When Dawn met Amanda

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Dawn O’Porter was an “uncool” 11-year-old when Amanda de Cadenet presented The Word, but now they’re firm friends. As Amanda returns to our screens, Dawn interviews her for Stylist

Photography: Steve Schofield Words: Dawn O’Porter

Forget, for a second, cycling shorts and 2 Unlimited and you can’t deny the Nineties had an edge. It was, after all, the decade that saw fashion channelling heroin chic and Madonna branch into er, sex, and it was all epitomised on a TV programme we weren’t really allowed to watch called The Word. It was the show where Kurt Cobain once declared Courtney Love “the best f*** in the world” and people licked strangers’ sweaty belly buttons because they’d “do anything to get on television”. But perhaps the most fascinating thing about this cult show was its female presenter, a girl called Amanda de Cadenet, who got the job aged just 17. By the time the show was taken off air in 1995, Amanda had married Duran Duran’s John Taylor (she was 19), given birth to their daughter Atlanta and decamped to Los Angeles. She then got divorced, dated our ultimate nostalgia crush, Keanu Reeves, and became the face of the Nineties’ wild child, with every teenage girl living vicariously through the tabloid version of her life.

One of those teenage girls was Dawn O’Porter, who despite being “young and particularly uncool” at the height of The Word’s success, 20 years later found herself becoming good friends with the new Amanda; a 41-year-old woman who is more homemaker than hedonist, re-married (albeit to The Strokes’ guitarist Nick Valensi) and mum to seven-year-old twins Ella and Silvan, alongside 21-year-old Atlanta. After meeting through work, Dawn and Amanda formed a close bond over a full English (Dawn) and an egg-white omelette (Amanda) and, in a surreal twist, a naked spa date. “We sat around and chatted with our boobs and fannies out,” laughs Dawn. “It was brilliant.”

There’s no nudity this time, but their friendship meant it made sense that Stylist sent Dawn to interview Amanda – now a high-end music and fashion photographer as well as executive producer (alongside Demi Moore) and presenter on The Conversation, a successful TV show that is about to come over to the UK. It’s seen Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow discussing everything from addictions to their favourite sexual positions. So if she’s comfortable asking those questions, surely she’ll be comfortable answering Dawn’s version of them…

What do you think people think when they hear your name?

I don’t know, to be honest. It’s none of my business. I’m living my life day to day, doing kids’ stuff...

Well, that’s you now, but people will remember the wild child. How real was the press representation of you at the time?

Pretty real.

How did you come to get your first presenting job on TV?

I was 14 or 15. My parents had separated and my mum had no money. Someone said jokingly “get a job”, and I said “what can I do?” And someone said these people were auditioning for a TV show so I went.

Did you enjoy being famous?

I don’t think I enjoyed it because I moved away. It’s a really unhealthy thing to be a young person and have that much attention put on you. Once I met my first husband and had my daughter I came here [LA]. I walked out of my five-storey house in Notting Hill, full of furniture and clothes, packed a suitcase and never went back.

Amanda de Cadenet and her co-presenter Terry Christian in The Word's glory days

You have talked about your addictions. Did they come off the back of your fame and how stressful you found your teenage years?

You can’t peg it to any one thing. You either have it or you don’t. That’s why people from all walks of life suffer.

So what were you addicted to? Coke? Booze?

I was in so much emotional pain as a young girl that whatever distracted me from how I felt about myself was fine by me. It wasn’t one thing or the other. When young people implode, we judge them rather than saying they need help. I think I was slightly ahead of my time, now we are just used to seeing young women implode.

How bad did it get?

I was put in White City children’s home when I was 15.

How old were you when you left the UK?

I was 21, already married. I was thinking about that when I went back to England. Would I have survived if I stayed? I don’t think I would have because it would have been hard to recalibrate and create my own authentic journey. And I realised this because every journalist I sat down with was like, “So, when you were 14…” I was like, “You still want to talk about that?”

Because that’s how people know your name in the UK. We can’t just jump to now and not know what happened and why you left?

Well, you can address that and you have to as that’s someone’s trajectory. But let’s talk about something else too.

You interviewed Lady Gaga for The Conversation and every now and again you say something that reminds me that it’s two women, who have lived lives, having a great conversation. You talking about why youth is important – it reminds the public why it should be you asking those questions to women.

It makes sense. Gaga and I talked about addiction and how it stops working after a while. She said it’s not sexy being a drug addict. From experience I can say it’s not. I’m yet to sit with someone who has shared something and I feel like I have no idea what they are talking about.

