me. She just advised me to “do what makes you happy.” If I hadn’t had her support from the start, I might never have given acting and presenting a go. She’s always been open-minded and supportive even in a distant way. She lets me get on with it but is interested in what I do. She’s a strong woman who doesn’t take any shit from anyone and definitely wears the trousers in the marriage. She’s very spontaneous and impulsive.
‘She’d say, “Right, we’re moving house!” and we did.’ Fearne recalls. ‘And that’s how I like to live, too. Both of her parents have passed away and I don’t know how she coped, but she did. She was the one who had to break the news both times to the rest of the family which must have been heartbreaking for her. But she helped us all to be strong. That was a massive inspiration. My mum’s attitude to life is you’ve got to get on with it. You can’t get bullied and battered in this industry and it’s taught me to be strong. If you get knocked down, you get back up and carry on.
‘I can’t even think how I’d manage if I lost her. I just take it for granted that I can talk to her all the time – I tell her most almost everything. But I know she’s a massive worrier, so I hold some things back.’ Her grandmother, Lynn’s mother, passed away back in 2003 and Fearne still talks about her fondly: ‘She was brilliant, intelligent and fun. She’d sit and chat for hours and was awful for practical jokes. She had lung cancer, endured chemotherapy and eventually died, aged 68. But the way she carried herself through was unbelievable.
‘We were young kids and it was hard for her to see us being affected by it. She didn’t show she was in pain and tried to make it easy for us. All her hair fell out, but she would just joke about it, saying, “I look like David Beckham, do you like it?” This was when he’d just shaved off all his hair for the first time. And she refused to wear a wig, even when we were around. She had one made but never wore it. Instead, she wore cool turbans.
‘I learnt a lot about having spirit, because she never gave up or said, “It’s over” – she joked until the very last day. It was her way of dealing with her illness and we got to spend time with her in a normal way. She always liked watching me on TV and I just wanted to make her proud.’
Another person she speaks of with great fondness is her Nan Ruby: ‘My cousin and I take her out for a coffee once a month. When she turned 85, she was still so glamorous, very “brooch matches the jacket and earrings,” and looks wicked. She’s blunt, too, and says the funniest things. She inspires me to speak my mind and make an effort with my appearance. When I was eighteen, I dyed my hair pink and she said, “What have you done?” I was like, “Yours is bloody purple!” – she overlooked her own lilac rinse! She’s also hugely up on her cultural references and watches me on TV – although she doesn’t treat me any differently to her other grandchildren. She’s not like some older people who live in the past. I really admire her for having a strong sense of self. She knows what she likes and has never given that up. She does what makes her feel good and thinks clothes are an important way to express yourself.’ But it is her mother who has been the biggest inspiration of all. The one thing Fearne adores most about her is how she’s so calm about what she calls ‘these crazy stories about me in the press.’
Behind-the-scenes during a photo shoot for Cosmopolitan magazine the day after she attended the launch of Lily Allen’s ‘Lily Loves’ range for high-street chain New Look, she decided to spill the beans about some of those ‘crazy stories’. One of them told how she apparently liked to boast about how good she was in bed and how she wore ‘naughty lingerie and high heels in the bedroom’, loved sex up to four times a night, has had ten tattoos, not to mention a Brazilian wax. Also, how she uses her bendy figure to drive fellas wild (‘I can do the splits which is a great skill to have. I used to be a dancer so I’m very, er, flexible. I’m naturally bendy. If blokes want to explore that quality, then that’s up to them.’) The truth, however, is a lot less sensational: ‘I did say I was confident in bed in an interview that got exaggerated. I’m not saying I’m good, I’m not saying I’m bad – I’m not saying anything!’