Words by: Sophie Tweedale
Broadcaster, author, kidswear designer, all-round authentic goddess, Fearne Cotton talks to Smallish about family, sibling rivalry and letting go of expectations
I am running late to meet Fearne Cotton. In a bid to outwit London’s traffic, I abandon my stationary taxi and hotfoot it to Somerset House, finally arriving 20 minutes behind schedule, a whirlwind of apologies. On paper, Cotton does not look like someone who has time to hang around for latecomers. DJ, author of five best-selling books, yoga devotee, podcaster, mum of two and fashion designer – the mere thought of her daily to-do list makes me want to sit down. But unfazed, she couldn’t be more laid-back, joking about her own trials and tribulations of living in London as we start to chat. Quite clearly, Ms Cotton doesn’t sweat the small stuff.
We’re meeting for the launch of her new kidswear range, Fearne by Fearne Cotton for Boots Mini Club. Her book, Happy: Finding joy in the every day and letting go of perfect, was followed last year by Calm, a bible for working through life’s stresses. Both went stratospheric in the charts, hitting home with harried parents everywhere. She has spoken openly about struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, battling depression in her twenties, feeling desperately depleted as a new parent, and coping with the pendulum swing between calm and chaos of child-rearing.
Her parenting honesty frames her Instagram feed too – she is far more likely to be found posting bleary-eyed, haystack-hair 5am selfies than images of perfection.
Cotton’s new collection, now also featuring babywear, is something she sees as a natural progression from her former life as a TV presenter to motherhood. “I really wanted to have fun with it,” she explains. “It’s all about vibrant patterns and colours. I love that it doesn’t conform, it’s gender neutral and most of all, non-fussy and comfortable to move around in – I think mums everywhere know where I am coming from there; we don’t have time to be messing around!”
Wife to Jesse Wood – son of Rolling Stone’s legend Ronnie – and mum to Rex, five, and Honey, two, their daughter’s love for felines is woven through the range with a cool black cat emblem. Cotton, 36, has become a heavyweight one-woman brand since leaving Radio 1 in 2015 when she was pregnant, after 10 years at the station.
By her own admission she is all about the passion projects now, an inner drive to “make a difference” fuelling her new trajectory.
“It’s the underlying ethos of everything I do,” she tells me. “I feel driven by a need to create something positive that people can take away.
“I have worked for 21 years now, and spent a big part of that worrying: ‘What do people want me to do?’, ‘What will get me to the next level?’, ‘What am I expected to do?’ And you know what? I really don’t care about that any more at all, and it’s a lovely feeling. I’m doing things that give me and hopefully other people happiness, otherwise what is the point?”
Cotton is rapid fire. Her thoughts tumble out in a stream of consciousness, still the consummate presenter, filling every pause with a giggle or comment.
So what does she find hardest about parenting? “Oh, my god, the arguing!” she exclaims. “Rex and Honey can argue over a satsuma, a stone, literally anything. This morning they woke at 5.30am, fighting over who would sit on my lap. I hadn’t even had a coffee and I was like: ‘I am going to sit in the middle and I don’t want to hear anything but joyful happiness ok?’ They got it, but they were climbing up me like I was a tree and it was urghh!
“But then out of the blue you get these beautiful moments. Last night they were in bed doing ‘row your boat’ together and laughing. I thought: ‘They like each other. This is amazing!’”
She admits the pre-school phase is her most challenging yet. “The listening thing is tricky,” she muses. “When they won’t take no for an answer you feel slightly beaten down by it. Sometimes half an hour into a tantrum I’m like: ‘Oh, just have the bloody chocolate bar!’ That’s the worst thing you can do but sticking to your guns is the biggest test.”
She describes how she and Wood are very much “50/50” parents. With Wood off touring for months at a time, the logistics of if can be tough, but she admits they try hard to make it work.
“Last weekend, Rex wanted to go in the garden even though it was -4 degrees and Honey didn’t want to,” she says. “So he was having a meltdown and Honey was screaming at me, and I just turned to my mate exasperated and said: ‘What am I doing? What do I do?!’ She gave me a massive hug and said: ‘It’s all right, we all have moments like this.’
“Jesse is brilliant luckily – if we are ever having a disagreement or just stressed out from parenting, he’ll go: ‘Let’s get back to that night we met in Ibiza – what did we do?’ He is so into that kind of thing. He is really good at getting us to tap back into ourselves.”
Family time in the Wood-Cotton household? Think yoga with the kids on the kitchen floor (“they tend to use me as a human climbing frame”) and giant rolls of underlay wallpaper laid out for their favourite activity – painting. But don’t be fooled, behind Cotton’s gloriously hippy vibe one tight ship is being run. Routine is a buzzword in the house when it comes to parenting their blended family, with Cotton insisting the kids are in bed by 7pm (“to give us some couple time”). Cotton is also stepmum to Arthur, 16, and Lola, 12 – whom Rex and Honey “idolise” – from Wood’s first marriage to actress Tilly Wood.
Recently, Rex turned five, and Cotton says he requested an elves and fairies party, but with admirable honesty she adds: “We are in that weird phase in the first year of school where you invite the whole class – that’s the done thing – but they all ran around like lunatics, so I’m not doing it again!”
Cotton says she juggles work around the kids, writing or designing when Honey is napping or while Rex is at school. She says: “Since leaving Radio 1 I’ve been lucky to make projects work from home, but it is still really hard. I don’t think you can ever negate the self-guilt that comes along with going back to work. “I tell myself all the time: ‘Just stop beating yourself up. You have to be present, that is all that really matters.’”
The week after we speak, Cotton is due to talk at the Cambridge Union in a big debate on mental health. “I set myself challenges that scare the s*** out of me,” she laughs. “I don’t know why! I’m sitting here thinking: ‘Why am I doing this?’ I am absolutely terrified and constantly doing this to myself.”
She puts her need for the next big thrill down to being an “obsessive” about learning new things. “I love that aspect of life,” she muses. “But I am like that relentlessly. I am not very good at relaxing.”
With her next collection designed and, she reveals, another book in the pipeline (“It’s similar with a one-word title and pertinent to us all,” is all she will give away) she is now focused on her latest love – her new podcast Happy Place.
Featuring Dawn French, Stephen Fry, Lena Headey, Paloma Faith and Kirsty Young, it is a show bent on breaking down taboos in life and parenting. She explains: “I am more excited about the podcast than anything I have ever done in my career. I just wrote down my dream list of people to interview about their own lives and it took off from there.
“We’ve all known feelings of despair, sheer panic or alienation at some point, and if listening to someone who has been through that can help someone, that’s so positive.
“I am finally having conversations I care about, and that’s such a great place to be.”
Photography: Boots Mini Club