Do you speak to Atlanta [now 21] honestly about your teenage years?

Of course. The other day she said, “Mum I didn’t realise how much press attention you and dad got and get”. And I explained to her what it was like for me as a teenager in the UK. I said, “You better watch what you do. Because anything you do that is controversial will be put on blast. So do it behind closed doors. People will be looking out to compare you to me”.

What would you tell your 14-year-old self?

I would say that the extreme pain you’re in right now will help you to grow and heal, so it’s not for nothing. And also to keep my knickers on a bit longer.

You’re married to someone eight years younger. What’s that like?

There is always training, on both parts. He became a father at 24, but he is an amazing dad. A more present, involved father than people in their 40s.

Amanda with her second husband The Stokes' guitarist Nick Valensi

How do you feel when you’re out and he gets more attention? Are you happy to be the plus one?

I have such great self-esteem that I never feel like that. I’ve worked very hard on my self-esteem and I know my value.

Has your self-esteem come about from years and years of therapy?

I love my therapist. I speak to him every week. I’m a big advocate of talk therapy. I read books, I talk to other people who are also interested in the same thing. I read a book about Diane Arbus about 15 years ago and decided I wanted to be a photographer. I didn’t know how to ask people if I could take their picture. So I read about what she did, and asked the way she did.

And you had therapy for post-natal depression, what was that like?

My base line was feeling numb and apathetic. Tired was an understatement. People kept saying. “Of course you’re tired, you’ve just had twins,” but this went on for two years, it didn’t matter how much I slept. I had no motivation, I would cry without any prompting and mostly I had a hard time connecting with my kids. Once I identified what was going on I had to not judge myself and try and be compassionate and take the steps needed to get myself physically balanced. Which I’m still in the process of doing and it’s my kids’ seventh birthday tomorrow.

What is feminism to you?

That’s a really good question, I interviewed Gloria Steinem recently and Caitlin Moran for my UK show – both very different faces of feminism. I identify as a feminist, I think a feminist is someone who really does believe in equal rights. Contemporary feminism is fascinating, Gloria Steinem is very anti-porn, Caitlin Moran is very vocal about saying, “It’s the porn industry that I’m against”.

What’s your view?

I tend to agree with Caitlin. I believe it’s the porn industry but I also think there’s a difference between consenting sex and force and someone’s intention. We all know what mutual sex looks like, but a lot of the porn we see is not a mutual sex experience, it’s very male dominated and often very insulting to women.

There’s a website called Make Love Not Porn which is all about couples having loving sex sharing videos of their experience. It’s blowing the f*** up because some people want to see that. Have you ever made a porn video? Ever been filmed?

No. Never.

Do you ever watch porn?

Umm, occasionally.

So you’re not against it?

I’m not against it but I do have strong feelings about women being objectified. It makes me – as a photographer and as a woman who has the opportunity to create imagery in the media – mindful about sexualising women.

With that in mind, I know you interviewed her, but how are you feeling about Miley Cyrus?

I’m really fond of Miley. I got a lot of s**t for interviewing her. My theory was, well let’s find out who she is. People were really surprised.

Because she’s not a f*** up, is she?

No, she’s not.

So what do you think her thought process is?

Look, I’m not in her head but as someone who had pretty deep conversations with her, I would say that her rebellion or her creative expression right now is directly proportionate to the amount she has been controlled and told she must be someone other people want her to be. I’m pro Miley.

Gwyneth Paltrow shares her secrets with Amanda on The Conversation

However I think it’s difficult when women like you, Gloria, Caitlin and myself are trying to make women equal and Miley is twerking.

But how about the fact that no-one’s talking about Robin Thicke? He’s a man in his 40s who’s bumping up against a 21-year-old girl. That’s fully inappropriate. How about we hold him accountable?

Do you think that will change?

Not unless more people stand up and say, hang on a minute. It’s an age-old portrayal of women, we’re still painting the woman as untrustworthy and a slut. It’s the mother Madonna whore complex and its stereotypes. This is some old s*** that is going to take generations [to eradicate].

Finally, any regrets?

I don’t have any. I’ve had so many painful things happen to me, and each one made me who I am. So if I like who I am, how can I regret anything? And I do like who I am.

The Conversation With Amanda De Cadenet is on Sundays at 8pm on Lifetime (Sky 156; Virgin 242)

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Stylist Team