Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

growing olddisgracefully

From cosmetic surgery to ballroom dancing, sex therapist and erstwhile comedienne Pamela Stephenson is hellbent on preserving her beauty, she tells Hannah Stephenson

Since she came third in Strictly Come Dancing two years ago, Pamela Stephenson has continued to trip the light fantastic and keep off the two stone she lost during the show.

But the dancing hasn't come without its drawbacks.

The comedian-turned-sex therapist, wife of Billy Connolly, recalls 'breaking a boob' just before last Christmas at a jive club in New York, where she lives, when she mistimed a move which involved her being swung between her partner's legs face down.

"I felt no pain and was unaware of the deflation until the next morning when I looked in the mirror and realised I had one melon and one fried egg," she recalls at the beginning of her autobiography, The Varnished Untruth.

It's a weird but timely story for a woman who, by her own admission, has had a ton of cosmetic surgery, from breast implants and Botox to a tummy tuck and facelifts.

"One of the things about me is my refusal to age gracefully," the 62-year-old admits. "I'm vain and would totally sell my soul to the devil to be a babe forever."

Meeting her today, her voice is soft, calm and measured, a million miles from the caustic impressionist who caused much hilarity with her impressions of Janet Street Porter and Margaret Thatcher in the 70s comedy series Not The Nine O'Clock News.

For years she feared getting old, but now that the deflated boob is repaired, she doubts she'll have further surgery.

"I think as you get older it becomes more risky, so I'm going to focus on exercise."

Her husband Billy Connolly doesn't think all the surgery was necessary - but he has a different view of ageing, she explains: "He embraces it in a very healthy way. He just loves his bushy eyebrows, long white hair and being a grandpa.

"He's still sexy, but when I met him he was a dark-haired crazy man with an unintelligible Glaswegian accent."

They've been together for more than 30 years and have five children between them (three of their own and two from Connolly's previous marriage), having first met when he was a guest on NTNON, which launched Stephenson to TV comedy stardom, alongside Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones.

"He was so different from the men I had met during NTNON - well-educated, genteel males without that edge of danger that Billy had. He was warm, sweet and kind of childlike. I recognised a fellow survivor. Some people thought that I was the one that helped him through his drinking and I suppose I was. I wasn't going to be with someone who was out of control ever again."

At the time they were both married - she to actor Nicholas Ball and he to Iris. But both were unhappy and became kindred spirits.

"He's been so consistent," says Stephenson. "He was abandoned by his mother and I was rejected by my father. Both of us needed some consistency of knowing that, through thick or thin, we were going to be there for each other."

The Varnished Untruth charts her life from growing up in New Zealand and Australia, to her early theatre career, move to London, comedy career and beyond.

Eventually they moved to the US when Billy signed a four-year contract with Warner Bros. At that time their children were still small and Stephenson, who had tired of comedy, switched careers to become a clinical psychologist.

As Dr Connolly, she welcomed many celebrity patients to her Los Angeles practice and found that, having worked in showbiz, she could relate to their problems.

"A lot of people asked me to help them deal with the vicissitudes of celebrity and fame and the things that happen as a result."

In the book, she uses the device of being her own therapist, posing questions to herself as if she were in one of her own sessions, to explain her behaviour.

Indeed, throughout her life she has been plagued with insecurities. Stephenson never felt able to meet her scientist parents' high expectations, and fear of rejection and poor body image led to binge eating and panic attacks.

She constantly felt like a fish out of water, an outsider, and says her parents simply didn't show her the love she needed.

In one of her darkest periods she lost her virginity to a heroin junkie who gave her gonorrhoea and, when her parents found out, her father threw her out. Moving in with an abusive boyfriend who used to beat her, she became terrified of rejection, which she believes is a symptom of the emotional neglect she received growing up.

Clinching a place at drama school in Sydney proved to be her great escape from the violent boyfriend. Performing made her feel good about herself.

When she moved to England and found fame on NTNON, it wasn't the pleasurable experience she'd hoped for. "It was stressful. I knew I was doing a good job but I wasn't from the same class or British, and I hadn't been to Oxbridge.

"Yes, the chaps disliked me. I wasn't 'one of them', we were never friends and we have not kept in touch."

When her relationship with Connolly was made public, they unwittingly became tabloid fodder and retaining any privacy was nigh-on impossible, she reflects.

"We both had pretty wild reputations, but we were just hanging on, sitting together in a dark apartment with the shades drawn. I was presenting the wacky, zany comedian more than I actually was,'' she says.

"We are both very tolerant of each other's quirkiness and eccentricities and we do spend quite a bit of time apart which for us is healthy.

"We've never been stifled. Absences have been good for us."

Today, she says she doesn't miss performing at all, although Strictly brought back the adrenaline rush she so loved when performing - and improved her sex life.

Her slimmer figure and happier state of mind didn't go unnoticed by her husband.

"'Eh Pamsy, any chance you could bring that quickstep costume home?' he would ask."

She still dances regularly at classes near their home in Manhattan and has retained her fitness levels, recently completing a 12-hour dance marathon.

A confirmed adrenaline junkie, she's now planning a tiger shark dive (she loves scuba diving), but is also enjoying family time with their two grandchildren by Connolly's daughter Cara, and the rest of their family.

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