Ten years ago, you couldn’t turn on the TV or radio without seeing or hearing Fearne Cotton. Fast-forward to 2018 and the mum-of-two has retreated from the limelight somewhat, now carving out a new path in the lifestyle sector.
Fearne’s new chapter has seen her trade in interviewing huge music stars and hitting the red carpet, for cooking up new recipes and penning best-selling books on mental wellbeing.
As she chats to HuffPost UK fresh from recording her new podcast on the topic of happiness, we can tell she’s not lying when she says she’s currently enjoying her favourite period of her career so far.
But why so?
Well, as she explains: “As a mum and someone in my mid-to-late 30s, I’ve become intolerant to fakery or the smoke and mirrors of everything,” she tells us. “I don’t just want to be talking about the frivolous and the surface - I want to look past that and get into the dirt and soil, and see what’s really going on. I feel passionate about that.
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“I’d much rather have a conversation with someone about that than, ‘Oh I like your dress, where’s that from?’ I can’t do that small talk.”
She adds: “I didn’t think of it that way as a conscious turn of the page - it just sort of unfolded this way. But now it feels exciting and expansive. I’m happier in my work than I ever have been.”
It’s a definite change of tack for Fearne, who has arguably made a career out of “small talk”, with her irreverent interview style often lampooned on comedy impression shows.
However, Ferne tells us how she often felt a pressure to create a persona to hide beneath - something that she is becoming more and more comfortable leaving behind, even if she did find it difficult to begin with.
“I grew up on the telly from the age of 15,” she says. “Therefore, you do learn to create a bit of a buffer around you as protection, like, ‘I’ll pretend to be a bit more like this, because this seems accepted by other people or succeed more’, but I think you get to the point where you can’t be arsed…
“I can’t say that was an easy decision to make or that it was going to change my whole career if I was just honest to people, but I was just up for telling that truth.
“It was shit scary, you don’t walk into it thinking it was going to be a breeze, but it innately felt right. It was a relief to me to be able to go, ‘I am still all the stuff you maybe thought of me, but I’m also a lot of other stuff’.”
She continues: “When you work in the media, people do create a very two-dimensional vision of you, but that is such a small part, and just the bit you take to work. Now, I almost don’t get to do the other bit very much, which is nice.”
At 36, the presenter has now been in the industry for over 20 years. Earning her stripes on kids TV with shows like ‘Diggit’, ‘The Saturday Show’ and ‘Finger Tips’, she went on to host the likes of ‘Top Of The Pops’, ‘Xtra Factor’, ‘Eurovision: Making Your Mind Up’ and ‘Love Island’, but with her new direction taking her to a more thought-filled place, it’s hard to imagine her back fronting a big, shiny-floor show - something which she agrees would feel odd for her now.
“A lot of the TV that’s on at the moment is very entertainment-based and I don’t feel like I’m the right fit for that right now,” she admits. “If there was a TV show that came up that felt very real and I was very passionate about, I would jump at it, but at the moment, I’m really driven by things I want to talk about.
“I’ve got past the point in my life where I see success as being a visual thing - I don’t feel like I have to be on the TV to feel successful. When I was younger, I felt the need to be seen and be on the TV and out being photographed doing things, but I don’t feel like that at all anymore - I like being at home and being in my PJs.”
While she’s dramatically cut back on her radio commitments, having left her mid-morning Radio 1 show in 2015 after 10 years with the station, Fearne is still keeping a hand in, stepping in to cover on Radio 2, where many other Radio 1 DJs have also graduated to.
She’s certainly in no rush to sign up to front another slot as intensive as her old gig hosting 15 hours of radio a week, but Fearne says she is grateful to be able to keep the technical side fresh in her mind.
“It’s a skill you need to dip into regularly,” she says. “And with where I’m at now, Radio 2 is more of a natural home for me. I get to cover for Ken Bruce too, which is a real privilege.”
When I ask what prompted her decision to hang up her headphones at Radio 1, Fearne continues: “I knew it was time. I’d had my first kid by that point and it was a lot of work doing that everyday and putting yourself out there like that. I’m quite a sensitive person and I did find that bit of it sometimes quite challenging.
“But it was hard because I had a lot of friends there and I got to interview loads of amazing people, and I was immersed in the music industry that I love so much.”
She adds: “I’d love to do more radio as my kids get older as it will feel easier, but at the moment, I’m really happy to be doing the bits I do.”
Fearne’s latest project sees her using her radio skills in a different way, as she expands on what she achieved with her books, ‘Happy: Finding Joy In Every Day and Letting Go Of Perfect’ and ‘Calm: Working Through Life’s Daily Stresses To Find A Peaceful Centre’, with the launch of her new podcast.
On ‘Happy Place’, Fearne will be joined by a host of inspiring famous names to discuss changes they have made to their own lives to help them achieve a feeling of contentment.
“The goal in mind is not only for other people to hear brilliant stories and honesty, but to take away something from listening, whether that be in the form of solace, another person’s perspective, or feeling less alone,” Fearne explains. “I hoping it will be a really happy space for people to delve into once a week.”
Among those involved include Stephen Fry, Alexandra Shulman, Dawn French and expectant parents Tom Daley and Dustin Lance Black, who are set to address the negativity they faced after announcing they were expecting their first child.
“For them, it was a real chance to explain how the process of surrogacy works,” Fearne says. “I don’t think you could walk away after listening to it without going, ‘Oh my god, they are going to be brilliant, loving and well-informed parents.’”
Dawn French’s appearance also proved to be among Fearne’s favourites, as she was struck by the comedian’s honesty while discussing huge events in her life.
“Dawn’s one is just beautiful,” she says. “We recorded it at her house in Cornwall by the sea and we talk about divorce, adoption, seminal moments at work, her decision not to do French & Saunders anymore, her dad passing away when she was very young.
“She was just so brilliantly honest and I actually couldn’t believe how open she was and how confident she was in telling her story.”
As talk turns to the future and Fearne rattles off a list of upcoming projects that she can’t yet talk about, there’s one part of her past she’s not willing to let go of just yet - her role as a team captain on ‘Celebrity Juice’.
With the madcap ITV2 game show (somewhat unbelievably) celebrating its 10th anniversary later this year, she admits she’s enjoying it “more than ever” and has no intention of quitting anytime soon.
“We never thought we’d get past the pilot!” Fearne laughs. “No-one watched the first series and it was this weird, underground show but that’s actually why it’s done well. It’s now become a bigger version of that and got naughtier.
“We’re so relaxed on it now, and it’s just fun - there’s nothing work-y about it. Leigh is an absolute genius and I love watching how his brain works.”
The former party animal adds: “It’s a near as a night out for me as it gets because I don’t have the energy to go out these days. It’s all about going to bed early!”
And if you needed any further proof Fearne Cotton is at a very different place in her life to where she was 10 years ago, that’s it right there.
The first two episodes of Fearne’s ‘Happy Place’ podcast are available to stream now.