When I lost my virginity at 16, I suppose it was rape. My father told me 'You are no longer my daughter' and kicked me out: Funny girl Pamela Stephenson bares all
22:32 GMT, 8 September 2012
Somewhere, I have this black-and-white, Brownie box camera photograph of myself in early 1961, wearing a woollen cardigan beneath the Egyptian sun, sharing a camel with my father. I remember feeling guilty about the wicked delight I felt when the rogue leading my mother’s camel threatened: ‘Pay me more, lady, or I’ll make the camel dance!’
Later I watched gleefully as she bounced around like a rag doll on a mechanical bull, wailing. The thought of it still makes me smile – is that so wrong
My father was a zoologist, my mother a biologist and, after they produced three girls, we moved from New Zealand, where I was born, to Sydney, where they took up lecturing positions.
Brains and beauty: Pamela Stephenson in 1977, shortly after she arrived in London
We moved to a small, arid, inland suburb called Boronia Park where we’d bought an ugly, concrete-sprayed house – have you ever seen that kind of exterior work It’s hideous, like construction acne, and if you accidentally brush against it, it grazes your skin.
The whole area was just developing and I remember it as terribly hot and dusty. There was very little growing there, just a few stringy-barked gum trees and indigenous shrubs.
The aural landscape was lively and loud, though; the strident humming of cicadas morning and night, the constant barking of neighbourhood dogs, and a kookaburra laughing from its usual perch on top of our clothes line.
Did I mention I didn’t much like my mother My mother always seemed miserable. Now I realise she must have suffered from depression, and she was also highly anxious. She knew she had poor mothering skills (she apologised to me about that a couple of years before she died).
Early days: A young Pamela gets a marine biology lesson from her father on the beach at Coromandel, New Zealand
To be honest, I always felt she didn’t
really like me. And the pervasive envy, bitterness and dismissiveness I
felt from her – especially during my teenage years – constituted a
painful trauma I have only recently come to understand. It spurred a
deep sense of unworthiness, guilt and fury that continues to plague me
from time to time.
My parents told me once that I was ‘an experiment’. B******s. I was always afraid to ask just how far that went. Did they deliberately deprive me of love and comfort to see how I’d turn out
They had huge expectations of me, partly because some clipboard-wielding IQ tester had turned up at my kindergarten and pronounced that I was way too smart for Plasticine and snap (I could read when I was three).
Water babe: A teenage Pamela sits on the rocks on the sea front in Takapuna, New Zealand in 1964
I was whisked off to a more advanced
classroom where all the kids were talking about dating and periods,
which meant that, at seven, I was a social outcast.
And even though I
was still near the top of my class, my father made it clear that second
place was unacceptable.
Yeah, I was an experiment, all right; a
miserable baby-monster whose classmates didn’t understand that my savage competitive streak was solely in the interests of receiving what
every child deserves no matter what their exam results might be –
burying my head in my lap to try to block out the entire class chanting
‘Teacher’s pet. Teacher’s pet! Teacher’s pet! TEACHER’S PET!’
Thank God that resilience never left
me, despite the punishment I took – and not just for my braininess. I
was just never liked . . .
My hormones were circulating like mad
and, at 16, I discovered the thrill of sneaking out at night.
At first I
met up with fellow teenage folk singers and sat in a local park
strumming for hours, but eventually I found my way to older, more
exciting – and dangerous – men.
I would hitchhike into wicked King’s
Cross, the centre of Sydney’s well-established ‘vice ring’, and wander
around attracting people who did not have my best interests at heart.
I understand that the adrenaline rush was helping to mitigate my
depression; if only someone had noticed how troubled I was. My parents
expressed some suspicions about my behaviour, but they never confronted
me. I imagine they would have found it hard to believe what I was doing.
blossomed into a slim, peroxide-blonde babe with the deep tan all my
friends at Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School aspired to.
‘You look quite negroid,’ said my mother when she saw me sunning myself in the back garden. ‘It’s most unattractive.’
