Impossibly glamorous and enviably toned (have you seen her bottom recently?), AMANDA HOLDEN is a survivor, too…
Amanda Holden is talking me through the family roast she cooked the day before we speak.
It turns out – as one might expect from the flamboyant judge of Britain’s Got Talent – it was not exactly a typical family Sunday lunch. ‘I was quite literally the Naked Chef,’ she laughs. ‘I got out of the shower, realised I was running late to get everything on the table so I didn’t bother to get dressed. I just raced downstairs, got the potatoes on, the meat in the oven and my veggie option. It definitely made it more interesting.’
You can’t help but wonder what her record producer husband Chris Hughes and daughters Lexi, 15, and Hollie, nine, thought of her kitchen exhibitionism. ‘Oh, no one noticed. It’s absolutely par for the course for me to be walking around with no clothes on in our house. Obviously now Lexi’s a bit older she does a bit of eye-rolling every now and again, but they’re all very used to me.’
It’s that bold, bawdy, brassiness that has – over the past decade – resulted in Amanda becoming one of the highest-paid women in television and earning around £5 million a year, but that journey hasn’t always been smooth. Back in 2007, when she was plucked from the world of TV drama – think Cutting It with Sarah Parish and Wild At Heart alongside Stephen Tompkinson – by friend and mentor Simon Cowell to be part of a Saturday night primetime entertainment show, Britain’s Got Talent, she was initially viewed as Marmite. Her sense of humour and predilection for outrageous outfits with plunging fronts and skyscraper splits (one of her dress choices received 235 Ofcom complaints) divided public opinion, laying her open to many a tear-down from critics. The judgments stung but Amanda – in a topic she will return to repeatedly during our conversation – is a fighter. ‘Over the years, I’ve not changed but I have managed to change opinions. I’ve been the same ever since I was a little girl – give me a chance and I’m going to prove myself to you. I never accept failure – in whatever I do.’
Amanda – with sense of humour and outrageous outfits still intact – has, it’s fair to say, turned it around. Last year she was named head judge, replacing Cowell on Britain’s Got Talent; her album of cover versions Songs From My Heart was one of the top ten highest-selling debuts of the year, and her radio show – Heart Breakfast with Jamie Theakston & Amanda Holden – is the biggest commercial radio programme in the UK. On top of all this she will soon have primetime shows on both ITV and BBC1: discovering the secrets of her family history alongside friend Alan Carr on the former’s DNA Journey and, later this year, as a judge on the BBC’s version of the Korean TV hit I Can See Your Voice – a game show where contestants must guess who can sing from a mystery group without ever hearing them perform – her first primetime show for the Corporation (‘that feels pretty special’ she says of appearing on the Beeb). Amanda has put paid, once and for all, to the notion that a woman turning 50 has her best days behind her.
Born and raised a working-class girl on a housing estate in Hampshire, Amanda is the product of two generations of strong women – her mother Judith and her beloved grandmother Ethel, who died three years ago aged 97. ‘My nan came from the war generation, and my mum was a postwar woman who society encouraged to be a sensible wife and mother. They both made their sacrifices but always encouraged me.’ She defines herself as a woman’s woman with her own brand of feminism that involves defying any stereotype of ‘middle age’. ‘Who says that once you reach a certain age women have to dress a certain way, act a certain way? I don’t believe in those rules. You do what makes you happy, what puts a smile on your face and, to be honest, you have got to an age where you care a lot less about what people think. I don’t care,’ she continues. ‘I consider myself lucky to be following women like Kylie Minogue, Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Aniston, who have really celebrated their 50th year by being grateful for their success, happy with their lives and still looking really hot.’
Amanda is unapologetic about looking the way she does – fantastic, fit and fulfilled. To mark the end of last year she posted a picture to her 1.7 million Instagram followers of her bottom clad in a pair of bikini pants emblazoned with ‘Bye Bye 2020.’ ‘That was me putting my fingers up to Covid and to any expectations of a woman about to turn 50,’ she grins. ‘My bum is still up to it. My mum had a great bottom when she was my age
but she would never have shown it off. She stopped dyeing her hair and went grey, which to this day I tell her was a big mistake but she just laughs.’
Scratch the surface with Amanda and family lies beneath. It’s her marriage to Chris, 48, in 2006 – just a year before Cowell came calling – that she says changed her life. ‘I couldn’t do any of this without him and my girls,’ she says. ‘Out of everything that has happened to me, meeting Chris is the thing I’m so grateful for. We are a very jokey couple, we laugh a lot, we have a lot of fun; but we’ve been through the worst times together and he has been the one who stayed strong when I fell apart.’ On 1 February this year, the couple marked the tenth anniversary of their son Theo being stillborn with an Instagram post of a pair of tiny footprints accompanied by the words ‘Our gorgeous little boy. You would have been 10 years old today. Not a day goes by without thinking of you.’ Amanda also dedicated two songs to Theo on her debut album. ‘When Chris and I celebrated our tenth anniversary we had candles made with the words “hand in hand and we promise to never let go” from the song “Tightrope” imprinted on them. When we lost Theo someone said to us we need to hold on to one another. Chris is my absolute rock and means everything to me. The last line of the song “With You” is: “You took my life with you. Took my world with you” and I sang it for Theo. It’s very emotional to sing the song but I think you only get chosen for experiences like that if you are strong enough to deal with it. It changes you.’
In all three Covid lockdowns, her silver lining was being able to spend more time with her daughters. ‘People out there have had terrible times so I would never complain because I’ve been privileged to work all the way through and spending more time with my girls has been a blessing. Lexi sorts out her own schoolwork. In the first lockdown Chris and I split Hollie’s work and I was responsible for art, drama and PE, which I think I enjoyed more than she did.’
