Happy Place

Perms, PE and penny sweets: Inside Fearne Cotton’s group chat

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Fearne Cotton and her best friends have known each other for more than 25 years. Here, she opens up their private WhatsApp chat as they reminisce about teenage style disasters, obscure TV favourites and classic Eighties snacks.

I am lucky to enough to belong to a pack of women I have known for more than a quarter of a century. A gang of women whose lives have intertwined, merged and moved in symmetry over the years. A super-group of ladies who, no matter how long we are intermittently apart, can click back to love and laughter in seconds.

We grew up in the Eighties and Nineties in the suburbs of London, stomping though local parks and under-16 discos in buffalo boots and Kappa tracksuits. We snogged boys, puked in bushes and got our first jobs together. We fell in and out of love together. Some of us have even had babies in the same stretch of years. They are my sisters, my team and my family: Ally, Lucy, Reb, Hayley, Fran and Becky, aka Babs.

Nothing beats a bit of nostalgia, and when we are together memories pour out of us like lava from volcanoes. We howl until tears drip in to our tea.

I recently started a WhatsApp group with this sacred gang and asked them to share their favourite memories of our years together for Stylist. We cringed, giggled and sighed our way down memory lane – and now, I’d like to share our reminiscences with you.

Once you’ve finished reading our conversation, why not ask your own best friends what their most precious memories are? Chances are, they’ll remember details you’d completely forgotten, and you’ll feel closer than ever – if a little embarrassed at some of your youthful style choices… 

On fashion

They call the Eighties the decade that style forgot, but there were parts of the Nineties that weren’t so chic either. Take it from us – we were there.

Fearne: Becky, was it you who I went to the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party with?

Becky: Wait, I can’t recall. Jog my memory.

Fearne: OK, it was a LONG time ago. PJ & Duncan, Andi Peters hosting?

Becky: YES, too funny! It was me!

Fearne: This was definitely our leggings and oversized checked shirt period. I also had a perm…

Becky: God knows what atrocity I arrived in!

Lucy: Also, what about your long faux leather brown Morgan jacket?

Fearne: I begged my mum for that jacket!

Becky: I just snorted with laughter.

Lucy: And those velvet turn up hats we all loved?

Fearne: EEEEK!

On school 

We went to secondary school in Hillingdon, and the walk took 40 minutes each way. As you can imagine, this gave us a lot of time for chatting, moaning and bonding.

Lucy: Remember our long walks to school?

Fearne: Oh, the walks to school! Carrying an art folder, PE kit, violin case, or trumpet in your case Lucy, and a rucksack with Penguin bars and Quavers for break time. We were human donkeys. No wonder I have such stiff shoulders at this point in life!

Lucy: I have fond memories of us all hiding under the tables at lunch time at school from the dinner ladies when the weather was bad, so we didn’t have to go outside.

Fearne: They would have us in that playground come rain or shine. HELL!

Ally: I’m laughing my head off here. I have fond memories of Hayley eating her sandwiches DURING lessons at the back of Spanish and then getting asked a question which she would have to answer with a mouth full of cheese and bread. Also all of us at the back of the classroom with our Walkman headphone wires up our sleeves, sneakily listening to Michael Jackson and Hanson.

Fearne: MMMBOP!

On pop culture 

Growing up in the Eighties and Nineties, our cultural touchpoints include those that have stood the test of time as well as those that are, shall we say, a little more niche.

Lucy: Do you remember how much we loved Friends? We would go to the local video rental and hire a VHS each Friday night.

Fearne: What a palaver. God, we are so spoiled with TV and Netflix these days. THE VIDEO RENTAL!

Becky: Wait, what about Pugwall? We loved that show!

Lucy: Pugwall was the BEST! “Nobody tells me what to do, no not me…”

Becky: Lucy I still know the words to the Pugwall theme song too! “I’ve got a dream I’m gonna make it… With drums a-thumpin’, bass player pumpin’, keyboards and me and my guitar…” Remember Jenny in the show? I wanted to be her! We also used to spend hours singing Take That into my boom box, thinking we would make it as singers one day.

Lucy: And we used to love recording the Top 40 off the radio onto cassette.

Fearne: How wonderfully old-school of us! 

On food

Now that we’re adults, we all try to eat reasonably healthily – but it definitely wasn’t always the case.

Ally: We would watch Friends while eating an entire chocolate cake from Budgens.

Lucy: I used to buy three cream cakes for 99p and eat them all before my dinner.

Becky: I remember eating Alphabites – a total after-school favourite whilst wearing buffalo trainers and three-stripe Adidas tracksuit bottoms.

Fearne: How were we all so thin? I used to buy Freddo frogs from the newsagent on the way to school for 10p and eat it on the way to school at 8am. Rank!

Becky: What about Space Invaders and penny sweets?

Fearne: You cannot buy a thing for a penny these days. God, we sound old…

Becky: Wait, who remembers Ketchips? Croquettes with hot ketchup.

Fearne: Holy hell! The Eighties were bonkers. 

On making new plans 

We no longer get to see each other every day – but we always try and make sure we have plans to meet up in the pipeline. Our friend Hayley is late for everything, but also lives in New York now, which makes her late responses to our WhatsApp conversations even funnier.

Hayley: LADIESSSSSSS. I’ve been in a workshop in Seattle and have missed 80 messages.

Fearne: Hayley, late to the party as ever, even on a WhatsApp chat – but you do have a huge time difference as an excuse today. Miss you!

Hayley: This has been a joy to read. One of my favourite memories is attending an extra-curricular art club in the school holidays with you, Fearne. We made hippy posters with suns and moons for our classroom wall.

Fearne: God we were such wonderful nerds. I mean, I still am, but this was definitely the conceptual stage of my nerdiness.

Hayley: Lucy, I loved it when you were made to play trumpet in front of the whole class. You would go so red from embarrassment and also a lack of air in general. Also, I’m back in London in May, can we hang?


Fran: I’ll bring the Ketchips!

We know Hayley will be late, but we also know it will be the most love-filled gathering of all time. Because no matter how many treasured memories you share with your friends, there are always new ones to be made.

For one day only on Tuesday 27 March, Fearne Cotton has taken over stylist.co.uk and transformed it into her very own Happy Place – a digital sanctuary, focusing entirely on wellness, happiness and good mental health.

For similarly inspiring and uplifting content, check out Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place, available on Apple Podcasts now.

Images: Courtesy of Fearne Cotton