The Times Magazine

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The return of Pamela Anderson

Well, I knew she’d be sexy, but my goodness, Pamela Anderson is a blazing firecracker in the flesh – torpedoes full thrust, pout full-blown, hair the full baby-blonde Marilyn. A few minutes ago she was posing for photographs in Coco de Mer underwear and thigh-high boots. Now she’s shimmied out of the babydolls, the corsets have been dropped, underwires unclipped, suspenders snapped off and she’s resheathed in a black poloneck dress, lying on a gilt four-poster wearing black patent shoes with heels like misericorde daggers. Somehow it seems appropriate to interview Anderson in a hotel bedroom. Even more so in a dark red one that smells of roses and leather. It has the same mood, she says in her little kitteny voice, as the hotels she likes in Paris: Costes and Hôtel Amour, “which actually is an old brothel in Montmartre and I love it”. One room she describes as having a black ceiling, with a neon sign throbbing at the window. “But you can hear everything through the wall: mattresses going eek, eek, eek, eek. The doors were locked but paperthin. I thought: someone is going to come busting through and I’m by myself!” Actually she wasn’t quite on her own; she was with her dog, ZuZu, who travels with her everywhere. “ZuZu has the best adventures,” she whispers. I bet he does. He sounds like a real-life Toto in the Pamela Anderson version of The Wizard of Oz. And what a life! She was a Playboy model at 24 before being picked up for Baywatch, a trash TV series about beach lifeguards that she singlehandedly turned into a global sensation watched by one billion viewers in 142 countries, just by putting on a red one-piece and jogging about in some sandy scenery. “My breasts had a career; I’m just tagging along,” she quipped.

But her career is only part of her appeal. She is a constant thrill to tabloids, chalking up four rollicking marriages to three unsuitable men, including Tommy Lee, whom she wed after four days, and Kid Rock, whom she married in a white bikini. There was a sex tape, drunkenness, fall-outs with contractors (one interior designer said she and Lee spent money like they hated it). Even her boobs had scandals when the DD implants were taken out and then put back in. Quietly in the background she was also bringing up her two sons by Tommy Lee, Dylan and Brandon (now 19 and 21), and nurturing 20-odd years in activism against animal cruelty. Her foundation supports a number of causes, and she is also a board member of the animal rights charity Peta.

Now, at 50, she’s back, causing the media to short-circuit by popping up in London as Julian Assange’s puzzling new friend. It’s an unlikely pairing. Anderson is the embodiment of voluptuous good health, while the WikiLeaks founder and fugitive is bloating in the Ecuadorean embassy basement, deprived of sun, deprived of exercise and – if recent pictures of his deviant’s mullet are anything to go by – deprived of a mirror. On every visit to London, Anderson tells me, she trots over to see him, dressed in her own skin-tight Fifties version of demure, carrying him a bag of takeaway lunch on her wrist. She’ll spend anything up to five hours in his airless bunker, chatting about conspiracies and “brain-storming”. Dame Vivienne Westwood was supposed to introduce them, but Anderson “screwed up” the days and met him alone. “I was asking him, ‘How can I be more effective as an activist? What do you think? How I can be more effective with my foundation?’” Assange’s room is smaller than the one we’re in, she says. “Tiny, without sunshine coming through the windows, and he’s very pale. Even in jail you have sunlight, but him, no. He has nothing. He can’t go outside. There’s no outside.” He takes vitamins and works, she says, focused at all times: “One hundred per cent committed and he’s never off track.” She perches on a chair and takes notes, or they knuckle down to the business of the NGO they are setting up together called Activists Tenure, which will sponsor ten activists a year by paying their salaries through her foundation. “There’s a bit of a brain drain in activism because of people having to get jobs, menial jobs, to look after their families,” she explains. Cynics may feel Assange has just found another celebrity to exploit, but Anderson says his image is completely wrong. “America is pretty angry with him. Actually he’s a good person, sensitive and funny. He’s a testament to what a person can be in a situation so dire, so uncomfortable. He’s still smiling. And he’s always very sweet, asking about my kids and my life,” she says. “He doesn’t see too many people and he looks forward to me coming.”

