FEarne Cotton keeps a stack of notebooks next to his computer, each filled with project plans. Many of us have had trouble concentrating during the pandemic, but for Cotton, the past nine months have been the most productive of his professional life. “I found this time really creative,” she says, in that presenter voice of hers, so sweetly familiar. “It’s like when I go on vacation. At times I am forced to do nothing, I find this clarity. “
It’s 10 AM on a gray December morning when we meet at Zoom, and his schedule, when he explains, sounds exhausting. Their confinements have been occupied. He has written two books since the pandemic began and has maintained his popular wellness podcast, Happy place, along with their weekly Radio 2 show. And while the second installment of their annual summer wellness event, Festival Happy Place, could have become another Covid victim, Cotton and his team took the program online. She juggled all of this with her children’s homeschooling.
One would think, then, that a quick appearance on television at the height of the first confinement would have caused little discomfort. Cotton, now 39, has been a mainstay of the small screen for decades. She’s Fearne Cotton from television, after all, she was once the face of Top of the Pops, a Celebrity juice regular, a host who has headlined some of the biggest television events in recent years.
But the night before she was scheduled to appear on a major national show, it doesn’t say which one, Cotton was lying in bed, wide awake and in a panic. The prospect of television filled her with dread. And it was too familiar a feeling. His brain raced and his heart pounded. He struggled for breath.
“Intellectually, I know I’m going to be fine,” he explains, “but my body panics. It’s a PTSD issue, feeling unsafe in certain spaces. I worry that something is going to go wrong or I will be judged and go into catastrophe mode. “
She adds: “I have a really big imagination, which is amazing, it allows me to write and be creative. But it also sends me to bad places, from where I cannot return ”.
It is experiences like this that have led her, in recent years, to move from presentation to health and well-being, an area in which she feels more happy and fulfilled. He launched the Happy Place podcast, in 2018, as a platform to distribute positive ideas. (Guests include Hillary Clinton, Alicia Keys, and Jada Pinkett Smith; it has had 40 million downloads.) And he has already published three self-help books: Calm, Quiet and Happy, each one a collection of tips and exercises for the reader along with trivia from Cotton’s life.
We are here to discuss your fourth book, Tell your truth, due out early next year. In early 2020, Cotton was having trouble speaking and a doctor found a cyst on his vocal cords. When the possibility of an operation was discussed, she was told she would have to remain silent for a two-week recovery period – an alarming prospect, given that talking is Cotton’s trick. In the taxi home from that first date, Cotton decided to write some kind of manifesto to live more honestly. In it, she offers guidance, while exploring the consequences of allowing her real voice to go unheard. There are affirmative anecdotes and mantras and funny riffs about motherhood. But there are also frank discussions about depression, bulimia, and anxiety. She writes about being “bullied, dominated, manipulated”, being “tricked, tricked and screwed up.” Cotton has been broadcasting across the country for 25 years. But now she thinks it’s time to reveal more of her true personality.
Cotton was a restless boy growing up in the deep suburbs. Her family lived in Hillingdon, a few miles west of London, which she found sad and boring. Dad was a sign, Mom did all kinds of things. At the comprehensive local, a career counselor suggested that she become a teacher. Cotton had other ideas.
“When you grew up in that kind of working-class environment in the 80s,” he says, “you lived in a herd, you never knew people who were better or worse than you. It was very nice, very comfortable. I didn’t live in poverty. “But she wanted more.
At 15, he succeeded, landing his first television show on a GMTV children’s show. It was the reward of an adolescence filled with dance classes, publicity auditions and am-dram. “It was everything I wanted,” he says, “a beautiful time exploring and learning the trade.”
Starting out on kids’ television in the pre-social media era meant that, at first, she was shielded from the harsher realities of fame. But that changed when he hit the mainstream, in his 20s. His treatment by the press, he says, was cruel. Once, after participating in a televised bungee jump record attempt, a reporter lamented that it was a shame the cable hadn’t broken. “It was deeply personal and often felt unwarranted,” she says. “I never tried to do something shocking or sensational. You become an easy target. To be a young blond girl from children’s television, which some would have found bland. “
The media attention hurt her confidence, but didn’t stop her momentum. In 2005 she became a Radio 1 regular, filling gaps while hosting the station’s weekly charts program. In 2009, just days after her 28th birthday, she launched her own mid-morning show. At the age of 30 great changes took place. She met musician Jesse Wood, son of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie, in the summer of 2011, on a night out in Ibiza. A mutual friend introduced them to a club and something clicked. In 2013, Cotton announced that she was pregnant; they were married the following year. In February 2013, she gave birth to her first child. “The things I was experiencing at home were very different from many younger people in the [Radio 1] building, ”he laughs. “I couldn’t get on the radio and say, ‘Ugh, I’ve been up since 3 in the morning and I’m getting milk from my tits.’
For the next several years, Cotton was on autopilot and in 2015 announced that he would be leaving Radio 1 permanently. “I was about to have my second baby,” she says, “and, my God, having a child was already a shock.” She would find herself at work, her dream job, but desperate to be home doing arts and crafts.
I ask him if this is the truth he writes about in his book, the one he felt unable to share until now. In part, she answers, but not entirely. There is also the fact that she was an introvert by nature and worked in an environment that encouraged energetic effervescence. “If you were quiet, it would be seen as strange, not making an effort,” she says. “You were rightly expected to be there to entertain.”
Today he spends his days talking about rebirth and reiki, but for a long time those ideas felt too personal and for public consumption. “That’s a part of me that I didn’t want to share on the radio then,” he says. “Imagine breaking into the airwaves to talk about guardian angels.”
But the decision was also “because of what I was going through personally.” She will explain no more than to say that for three hours a day she would be chatting behind her BBC microphone while feeling completely terrible inside.
That’s where it started shaking. That was perhaps the catalyst that made me think, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ It’s hell. You want to go hide, but you can’t, because your work is there every day. “
He aired his last show in May 2015. The bubbly, high-octane character he had honed over the years was a performance he no longer enjoyed.
For the past several years, Cotton’s life has felt calmer and she is embracing the freedom of being her own boss. Today, she is more excited when she talks about cures and therapies.
In Tell your truth, Cotton flirts with the political. She talks about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and being a fierce LGBTQ + ally. However, he still hosts a weekly Radio 2 show, so what about Beeb’s new fairness rules?
“I know that neutrality is more extreme now than before,” he says carefully, “so I am not aware of all the new guidelines. But I would like to think that I am supporting and raising issues that should be discussed. If I’m going to get in trouble for supporting the LGBTQ + community, then go for it, because I’ll keep it. “
As Cotton points out in the book, it is no longer a BBC brand beacon. “As I sit here today, I have not been asked to host a television show in over a year,” she writes in Tell your truth. “I’ve been taken – okay, fired – from so many television jobs in the last five years that I’ve lost count.”
Cotton can’t be sure exactly why the television has slowed down. She acknowledges that in part it’s because TV guys know she’s focused on other projects and her heart isn’t quite on that right now, plus new faces are having their moment, just like she did. “Well,” he jokes, “is that it or people just don’t like me.”
But she is optimistic about it. Being replaced on a major show earlier this year without even an explanation hurt her, but she is able to laugh. She is content with this new life, happy to focus on bringing positivity to her audience. She is no longer giving the awkward act. In many ways, he has turned to his Happy Place, and that suits him very well.
Speak Your Truth was published on January 7 by Orion at £ 16.99. Happy Place podcast returns in February
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.