Confessions of the original wild child: Amanda de Cadenet gives her most candid interview EVER
With her good looks, fame and starry marriages, former wild child Amanda de Cadenet has had a charmed life, or so it seems. Here she tells Lina Das how a childhood in care, abusive relationships and depression have helped her to empathise with the women she interviews for her new TV show
For those of us of a certain age, the mere mention of Amanda de Cadenet’s name is enough to transport us back to the 1990s.
She was a symbol of the times – the posh beauty with bee-stung lips and blonde hair who became famous, essentially, for being famous, presenting the fabulously chaotic Channel 4 ‘yoof’ show The Word, bagging all the best-looking men and making the rest of us green with envy.
Wherever she was, the paparazzi were never far away, photographing her dancing on tables in nightclubs or consorting with her various boyfriends who included – in ascending order of beauty – actor Keanu Reeves, model Nick Kamen and Duran Duran’s John Taylor. It was for her that the phrase ‘wild child’ was coined.
But then at 19 she married Taylor, had a daughter called Atlanta and decamped to California where she has lived ever since.
After their divorce, she married again (her husband is Nick Valensi, guitarist of US rock band The Strokes, with whom she has six-year-old twins, daughter Ella and son Silvan) and after a brief stint as an actress and a successful career behind the camera as a photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair among others, Amanda, now 40, is emerging from almost two decades of relative anonymity to position herself in the public eye once more.
The reason is her new show, The Conversation With Amanda de Cadenet – a TV series, available online in the UK, featuring frank discussions with an impressive array of women including Jane Fonda, Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s co-executive-produced by Demi Moore, who has been a close friend of Amanda’s for several years (‘I can spend hours with her on the phone having a laugh’), and has already been a success in the States. ‘I always said you couldn’t pay me to go back on TV,’ says Amanda.
‘But this isn’t about me at all – it’s about telling these women’s stories.’
Amanda is a warm and engaging interviewer, encouraging her guests to talk intimately about everything from sex, love, children and money to divorce and depression. Jane Fonda admits that, ‘I went for seven years with no sex and when I started again it was not easy,’ while Lady Gaga says of her past cocaine habit: ‘There’s this romanticism around drugs, that it’s sexy or artistic…when really, you’re just a loser wasting time.’
‘But it’s not about getting people to admit they had a drug problem or reveal how many people they’ve slept with,’ says Amanda.
‘I wanted to create a show where women talked about issues that were central to their lives.
I had very bad postnatal depression after the birth of my twins and it’s a subject people don’t really talk about because people feel a lot of shame about their inability to bond with their children.
[The depression] lasted a year and a half and prompted all sorts of questions as to who I was, what my purpose was and how I could help other people.
‘My friends and I talked about everything: how to juggle the many aspects of a modern woman’s life such as being a wife and a mother and managing a career; body image issues; health issues; financial challenges, and I looked for honest stories about these issues.
There was nothing very authentic in the media so I wanted to interview as many women as I could about their solutions to various problems and put it online, like a public service almost. I collected these interviews and we eventually turned it into a series.
Women want to know how you make it through difficult times, and I hope that my show helps people in some way.’
Years of living in the States have given Amanda a heavy transatlantic twang, not to mention a slight tendency towards American therapy-speak.
But probably the most surprising thing about Amanda, given her effect on men, is the fact that she’s very much a woman’s woman. We meet at an outside café in LA’s Studio City, with Amanda smiling at virtually every woman who walks past. ‘I have about 30 close female friends but only two male ones – Keanu and my husband Nick,’ she says.
‘My relationships with women have always been strong, but for the earlier part of my life the only relationships I had with men were sexual.
I didn’t have friendships with men until my early 30s because they didn’t really want to talk to me – they were attracted to me because of my physicality.
I was sexualised from a young age and I didn’t really understand it. All I knew was that I was getting attention.’
Although the young Amanda was often berated in the press for her attention-seeking antics, they were little more than a response to her sometimes difficult upbringing.
The daughter of 1970s racing driver Alain de Cadenet and his wife Anna, a former model, Amanda was just nine and her brother Alex seven when her parents divorced, and a lack of attention at home combined with plenty of attention from less-than-suitable sources spelt trouble for the teenage Amanda.
