Paula Hamilton: Simon Cowell was my first lover and it was all downhill from there
“I lost my virginity to Simon Cowell at 16… but it was all downhill from there”: Face of the Eighties, Paula Hamilton reveals how her life started to spiral out of control
10:40 AM on 21st May 2011
Model Paula Hamilton, one of the most famous faces of the 1980s, has revealed that she lost her virginity to Simon Cowell.
Miss Hamilton, 50, star of the decade’s iconic Volkswagen Golf TV commercial, says she was 16 at the time.
She says in today’s Daily Mail Weekend magazine that she lost her virginity to ‘a boy called Simon’ – the man who grew up to be the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent Svengali whose fortune is valued at 200million.
Face of the eighties: Paula Hamilton has revealed that Simon Cowell was her first lover when she was 16
She and Cowell were childhood sweethearts while growing up in leafy Hertfordshire in the 1970s, she said.
She also claimed that, in contrast to his Mr Nasty image on TV, he was ‘very, very protective’ and stopped teachers vilifying her.
She went on: ‘I couldn’t read or write until I was 11. So I was called stupid and bullied by teachers. Simon was really important to me because he stopped them picking on me.’
As well as being her adolescent knight in shining armour, Cowell could also be a rebel. According to Miss Hamilton – a reformed alcoholicand cocaine addict – the first time she was ever drunk was with Cowell.
‘He was funny and rebellious like me,’ she said. ‘Alcohol made the feelings inside me go away.’
Discovered by photographer David Bailey, Miss Hamilton became one of the modelling stars of the 1980s.
Protective: Cowell in 1985 with Sinitta, who has remained a close friend throughout his life
Her role in the 1987 VW Golf ad symbolised the growing economic independence of British women. In it, she is seen leaving a house, flinging off her pearls and her wedding ring, but keeping the keys to the car.
‘If only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen,’ ran the tagline.
In the intervening years, Miss Hamilton has struggled with her addictions and a complicated personal life.
She had a brief marriage to a cameraman in 1987 as well as a disastrous affair with the billionaire former Conservative party vice-chairman Lord Ashcroft. In the 1990s she was engaged to film-makerHenry Cole.
Miss Hamilton also tells Weekend how she had an affair with cricketerEd Giddins, who played four Test matches for England and is more than ten years her junior. The pair met while filming the new Channel 4 show Celebrity Five Go To… South Africa.
Miss Hamilton – who has been diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia – said she had her first ‘grown-up’ relationship with Giddins, 39, although they are now just friends.
Cowell, 51, was engaged to singer Sinitta and had a six-year relationship with TV presenter Terri Seymour. He is engaged to make-up artist Mezhgan Hussainy, 37. His spokesman was unavailable for comment.
Paula Hamilton was 16 when she lost her virginity to ‘a boy called Simon’. They’d known one another from the age of 12 and he was, she says, ‘very, very protective of me’. ‘I couldn’t read or write until I was 11,’ she explains. ‘So I was called stupid and bullied by teachers. Simon was really important to me because he stopped them picking on me.’
What she neglects to mention, though, is that this Simon is, in fact,Simon Cowell. Why Well, it just hasn’t occurred to her. That first love was 34 years ago now, but Paula still lights up when she talks about Cowell. ‘He was funny and rebellious like me,’ she says. ‘The first time I got drunk was with Simon. Alcohol made the feelings inside me go away.’
Paula was the ‘face of the Eighties’ who powered through that decade on drugs, drink and outrageous behaviour, throwing away a successful modelling career as carelessly as she chucked away herpearls, fur and wedding ring (but not the car keys) in a memorable advert for a VW Golf.
Today: Paula Hamilton, 50, says that she is finally happy in her own skin
Today, aged 50, she’s been sober for five years and, for the first time in her life, actually likes being in her flawless skin. So much so that she’s happy to chat openly about Cowell and any other lover I mention.
Yet Paula doesn’t get the art of conversation. In truth, she doesn’t get people at all. One moment, her bikini bottoms are around her ankles to show me she doesn’t have a single grey hair – ‘anywhere’; the next she’s juggling her surgically enhanced breasts, boasting, ‘These are cash and carry.’ In short, the Paula I meet is just as I expect: still stunningly beautiful but totally exasperating, with a mind spinning in different directions like a whirling dervish.
I expected this because, beforehand, I’ve spoken to the dyslexia assessment specialist Katherine Kindersley. Four years ago, following exhaustive tests, she diagnosed Paula as suffering from severe dyslexia and dyspraxia (an impairment that affects the ability to organise one’s thoughts). While her verbal reasoning skills place her in the top five per cent of her age group, her ability to control her language
and thinking is like a child’s.
Astonishingly, despite the many years she’s spent in therapy, her condition went undetected until the age of 47. Instead, she was said to be bipolar, stuffed full of heavy-duty antidepressants and sent on her way. Today Paula manages her condition through the techniques Ms Kindersley has taught her, combined with a healthy diet. ‘When I was diagnosed I was euphoric. I thought, “Now I understand why I’ve never felt normal.”
