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By Nigel Goodall
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2008 Nigel Goodall
All rights reserved.
Meet the Family
'Growing up, there were certain things that for me encapsulated the romance of pop music. If you loved it, you'd read about your favourite bands in Smash Hits or NME, save up your money to buy their records and wait all week to see them on TOTP.'
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 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 sixty-eight. 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 eighty-five, she was still so glamorous, very "brooch matches the jacket and earrings", and looked 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 from 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: from 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, to 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!'
She had a similar experience when the gossip columns made out that she had dated more than her fair share of rocker boys and linked her to men she had never even met. 'The craziest ones were me dating Prince William and seeing the drummer [Tre Cool] of Green Day, who I think has a wife and kids. The papers just make it up.'
But yes, she conceded, 'I've dated some people in the public eye and some who aren't. It doesn't matter to me; I'm not fussy. I've got more chance of meeting someone within the business though as all I seem to do is work. If I could go on a date with any rock star, I'd go for Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers – he's hot!' With Kiedis almost twice her age, one cannot help but wonder if Fearne perhaps prefers the older man. 'God yeah,' she sighed. 'I obviously like the more mature man. Most guys my age act like they're about twelve!'
By all accounts, the launch for Allen's 'Lily Loves' range in May 2007, two months before Fearne fronted her own range, was a bit thin on the ground when it came to Lily's celebrity friends. Most, it seemed, were absent. In fact, according to the press, it was only Fearne who was instantly recognisable when she turned out to support Allen's attempt to follow her own individual heart and tap into a different end of the fashion market, which might perhaps not have been the kind of range that some of the other big-name celebrities would want to endorse. All the same, she still managed to raise a smile as she posed with her actor–presenter father Keith Allen and modelled the floral prom-dress-style range, along with jewellery and footwear designed by the singer, which, like Fearne's own organic cotton range, was available in most high street stores across Britain.
Allen first shot to fame with her witty hit song 'Smile' that was released to iTunes UK on 26 June 2006 ahead of the physical CD release on 3 July. It spend most of its first week at Number One on the iTunes chart before entering at Number Thirteen in the official UK Top 40. In time Lily became best known for her 'chavvy chic' style, which paired new and vintage long prom-style dresses and ball gowns with trainers and chunky gold jewellery. Although many considered she was simply acting like so many others, now following in the iconic footsteps of Kate Moss and Madonna by unveiling her own high street fashion, Allen insisted there was no rivalry.
'I don't see any point in comparing these things. I did not go into music to compare myself to other artists. ... It's a bit boring, really. We are just women and trying to get on with our lives. They are both totally different women and have totally different fan bases to me. Kate Moss is a model, for God's sake, and of course they are going to sell more than I do – they are massive international names.' Despite the critical observations, she didn't see it as a competitive move on her part to challenge others such as Kate Moss, Katie Price (aka Jordan), Madonna and Kylie's more seductive and temptress range of lingerie.
If anything, Allen's 'Lily Loves' collection featured dresses that were completely different from those in the collections of the other stars. For a start, they were available in sizes ranging from 6 to 18, with high-heeled shoes, patterned trainers and floral jewellery. Allen said she had looked to the 300 dresses in her own wardrobe for inspiration and wanted something more than just the usual pretty, flowery style. She described the results as a summer collection of 'super-girly' clothes for women of all sizes. And she was probably right.
'You know how I feel about fashion: it's for everyone, not just a load of super-skinny models,' she says. The launch at 312 stores followed the shopping frenzy sparked by the Kate Moss collection that had its debut at rival fashion chain Topshop. When Moss's collection was launched, a week earlier, more than a thousand shoppers queued from noon (eight hours before the items were due to go on sale) outside Topshop's flagship Oxford Street store to get first pick of the supermodel's designs. Moss herself appeared in the window of the store wearing a long, red-neck flamingo dress from the collection.
Prices for Allen's clothes and accessories ranged from £5 for a flower ring to £55 for a 'Foxtrot Ruffle' dress. After the in-store launch, Lily changed into her favourite outfit from the collection – 'the Graffiti' dress – as she and her guests made their way to the Groucho Club in London to continue celebrations. The tabloid press were quick to notice, however, that Allen's then boyfriend, DJ Seb Chew, and her best friend, TV presenter and actress Miquita Oliver, were not present at either the launch or the after-party.