Comic edge: The Not The Nine O'Clock News team (from left to right) Griff Rhys Jones, Rowan Atkinson and Mel Smith
I suppose her early days as a white
colonial child, the daughter of Methodist missionaries in Fiji, had
instilled deep prejudice. I liked to wear my naturally wavy hair
straight, but we did not have hair straighteners in those days, so I
managed to contort my body to lay my hair on an ironing board, cover it
with a cloth, and steam it with the iron.
my breasts were not co-operating; they remained small and bud-like. I
stuffed my bikini top with rolled-up school socks, but going in the surf
with such poorly improvised augmentation led to an excessive amount of
water-retention, shape-distortion and subsequent embarrassment.
was still a virgin at this point. I was fairly ignorant about sex, but I
had an inkling that it might be the route to my desired destruction, so
when I met a 35-year-old heroin junkie who lured me into his flat, I
put up little resistance.
The chaps disliked me… I just wasn't one of them
It was a horrible, painful experience,
out of which I got nothing but glandular fever and gonorrhoea. I
suppose it was rape. What was the age of consent back then I don’t even
I don’t want to know. It was just
terrible, but I thought I deserved it, and worse. I told no one, but
when I became dreadfully ill our family doctor informed my parents of
the truth about my ailments. I gave no excuse. My father came to me as I
lay sick in bed.
supposed to keep yourself clean until marriage,’ he said, with such
cold fury I could barely take it in. ‘You are no longer my daughter.’
Without further discussion, my parents
kicked me out of the house. I remember the feeling well, because I
still experience it every time someone rejects me, even in some
relatively small way.
Forgiveness doesn’t come easy, but
now, for the first time in my life, I may be ready. I’ve tried many
times before. In 2003 I knelt in the graveyard in Russell, New Zealand,
where my parents’ ashes were interred. ‘For God’s sake, Pamela,’ I
harangued myself, ‘let it go. Just let it go!’ But I couldn’t.
In a whirl: Pamela and her partner James Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing in 2010
More work was required. The first
step was to risk connecting viscerally with my deep rage. And now that I
have fully felt the pain of that rage – its white-hot heat – I may at
last be ready to cool off.
Oh, please let that be true. I grew up
feeling deeply insecure and unworthy, and I sought validation from
others. It is a precarious and futile way to live life, and it can only
lead to further profound disappointment.
Most people I met in London when I
arrived in 1978 did not understand that, after my training at
Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art and my work in Australian
theatre, television and film, I was pretty experienced. I felt I was
rather accomplished. But I wasn’t good at proving it.
I was offered a few modelling jobs,
but that was not what I desired. I appeared in a few commercials and
took guest roles in some popular TV series, but for someone who had
proved herself in serious roles it was a bit embarrassing to play the
girl with a grenade down her bra in The Professionals.
/09/08/article-2200221-0C9C5FFC000005DC-943_634x799.jpg” width=”634″ height=”799″ alt=”Instant attraction: Pamela with her husband, comedian Billy Connolly, who she has been married to for more than 30 years” class=”blkBorder” />
Instant attraction: Pamela with her husband, comedian Billy Connolly, who she has been married to for more than 30 years
To be honest, I don’t think any of my
fellow cast members liked me at all. And I don’t blame them. In fact, I
appreciate how benevolently they tolerated my prickliness. In NTNON I
tended to steal the limelight by being sexually provocative (the
sketches sometimes demanded that).
Although I privately saw myself as a
toothy, short-waisted, pear-shaped munchkin with an unfortunate facial
profile, I realised that, with the right make-up, hair and lighting, my
looks got me a lot of attention.
And I made the mistake of behaving
competitively. I really hadn’t learned how to get on with men who
weren’t my boyfriends. Yes, the chaps disliked me. I wasn’t ‘one of
them’, we were never friends, and we have not kept in touch. Also, I
discovered after a couple of series that I was paid a lot less than
them. That seriously p****d me off.
like to say I played every female role, but in typical British style
the boys also loved to get into a dress whenever possible. At the time I
found it annoying and I just didn’t get it.