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When she talks about “Julian”, she is very serious. I suggest his is a monkish existence and she stumbles, “Oh, well, he has his, um …” I meant in an academic sense. “Yes, yes, yes. He’s got this focus and vision.” After leaving him, invariably she fires off a letter to President Macron begging France to give him asylum, because “it would be a nice place for him to be”. Indeed the reason she can visit Assange so regularly is that she now lives in Europe. Last year she packed her bags, rented out her house in Malibu (for $50,000 a month) and moved first to Aix-en-Provence and now Marseilles. It’s what she calls her “French journey”, something she’s planned for years because everyone kept telling her, “Pamela, you need to be in the south of France.” “Vivienne Westwood said it to me. The photographer Bruce Weber said it to me. ‘What are you doing in LA? They don’t appreciate you here! Get to the south of France. Just go.’” And seemingly they were right, because Anderson “loves, loves, loves” France. Days are filled with gallery and museum visits, and reading Anaïs Nin. She has a wonderful “persistent, attentive and jealous” French boyfriend who tells her she is a woman who “n’a pas d’âge”. When I ask how old he is, she says, “I don’t care,” which all sounds very Emmanuel and Brigitte. She dabs at her croissant flakes and orders a third cappuccino. It’s 11am and she’s hurtled into London from Paris on the 6am train. She apologises for “babbling”, and certainly she speaks at a million miles an hour, her breathy delivery skidding over subjects as diverse as going to Catalonia for the referendum, being told by an NGO she was “too much of a risk” to take to Yemen during the cholera outbreak, and how terrified she was yesterday when someone stole her phone because of the photos. That bad? “Do not even go there.”