Lockdown, though, hasn’t been entirely without drama. Last month it was widely reported that, following a distressed call from her stepfather Leslie, she drove 200 miles to Cornwall to visit her mum. While local police ruled she did not break lockdown guidelines, it angered many who saw it as being out of step with the public mood. It is something she will not discuss. ‘Lockdown has been unbelievably hard for so many, but I always try to focus on the positive, which is why Captain Sir Tom Moore was so inspirational and I was lucky enough to have a very lovely friendship with him, which was wonderful.’ To mark his passing, she and Chris planted a palm tree in their garden, which they’ve named after him. ‘We sit by it and chat. A palm tree seemed very appropriate because it stands out amid the silver birches and yews just like he stood out as a man. And it’s optimistic because it reminds us of sunny days and sunny times. It’s our memorial to him and we love it.’
Another of Captain Sir Tom’s famous admirers is Piers Morgan – an old friend of Amanda’s – who, on hearing YOU was interviewing her, suggested we ask the following: ‘Has she ever accidentally exposed her breasts during a family lunch with friends, for ten minutes, and been the last to realise?’ She explodes with laughter: ‘Yes! It was at Piers’s house in LA. It was my left breast, but it wasn’t ten minutes. And there were no Ofcom complaints.’ I ask how her family feels about seeing her in such scantily clad states on screen? ‘My mum loves it,’ she says. ‘She just laughs about it. So does my daughter. If I’m trying on outfits for shows I’ll say to Lexi: “Is there too much side-boob?” or “Is this too much?” and she’ll grin and say: “Go for it, Mum.” I’ll ask Chris if I’m looking like mutton and he says: “Mandy, you could never look like mutton.” It’s positive affirmation that we women need.’
I do wonder, though, how much effort it takes to look like Amanda and whether she feels under pressure to remain in peak physical form simply because she is a woman in the spotlight. Even her two-minute walk from her car into the Heart FM studio has become a paparazzi trap with Amanda – whose alarm goes off at 4.30am – obliged to look catwalk perfect day in, day out. Her male counterparts – including her Heart co-host Jamie Theakston – have no such burden upon them. ‘This is my choice. Men can choose to have dad bods and brilliant women like Bryony Gordon can choose to smash body stereotypes by showing off all different shapes and sizes. But my choice has always been to look a certain way. That’s my sense of who I want to portray to the outside world. My nan would always say, go out with your head up, a smile on and looking good. It’s just who I am.
‘Of course, there are times at home when I dress down, but if I’m going out and think there might be a photographer lurking, I make sure I’m not going to get caught out. I make sure I’ve got my lashes on and I’m camera ready. It’s just something that’s instilled in me. And that’s not just a woman thing. There are men like that, too – Simon Cowell is the same. I don’t even think of it as vanity, I think of it as looking after myself.’
She is forensic about her beauty regime. She holds back time with collagen waves, Morpheus8 micro-needling, an infra-red lamp, Dr Levy Intense Stem Cell Booster Cream, Eve Lom Cleanser, Aveeno cream for knees and elbows and ever-changing brands of moisturisers ‘because you should always keep switching up’. She would not, she says, rule out surgery. ‘Except I have keloid skin, which makes it not such a great proposition.’ It is with slight trepidation I ask about her diet and exercise. I am expecting a long list of intricate workout routines. ‘My bottom isn’t looking so great at the moment because I’ve slacked off in lockdown,’ she says. ‘I’m an outdoor exerciser – I like yoga and running but it’s been too cold. I’ve been put to shame by Alesha [Dixon, her fellow Britain’s Got Talent judge], who is working out and looking amazing, and by Lexi, who has been really disciplined and got a little six-pack.’
Amanda’s Instagram is filled with photos of Lexi who, at 15, is already seriously stunning. How does it feel for Amanda to be passing on the baton of youth and beauty to her daughter? ‘Oh God,’ she laughs. ‘It’s the “mirror, mirror on the wall” moment. I joke about it with Chris. I can see it all ahead: make-up, boyfriends… It terrifies him.’
What about Amanda? ‘I’m looking forward to the social side,’ she says. ‘The friends coming round. The boyfriends. Lots of Sunday lunches.’ Perhaps without Amanda serving up the food naked? She laughs. ‘Obviously there are times you have to keep your clothes on.’
Aperol, veggie roasts and finding my happy place
YOUR GUILTY PLEASURE?
Married At First Sight Australia.
CAREER PLAN B?
Being in an elastic exerciser hanging in the doorframe of my nan’s house.
Interrupting people. I’m terrible but it comes from growing up in a house full of women.
YOUR LAST MEAL ON EARTH?
Veggie roast with all the trimmings and lots of gravy.
YOUR MOST STARSTRUCK MOMENT?
Meeting Judi Dench in the board members’ box at Everton. I love her.
So many. Bad manners. Not putting your knife and fork together when you’ve finished a meal. People throwing litter from their cars. Standing still on travelators in airports…
WHEN YOU LOOK IN THE MIRROR YOU SEE…
Someone I want to be friends with.
THE SECRET TO A HAPPY RELATIONSHIP?
Knowing when to stand your ground and knowing when to compromise. My husband will laugh when he sees this as he thinks I never compromise, but I do.
ON A DAY OFF WE’D FIND YOU…
Having a massage or dreaming of lying on a sun lounger with a glass of Aperol in my hand.
Being with my family
Amanda will join Alan Carr this Wednesday for DNA Journey at 9pm on ITV1. I Can See Your Voice is coming to BBC1 soon
Interview by Louise Gannon.