Billy was a gipsy lover – with a voice like gravel and honey
boys and John tended to look slightly guilty whenever they were working
on a drag sketch – well, they would, wouldn’t they, with me pouting
furiously in the corner They were all collapsing with mirth, while I
made no attempt to conceal my pique.
To be honest, I think they could be
forgiven for deciding that, off-screen, I had no sense of humour. I
remember being very thin at the time, and very edgy.
I chain-smoked and ate pure food: no
salt, sugar or fat. I wish I could have just lightened up and enjoyed
myself, but I couldn’t. I did feel such a misfit.
One day I became aware that the NTNON
cast and producers were particularly excited because they had an
appointment to meet a Scottish comedian called Billy Connolly, who they
wanted as a guest on the show.
I’d never heard of Billy, but I
dutifully went along with the gang to meet him at his manager’s office.
We all shook hands with this hairy stranger, then walked round to Geales
fish restaurant for lunch.
I was shocked. You know how sometimes
you meet someone and have a completely unexpected reaction, a kind of
Some people would call it ‘love at first sight’ and I
suppose it was. I was extremely taken with him.
He was so different from
the men I had met during NTNON – well-educated, genteel males without
that edge of danger that Billy had.
I was (unknowingly) strongly attracted to him. At lunch he ate his fish with his bare hands and I remember thinking: ‘What an animal!’
He was thrilling; a savage gipsy lover with a voice like gravel and honey, but I learned he was married. Oh yes, that’s right – so was I.
I had been married to the actor Nicholas Ball for about a year. He was a delightful man whom I truly loved, but we were not quite right for each other and things were getting pretty tense at home.
I had met him when he was the star of a TV detective series called Hazell and was enormously taken by him. We got on well for a while, but my sudden success in NTNON eventually meant I was unable to give him the time and focus he deserved.
I didn’t see Billy again for about a year after that first meeting, and by then both our marriages were ending so we had the opportunity to be together . . . I couldn’t possibly have known that, 30-odd years later, we’d be having Christmas dinner with our children and grandchildren.
NEXT WEEK: Bulimia, my unusual husband Billy – and our amazing children
Pamela Stephenson 2012. The Varnished Untruth, by Pamela Stephenson, is published by Simon & Schuster, priced 18.99. To order your copy at the special price of 16.99 with free p&p, please call the Review Bookstore on 0843 382 1111 or visit mailshop.co.uk/books
I BLAME MY BOOB JOB ON STRICTLY
Hot to foxtrot: Strictly star Pamela prepares to dance
Just before last Christmas, I broke a t*t. It’s not the same as breaking a fingernail. Reparation involves surgery, cash and some hard-core narcotics.
The tragedy occurred in a jive club near Madison Square Garden in New York. I’ve continued to enjoy social dancing since appearing on Strictly Come Dancing in 2010. My partner led me into a crazy lift: the Death Drop.
I miscalculated the first part and my right breast hit the deck. I was unaware of the deflation until the next morning when I realised I had one melon and one fried egg.
One of the ugliest things about me is that I’m as vain as vain can be and would sell my soul to the devil to be a babe for ever. I first had my bosom enlarged aged 21.
The surgeon who worked on me in the past had retired, so ‘Dr Bev Hills’ was my knight in shining armour – and also my harshest critic.
‘Well, I can perk up that right puppy but, in any case, you’re about due for a bit more tweaking, aren’t you And you lost weight too quickly on that dance programme – your skin’s sagging. Shall we take care of everything at once’
It took me just one month to start regretting my surgical choices. Three days after Christmas, I flew to Brazil. I was stupid to travel so soon after surgery and I was gaga on painkillers and antibiotics.
But I later headed for the beach – where an epiphany awaited me. Women of all shapes were sunning themselves in the tiniest bikinis – ‘fio dental’ the Brazilians call them, slang for thongs as skinny as dental floss.
I watched women at an open-air Zumba-style class. Their cellulite shook rhythmically and their tummies flopped. And they were so comfortable with their bodies, they put me to shame.
If only I’d come to Brazil two months earlier. With the money I spent on surgery I could have bought a flat. And a wardrobe of fio dentals!