‘I went from being able to walk down the street and be ignored to hitting puberty and having men whistle at me,’ she says. ‘I was an insecure young girl and it felt good to have attention, even though it was inappropriate.’
Her sexual precocity led to her being taken into care for seven months at the age of 14, and although that must have been terrifying for the young Amanda, she says, ‘I do understand why.
My mother wasn’t really equipped to raise two children on her own – who is? But she was in her mid-30s, incredibly sad about her marriage breaking down.
She’d never really had to work in her life, but suddenly had to go out and waitress for a living. It was really hard for her.
My parents didn’t have the tools to manage what I was going through and could only give me what they had to give.
‘I came from a divorced home and displayed all the behaviour of a young woman struggling to find an identity and seeking to fill the loneliness with anything I could,’ she explains.
‘Externally, I looked like a messed-up teen, but internally I knew I needed help. Now I’m grateful for being put into care because it probably saved my life, but I was reading through my social worker’s notes the other day and it was really sad – I was just depressed and felt invisible at the time.’
Her looks soon put an end to her invisibility. By 14 she was modelling, and at 17 she was presenting The Word alongside Terry Christian and comedian Mark Lamarr.
It was a cult TV show and its off-the-cuff interviews and outlandish performances made the programme essential car-crash viewing (Coronation Street star Lynne Perrie’s woeful rendition of ‘I Will Survive’ being a particularly memorable low point).
‘I didn’t just wake up one day and say I wanted to be famous,’ says Amanda. ‘I needed to make a living and was presented with opportunities, which I took.
Nowadays young people see fame as a job opportunity; back then there weren’t that many young and famous people, so I stood out.
All I wanted was to provide for myself financially. It’s a miracle I didn’t get into jobs that could have been really damaging to me, as others around me were selling drugs, selling themselves.
But no matter how bad my self-esteem was, I never sold myself for drugs. I sold my soul but not my body.’
By 16 Amanda had met John Taylor, the chisel-jawed one from Duran Duran, and they married three years later and had a child. Far from being one of the band’s many groupies, she says: ‘I didn’t really know about Duran Duran – I was more into the Sex Pistols and Bob Marley,’ but Taylor’s influence on Amanda was to be profound.
‘I was very young but I loved him for giving me what I wanted, which was safety and a family. He’s a very kind man and I really needed kindness at the time.’
A gorgeous couple, they were besieged by photographers wherever they went, and the final straw came when Amanda was papped in Hyde Park while breast-feeding Atlanta.
Within a month they had upped sticks to LA, with Amanda embarking on an acting career with small parts in films such as Brokedown Palace opposite Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale (she stopped acting after a few years, ‘because I didn’t enjoy the process or think I was very good at it’).
Although she and John tried to make a go of their marriage, the couple divorced after six years. ‘John was 12 years older than me and we were at different stages of our life,’ says Amanda. ‘He was on tour a lot and away for months at a time, and I ended up having to be OK when he was gone. Eventually, that became easier. But it wasn’t a lack of love that ended the marriage, and we always made sure that Atlanta was our priority.’
Atlanta, now 20, has inherited her parents’ good looks and their chutzpah.
She has been spending time in England with her father at his Wiltshire home, the Grade I listed South Wraxall Manor. ‘She DJs, models and supports herself,’ says Amanda, beaming at the mention of her name.
‘I’m so proud of her – she’s solid and secure. She’d probably say I was quite strict with her growing up. She had age-appropriate restrictions and I wouldn’t let her model professionally until she was at least 16, but she’s a smart young woman and has a great sense of self.’
Amanda also has a close relationship with her parents – Anna, 68, who lives in London, and Alain, 67, also London-based having remarried and had a son, Aidan, now 14.
‘He’s more able to be a father now than when I was a kid,’ says Amanda, ‘and he’s a good grandpa – a very unique man; a strong man and a smart guy.
My mother taught me how to be compassionate and nonjudgmental. She has worked as a counsellor with people in prisons for years.
She’s a survivor and I’ve learnt a lot from that.’
Remembering the difficulties she went through after her own parents’ divorce, Amanda strove to give Atlanta a solid upbringing. John Taylor eventually remarried (his wife, Gela Nash, is co-founder of the fashion label Juicy Couture), and he and Amanda’s second husband Nick seemingly get on famously.
