Fearne Cotton: How I Learned To Be Happy

Hattie Crisell talks to Fearne Cotton about how we can take care of ourselves right now.

Fearne Cotton Mental Health Special

by Hattie Crisell |
Updated on

It's Wednesday lunchtime and Fearne Cotton is taking a break from home schooling her children. It’s all part of our new normal under lockdown – and she’s philosophical about it. ‘My kids are in the next room and have been screaming at me and my husband all morning,’ she tells me on the phone. ‘They drive me up the wall, but I know that I’ll miss having them here every day. I’ll never get to do this with them again. And I’ll miss my husband being here – although we’ve had the odd barney, like everyone.’

For a long time, Fearne, 38, was part of the furniture of British TV and radio; for a decade she worked as a presenter on Radio 1, and she did an equally long stint on the comedy panel show Celebrity Juice, alongside shows like Top Of The Pops. But while she still sometimes works in that world – she’s currently presenting the nostalgia show Sounds Of The 90s for BBC Sounds – in recent years, her main focus has shifted to a new kind of career: an exploration of mental health and emotional wellbeing.

‘I’d love to say that I planned it all, but I really didn’t,’ she says. ‘I’m very lucky to have worked in the industry I have since I was 15, but a lot of the work I was doing, I didn’t feel connected to. I didn’t feel like I fitted in; I always felt like someone was about to slag me off. It gets really tiring and really hurtful, and I had to walk away because it was literally ruining my mind. I left Radio 1 just before I had my second kid, and knew that I needed a new chapter.’

The big shift happened when Fearne published her 2017 book, Happy, in which she opened up for the first time about the depression and anxiety she’d suffered. ‘The lesson I learned from that point onwards was that honesty breeds honesty. I’m now lucky enough to be on the receiving end of friends or strangers who want to talk, and it’s really opened up a beautiful channel of communication. Every bit of me wants to do this work.’

At the heart of it all is her podcast, Happy Place, in which Fearne has had frank, often moving conversations with everyone from Hillary Clinton to Russell Brand. Though she can’t see her guests in person while lockdown’s going on, she is continuing to record from home, in a tent that she’s constructed out of duvets to create the right acoustics.


Another project is putting a smile on her face, too: Sounds Of The 90s, a BBC Sounds show on which you can hear the likes of 4 Non Blondes, the Lighthouse Family and Haddaway. ‘It’s been unbelievably perfect timing,’ she says. ‘The feedback we’re getting is that the music has given people much- needed respite – these little moments of fun, sometimes ridiculous music that evoke wonderful memories. So we’re endeavouring to keep making the show, regardless of what’s going on elsewhere – I’ll be under that duvet popping on the good tunes.’

In the meantime, she takes a look back for Grazia at two years of her podcast, sharing the advice she has received from her guests that might help us all through this strange and difficult time.

The normal rules don’t apply

‘One of the things that has been overwhelming for me is that I’m still trying to work from home, and I’m getting a hell of a lot of emails. I get quite stressed about it. When I interviewed author Elizabeth Gilbert – who I’m obsessed with – she was talking about when her partner Rayya was terminally ill. She was by Rayya’s bedside, and she was getting emails from people wanting her to do seminars, and from friends of friends asking for favours. She thought, “Does any of this actually matter? If it really matters then it will either come back, or someone will ring me.” And she deleted her whole inbox, and it was fine. That story helped me to get perspective. Now I look through my emails and think, “Right, I’ll reply to two that I know are pressing, and the rest can wait.” Our world has kind of stopped for the moment, so let’s not feel like we have to keep up with the pace we had before.’

Focus on today

‘My dear friend Kris Hallenga is the founder of the charity CoppaFeel! She was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer at the age of 23. We had a very frank conversation about living and dying and really being in the moment, because we don’t know what the future holds. For Kris, it’s an everyday reality that she has to live in the moment and can’t think ahead. Obviously, most of us are dealing with something much less severe than her, but I think at times like these – where we really can’t plan, and the news is changing constantly – we all need to take it day by day or even minute by minute. Going any further than that is going to induce a lot of stress.’

Enjoy what you can

‘This experience isn’t going to be the same for everyone; of course there are people struggling to keep their businesses afloat, and people who have lost family members. But for many of us, there will be bits of this lockdown that are special, and that we will miss – I truly believe that. I know that I will miss this weird unique time with my family, staying home and keeping it really simple. These days there’s a feeling that unless we are constantly striving and achieving, then we’re not living our life to the full – which is bullshit. Living fully is about being present, being grateful and enjoying the small things.’

Be kind to yourself

‘Writer Elizabeth Day spoke to me about the language we use about ourselves. At the moment, I think a lot of us feel close to failure, whether it’s with work being taken out of our hands, or with trying to home school our children. I’m living and breathing it: you can feel very easily as a parent that you’re doing something wrong, like everyone else is nailing it, and maybe you’re not up to scratch. I’ve felt all these feelings over the last few weeks. We have to really watch how we’re talking about ourselves at this time if things aren’t going well. It’s not helpful to tell yourself that you’re a failure. We should try to pat ourselves on the back and say, “I’m not doing so badly. I’m giving it my best shot.”’

Growth can come from hard times

‘Gary Barlow spoke to me about the time in his life when Take That had broken up; he didn’t feel great, he wasn’t looking after himself, and he didn’t value himself. He sank into depression and it was a really tough period. He did eventually recover and heal, and learned a lot from it, but it wasn’t a linear process. I think we’ll all have a lot of recovery to do after this; life won’t instantly ping back and be like it was before. Remembering that it’s going to be a wiggly line, and there will be times when we feel strong and others when we struggle, is important. In a way, those ups and downs are the best bits, because they’re the learning. For me, if I hadn’t been through the shittiest couple of years when I was younger, I wouldn’t be doing any of this now. I’d be doing the same stuff that I was doing six years ago, which wasn’t the life that I wanted. I think, after all this is over, we have to remember that recovery will happen, and it will bring good things, even if it takes a little time.’


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