From what was noted at the party, it seemed Allen shared the same close rapport as Fearne did with her own dad. Mick, who she calls 'Mr Brightside', was not quite so impulsive a character as her mother – 'He's never raised his voice, shouted or got angry with me. He's just the calmest, nicest man on earth.' While she was growing up, he was a graphic designer, but he also worked as a signwriter for large music events such as Live Aid, and according to Fearne, he yielded to no one in his love for classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Who and The Doors – unlike her mother, Lynn, who had a penchant for Phil Spector's Wall of Sound productions, Stax and Motown. Indeed, if Fearne's mother inspired her to be spontaneous and impulsive, then it was her father who balanced his daughter's impetuous diet with music and art. In those days, years before digital downloads liberated listeners from the tyranny of instant and forgettable hits, Fearne was brought up on vinyl. It was as if this was her education rather than anything she was later to learn in school.
'I was about four when I first started to get into records. My dad would put on Led Zeppelin IV and play "Stairway To Heaven" over and over. I was fascinated by this gorgeous sound coming off a piece of plastic.' In 2007, she met Zeppelin's guitarist Jimmy Page: 'I met him at a gallery opening and I was a blithering wreck, saying, "I love you, I've got every album you've ever made!" I knew I had to stop or he'd think I was a loon. We ended up having a good chat, though.'
As Rolling Stone magazine noted, it wasn't just Led Zeppelin's thunderous volume, sledgehammer beat and edge-of-mayhem arrangements that made them the most influential and successful heavy-metal pioneer band, it was their finesse. Like the band's ancestors, The Yardbirds, they used a guitar style that drew heavily on the Blues with their early repertoire taking remakes of songs by Howlin' Wolf, Albert King and Willie Dixon, who later, incidentally, won a sizeable settlement from the band in a suit in which he alleged copyright infringement. But Jimmy Page blessed the group with a unique understanding of the guitar, and the recording studio, as electronic instruments, and of rock, as sculptural sound. Like Jimi Hendrix, Page had a reason for every bit of distortion, feedback, reverberation and out-and-out noise that he incorporated. Few of their many imitators can make the same claim and this may have been one of the reasons why Fearne loved them as much as her father did.
All the same, it wasn't until she was about seven or eight years old that her parents trusted her enough with their record player: 'After that, there was no stopping me! Whole weekends would be spent going through their collection, discovering all kinds of amazing stuff. When I was nine and getting pocket money I could afford my own records.
'I remember heading down the shops with 50p in my pocket, wondering which record would take my fancy. I happened to find a copy of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" in a second-hand shop. It was scratched to bits but I loved it beyond words. Growing up, there were certain things that for me encapsulated the romance of pop music. If you loved it, you'd read about your favourite bands in Smash Hits or NME, save up your money to buy their records and wait all week to see them on TOTP.'
And of course the other fascination was the vinyl itself, she continues: 'Nothing beats the smell of fresh vinyl in the morning. It's still unbeatable as a musical format. CDs are functional but essentially unlovable and there's no magic involved in downloading a song. Playing vinyl is a beautiful ritual. What can compare to the feeling of carefully removing a treasured record from its sleeve, placing it on the deck and hearing that reassuring crackle as the needle hits the groove?
'People say "Yes, but records get scratched." I love the scratches. Some of my favourite records have scratches and those scratches become part of the listening experience. I'm not completely opposed to the iPod – I've got one and it's handy for the car. If I could play vinyl when I'm driving, I would. But flipping the records over would be a bit difficult when I'm tearing down the M1!'
When the Mail on Sunday's Live magazine caught up with Fearne for an August 2007 feature, she had just got back from camping with friends in Cornwall. On the second day, she confessed, 'I was craving for my fix of vinyl. So we went to a car-boot sale and picked up a load of bargains: original Elvis, Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton albums for 50p. Then I managed to find a portable, battery-powered record player going cheap in a second-hand store. We were all set up for the week – endless barbecues and music being played as it should be played. Idyllic!'
Equally blissful were the family holidays to Lulworth Cove in Dorset with her parents and her younger brother Jamie, who was born two years after her: 'We went so regularly that it became our second home and I made loads of friends there, who have stuck by me through the years despite my glitzy career. When I was fifteen, I got my first showbiz job; I found that I needed my Lulworth breaks more than ever. I was a big girl by then and went by myself for summer holidays and at Christmas and Easter.'
To this day, Lulworth Cove is still her favourite beach: 'There's a little ledge that sticks out from one of the cliff faces and hangs over the bay. My friends and I discovered it one cold Easter morning as we were walking towards the beach, so we perched ourselves down and started chatting. I think it used to be part of a wartime bunker and it became my special secret place. If I'm down there with a friend, we'll go and sit on the ledge and have a long talk. It's a great place to put other thoughts aside and just catch up.
'I haven't had enough time to visit the cove as much as I'd like to recently because I've been so busy filming and getting by on five or six hours sleep a night. But I still aim to visit at least once a year and whenever I do manage to tear myself away and drive down to Dorset in my Mini Cooper, it feels like I'm going home.
Excerpted from Fearne Cotton by Nigel Goodall. Copyright © 2008 Nigel Goodall. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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