‘We have a very blended family,’ says Amanda. ‘We all happen to like each other, but we all made a conscious effort to have it that way. Gela is a wonderful stepmother and so sweet with my twins. Nick and John are both great men and have their own relationship too.’
Nick, another handsome, talented chap, was just 21 when he met the 28-year-old Amanda.
‘My two relationships prior to meeting him had been with older men – John and Keanu [who she went out with after she split up with John] – and I don’t think I’d ever dated anyone younger than me.
I’d just come out of these two heavy relationships and wasn’t looking for anything serious. Nick was funny and light and I needed that, but even then my friends were going, “This poor guy doesn’t know what’s in store for him,”’ she laughs. ‘And I knew when we met that we were going to be together for a long time. He’s amazing, and an excellent father.’
Today, Amanda seems so comfortable in her own skin that it’s a shock to hear that she suffered physical abuse from two former boyfriends.
‘People think if you’re smart or pretty you’d never go through something like that, but it’s all about self-esteem and mine wasn’t great.
The first time I was hit I was 15 and in my first relationship,’ she says. ‘I was shocked and confused by it.’ Amanda then suffered physical abuse during another relationship, and the perpetrator was well known (‘and no, it definitely wasn’t John or Keanu’).
‘It’s often assumed that if you’re successful you’re somehow exempt from being unstable,’ she says, ‘when often people who are well known can have a lot of damage. I later found out that this man was violent with other partners. I haven’t spoken to either ex since.’
The second episode also triggered health issues in Amanda, who contracted the autoimmune illness ME during this period, ‘as I think I was in such despair over the relationship,’ she says. ‘I had no symptoms of it for about 15 years and then it came back right after we finished making The Conversation.
I suffered from exhaustion, memory loss, dizziness, fever and swollen glands. There’s only a small team of us on the show and I think we worked so hard that I was worn down.’
Today though, she’s a picture of good health. Those hard-partying, drug-taking days of her youth are long gone. ‘The benefit of starting so young is that I finished young too,’ she laughs. ‘I stopped taking drugs at 20, so I’ve had 20 years of a very clean lifestyle.
I felt middle-aged at 20 and I’m sure people must think I’m 60 by now because I’ve been around so long!
But today I just feel age appropriate. I’ve got a career, a grown-up child, two small children and a marriage, so it takes a lot for me to go to an event past dark these days.
‘I try to lead a healthy lifestyle – I get enough rest, I meditate twice a day and I don’t eat junk food.
But saying that, everything in moderation – no one’s allowed to talk about diets in my house and
no one’s allowed to say, “I feel fat”, because I don’t want my kids to have those kind of body issues.
I had my own body issues after I had the twins because I put on so much weight and I couldn’t exercise at the time due to illness. I could have starved myself but it’s not healthy and it’s not the kind of example I want to set for my daughters.’
Amanda currently has several projects on the go, including penning a book about her life (‘it’ll be like an autobiography in the form of photographs and short stories from my life’) and bringing The Conversation to the UK. ‘I’d like to do another version of the show in England,’ she says, ‘and I’d love to get women like Victoria Beckham and the Duchess of Cambridge. I’m spending my days running the website, which is a full-time job, and preparing for the next series.’
Demi Moore will be the first guest of the next US series and, says Amanda: ‘She’s an incredible woman who’s lived through so much and is very generous about sharing her experiences.
I’m really grateful that she has allowed me to witness the ups and downs of her life at such close proximity, and I have learnt invaluable life lessons from her.
I’m forever thankful to Demi for being the wonderfully strong woman that she is.
She’s like a phoenix – trust me, you will be seeing her in her full glory again!’
Amanda is rightfully proud of her series and admits that ‘my only credentials for interviewing
the women on my show are that I’ve lived through so many of these experiences. I’ve been institutionalised, married, divorced, had kids, got clean and survived violent relationships. I’ve been through enough darkness to know that not only can I survive, but I can live a happy, fulfilled life, and that’s very much the message I want to share with other women. There is,’ she says, ‘so much to do in the world. And I’m only just getting started.’
Series one of The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet is on theconversation.tvhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/art ... z2Js4RXkTl
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