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She’s vegetarian and “mostly vegan”, but she would never wear fur or leather. Recently she sent Melania Trump one of her recycled coats made out of plastic and cotton. “They are still fuzzy and soft,” she says, letting me feel hers. Melania wore it, “and it got a lot of attention”. There’s a long sigh of exhaustion when I mention Donald Trump. Has she met him? “I have, briefly. It was something to do with his birthday. I think I was hired to be there. I had a brief hello.” She skips back to Melania, saying she wrote her a thank-you note for the coat. “And I’m sending a coat to Kim Kardashian too, because she’s known for wearing fur. You don’t need to wear animals any more. These are vegan too,” she says, pointing to her shoes. Anderson is funny. Sometimes in a knowing way, saying, for instance, of a time she was accused of being nude at a party, “I wasn’t naked! I was wearing glitter.” And self-deprecating too, relating that her sons tease her about her language skills – “Mom, you know you’re just speaking English with a French accent” – and there are benefits to being thought stupid: “When you form a full sentence everyone thinks you’re a genius.” At other times she is almost hilariously naive. Such as when I tell her the photographer Terry Richardson has been banned from Condé Nast as part of the sweeping sexual harassment outrage. She keeps repeating his name as if in shock. “Terry Richardson! Terry Richardson! The photographer? Oh, no. But I liked working with him. He was so nice when I met him. He’s gay, right?” Another story involves Tom Ford taking a pair of scissors to a Valentino gown she was wearing, tearing a slit right up the middle. “He said, ‘Someone put a corset on this woman!’ I’d have no organs because he made it so small, but he kept pulling it and saying, ‘Oh my God, never leave the house without a corset.’” For someone who has been so explicitly objectified, Anderson is an off-scale romantic. She’s an odd combination of being pro-Playboy, pro-erotic adventure and totally anti the immediacy of online porn and dating apps (and even orgies). Tinder and porn are desensitising, she argues, destructive to real human relationships. “What about seeing someone on the train or catching someone’s eye across the room?” she cries. “Why wasn’t that empowering? I don’t want to look at anything online. I want to see someone in an elevator. I want to have this electric moment with someone and cultivate it.” And it’s not just millennials who suffer, she believes. Her own generation have paid the price of liberation. “The sexual revolution gave us freedom, but it also gave us this raunchy, bad, empty sex,” she says. “I have friends from that era who wish they hadn’t done all that, and ended up alone. They numbed out. So much sex with strangers is not good for you.” For her, sex is inextricably bound up with romance. “You should never have sex with someone you are not in love with,” she argues. The way Anderson presents it, none of this contradicts the simple “fun” of sex, such as dressing up, roleplay, or a little light bondage. She says anyone who knows her well knows she always wears matching lingerie (“in case I die in a car accident”). Every night she sleeps in a babydoll nightie – “Always!” The very saucy underwear range she’s designed in collaboration with Coco de Mer, Pamela Loves Coco, is all Sixties shapes in black sheer, bows, sleep masks that double as blindfolds and backless briefs (launched with a blush-inducing film by Rankin called The Full Service). It’s definitely hot (she gave me a pair of sexy, see-through knickers with ribbon ties and my boyfriend almost had a heart attack). Another recent project – with another unlikely friend – is a book she has written with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach called Lust for Love (published on Valentine’s Day). She jokes: “A rabbi and a Playmate walked into a bar and what did they talk about? Sex, of course!” Actually, she is as surprised as anyone at the collaboration, not least because they met when he wanted to present her with a Jewish Values Award. “I was like, ‘This is so strange. I’m not even Jewish. I know relatively few Jewish people. I don’t know about the religion – I know history, obviously – but he just gave me the most incredible advice.” The book is “political” and dovetails with lectures she’s given on relationships at Oxford and Cambridge universities. She was staggered by the response: girls weeping by the end, “saying, ‘I am with a guy who’s addicted to porn and hasn’t touched me in four months. I am 18 years old. What is wrong with me?’” Initially Anderson worried she’d be “disqualified” from talking about these issues, “coming from a Playboy background and having had the stolen [sex] tape [with ex-husband Tommy Lee]”. But the audience told her she was perfect, “‘Because if you feel this way too, then …’” She trails off, leaving me to think, “What hope do we have?” One woman had been married for ten years, but her husband hadn’t touched her for four, because he preferred to sit in the basement with porn. She begged Anderson to tell her if she could get him back or whether their marriage was over. “I thought, wow, this is really affecting people at a deep level.” According to Anderson, further research, uncovered a whole raft of people in their twenties who’d never had sex because they prefer to masturbate to porn. “They’ve never touched a woman,” says Anderson. “It’s gross.” It’s also, she believes, a weird flipside to the rage against harassment tearing through Hollywood and British politics. Anderson says her naivety meant she largely sidestepped the problem. “I would be like, ‘You want me to do what?’ Then I’d say, ‘Oh my God, you’re the worst thing that people say about this industry and I’m going back to Canada.’ I would storm off and shout, ‘I believe in love!’ And slam the door.” That is not to say she has side-stepped it in life. In 2014, during an event to introduce the Pamela Anderson Foundation in Cannes, she spoke of multiple incidents of sexual abuse growing up on Vancouver Island: by a female babysitter between the ages of 6 and 10; by a man in his mid-twenties when she was 12; by her boyfriend and six friends when she was 14. Suddenly the world’s most objectified woman was seen in the complicated context of her background. Today she doesn’t want to go back over that “difficult” ground, but says that it is important not to keep it inside and, “Don’t blame yourself.” She encountered Harvey Weinstein: an ogre, she says, but not sexually. “He told me I’d never work in this town again, because I refused to work with a dog. He wanted me to play Invisible Girl on Superhero Movie. But they wanted me to work with an actual dog. I said, ‘I won’t work with animals in a film.’ And he said, ‘We’re just going to put the dog there. What’s the problem?’ And I said, ‘No. Put an X on the floor. I am talking to an invisible dog. Why do we need an actual dog?’ “And he was so mean. He called me back and shouted, ‘You’re Pamela Anderson; you’re lucky I’m even putting you in a f***ing film. You’re never going to work in this f***ing industry again, you son of a f***ing bitch.’ “He’s so intense. I’ve never been talked to that way by anybody. Not even by a boyfriend. He was really intimidating. And I did it. But I did it without the dog.” One of her major crusades is to train the spotlight on domestic harassment, violence and abuse, which she describes as having become “an epidemic”. Her determination to push this issue stems in part from her own experience. Her marriage to Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe – the father of her sons – was savaged by violence. Ultimately he ended up in court with Anderson testifying against him. Later she helped set up the National Domestic Violence Hotline, funded through the foundation. “It’s an anonymous line to call when you feel like, ‘I’m not calling 911, but this happened and who can I talk to?’ They are clear: if you need to hang up, hang up.” She’s manned phones at the centre. “Behind closed doors, I don’t know why some men feel they have to have this control.” She urges women to speak up to friends, to family, because in her own experience, “You think, ‘I’m in this, and this has happened and I’m embarrassed to tell anybody that this happened.’ But the first time you notice any strangeness, tell your girlfriends, get advice. Of course when you love somebody you make every excuse for them in the world. You think, ‘Oh, that’s never going to happen again,’ or ‘I can fix this. I can be better.’ This is when people go a little overboard trying to be perfect. And also you think you can change them.” Fortunately for Anderson, her mother back in Canada was a huge support, telling her, “This guy you’re with, he’s an asshole and you don’t love him, so leave.” “She used to say, ‘Rip the Band-Aid off. It’s going to hurt for a second, then you’ll be fine. It’s going to be hard but you’re going to be happier.’ ” Certainly a major factor in Anderson’s decision to leave Lee was the fear that this “modelled behaviour” would influence her sons to behave in the same way when they grew up. “I say to my sons, ‘If you disrespect any woman, you disrespect me.’ And they’re like, ‘Woo. Got it.’ They’re not going to do that.” At the time it was difficult raising children alone. “But my mum would say, ‘Maybe it’s good that he’s not there so much.’ She was right.” Today her relationship with Tommy Lee is a world away. “I mean, Tommy is so emotional now. Every time they are in the studio he starts crying. ‘My boys are here! We’re making music together! I’ve got something in my eye.’ I don’t know what’s happened. He’s so sentimental. “He’ll call me now and say, ‘Pamela, thank you so much’ – basically for going to France – ‘because I can be with the boys more and this is such an important time in their life to be with their dad, and I am just so grateful that I get this time with them. So stay in France.’ “He’s more like a buddy. And they are independent, so they don’t have to rely on him.” She talks about Brandon, a model and actor, and Dylan a lot. Dylan is a DJ – he just performed in front of 16,000 in Amsterdam, she says. “He misses the dog. He says ‘You left, Mom, and you took the dog.’” She tells a story about how Vivienne Westwood once arrived at her house in Malibu when Dylan was having a tantrum and offered to speak to him. “I said, ‘He’s in there.’ “She goes in and says, ‘Dylan, I am so proud of you. You are making your mother so crazy by not listening to her. Never listen to authority!’ I was like, ‘No, no, no! Vivienne, get outta here.’” Actually, it was one of her sons who texted her in September to say, “Hef died, Mom.” Hugh Hefner was 91, but he’d known Anderson for nearly a quarter of a century. “It was devastating, the end of an era,” she says. “But he was not very well. Physically, he was in a lot of pain, so it’s OK.” She’s disturbed and sad that she missed their final meeting. “The time I saw him before that, he had a little piece of paper in his pocket and he handed it to me and it said ‘Pamela’ with a heart around it. He wasn’t really hearing very well by then.” For many of us it’s hard to understand the attraction of Hefner – his last marriage was to a woman 60 years his junior – but Anderson calls him “amazing”, “brilliant” and “charismatic”. She says he was a “forwardthinking humanitarian” and “an art collector”. They kept in touch over the years, Hef by the rather old-fashioned medium of telegram, as well as by phone. Anderson disapproved of his hangers-on in later life. “I remember him getting teary-eyed one day because I said, ‘You know there are women that love you,’ because he was in this circle that got a little crazy.” And she says he resented the “cartoon character” he’d become, and felt “diluted” by the pressure to be commercial over the past ten years. “I think it dilutes anyone to be overexposed like that. Before the reality show started it was much more elegant: private, erotic and sexy. Then it became very commercialised. Reality shows were popular and he was trying to keep up with the Joneses.” The image he created for himself ultimately left him “lonely in the end. He was surrounded by women but he was lonely.” Is Anderson lonely? She says she has an eccentric collection of friends: photographer David LaChapelle; artist Richard Prince; the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. (“I asked him what piece of art I should have; he said the handcuffs because it was about artistic freedom.”) And Vivienne Westwood, of course, the Mother of Punk. “I don’t think she likes everybody, but she likes me,” says Anderson. “That makes me feel good, because when other people say mean things about me I think, ‘Well, Vivienne likes me and she’s one of the coolest people in the world, so I am going to go with what she thinks of me over what you think of me.’ “But it’s nice to have diverse friends, girls and guys. It’s nice to feel stimulated on all levels, all the time.”

by Charlotte Edwardes for The Times Magazine, Photos by RANKIN/THE FULL SERVICE  - Pamela Loves Coco de Mer (coco-de-mer.com)