In the spotlight: Paula in the VW Golf advert from 1987 that shaped her career
‘After Katherine helped me read through her report I walked on air all the way home. I don’t get depressed any more. I have down days, but I’ve learnt how to manage myself – and actually like myself. I don’t let my emotions rule my head.’
Indeed, following her participation in a new TV show called Celebrity Five Go To… South Africa – which was filmed in Cape Town, where she spent her early years, Paula has had what she calls her first ‘grown-up’ relationship with fellow contestant and former England cricketer Ed Giddens. ‘I felt safe with Ed. He was very kind to me and very sweet. He normalised things. I did things I wouldn’t have been able to do without him and that made him very attractive.
‘After we made the series we dated and now we’re really good friends. Before I knew I had dyslexia and dyspraxia I didn’t know how to have a relationship. They’ve never lasted longer than two years. No man has ever understood me. But I didn’t know what was wrong with me then.’
Paula felt a stranger on Planet Earth long before she lost her virginity to Simon Cowell. ‘When my mother had a cross face on I couldn’t understand it. I’d get black spots in my eyes, I couldn’t hear a word she said and she’d slap me because she was frustrated. I never understood the effect my behaviour had. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.’
Old flame: Paula says that first lover Simon Cowell was “was funny and rebellious like me”
Leaving apartheid South Africa for England with her family at the ageof eight exacerbated Paula’s problems. Dyspraxics can’t cope easily with change, and she was so desperately behind in her education that, atnine, she was placed in infant classes to catch up. ‘How do you think that made me feel I was humiliated, broken.’
Tragedy seems tohave dogged Paula from the cradle. The product of an affair her mother had with a family friend, John Johnson, who was battered to death with apickaxe handle during a drunken brawl in 1976, she had four younger halfsiblings. ‘I was supposed to be the grown-up in the family and thereI was in the infants. It gave me no credibility in the family. I refused to cry after that. Mum could bash the living daylights out of mebut she wouldn’t get a tear out of me.’
Paula never settled in at school and left at 16. She was 21 when she was discovered by photographer David Bailey and began to command fivefigure modelling fees. But within five years she was in rehab. ‘I was given my first hit of cocaine by my agent at the model agency. I’d been working non-stop and was just too tired to get on another plane. But he said, “Darling, you’re on a fast road to success. You have to work.” He gave me this white powder. I didn’t even know what to do with it. He said, have champagne with it. So I threw it in the champagne and drank it. I was hooked.
‘When I was in New York I was spending about 600 a week on cocaine. That was peanuts. I was making the sort of money Presidents earn. But I’d get high and say, “Let’s take a Learjet to Atlantic City” and that was another 15,000 blown.
‘Treatment changed my life because it showed me there was something very, very wrong with me. It also showed me there were a lot of people who had stuff wrong with them like me.
‘But then they got sober and they were happy. I got sober and still felt isolated. I was still making faux pas in social gatherings, so the pain and the isolation was still there.’
Paula returned to drink after seven years, embarking upon a disastrous, vodka-fuelled relationship with Army officer Sebastian Rhodes- Stampa. When he dumped her she tried to hang herself from the chandelier in her Brixton home.
‘He’d asked me to marry him but his mother was appalled and he left me two days later. I got a stepladder and a bottle of vodka and whacked the chain from the chandelier round my neck. I was naked. I’m always naked at home. I chucked back the whole bottle and thought, “I don’t understand human beings. I don’t understand why I keep getting it wrong. Please let me murder myself.”
‘I kicked the ladder away. I saw myself in the mirror and I’d turned bright purple. I thought, “That’s so unattractive.” Then I heard a creak and I landed on the floor with the chain and part of my ceiling around me. I sat there and started to drunkenly laugh and cry. I couldn’t even kill myself.’
Paula checked into therapy for a final time five years ago, when she returned from New Zealand, where she had gone in 2000 to study business. She was penniless, drunk and in bad mental shape. Her mother took her to the family doctor, who said if she didn’t sort herself out she’d be dead. She was admitted to a psychiatric unit where she was diagnosed with bipolar.
But one of her sisters thought differently after noting similar behaviour patterns between a friend’s dyspraxic son and Paula. Paula threw away her antidepressants and began to research the condition, which led her in October 2007 to Katherine Kindersley and her recognition at long last of what was really wrong with her.
‘Knowing what I am is a bridge to normal living,’ she says. ‘I want all the kids with learning difficulties to have that break. I still want to understand more. I need to interact better – not talk across people, not lose my train of thought. But I am eccentric and I’ll always fight for the right to be peculiar.’ Which is , I can’t help but feel, a battle that’s been fought and won. And, I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Celebrity Five Go To South Africa, Monday, 5pm, Channel 4. www.workingwithdyslexia.com