Pamela Anderson: Fearless Female Visionary.

photo: Emma Dunlavey

photo: Emma Dunlavey

Pamela Anderson: Fearless Female Visionary.

Never underestimate the power of breasts, they can shutdown Instagram for one thing. And it’s probably fair to say that bouncing around in a bikini on the beach (in Baywatch), or as a Playboy bunny, definitely helped make Pamela Anderson’s breasts (and her), a powerful household name. Playing a provocatively prominent role in popular culture for over 20 years, she appears for a record-breaking 14th time on the cover of the former top-shelf magazine's last nude issue, shot by Ellen von Unwerth - yes, from its once hallowed status and probably a decade too late, it finally succumbed to the pressure of a world where nudity is just a free click away.

But behind the tabloid tales (dating the bad boys of rock), and inflated poster girl imagery, Anderson, 48, has always been a fearless female visionary - businesswoman, mother, author, actress, fashion designer, hardline vegan and passionate environmental and animal rights campaigner. We caught up with the modern-day pin up to talk inspirational icons, being an old soul, and her new vegan shoe collaboration with French designer Amélie Pichard.

Your first Playboy shoot was in 1989 and you’ve appeared on more of the magazine’s covers than any other model including the final nude issue for Jan / Feb 2016 (shot by Ellen von Unwerth) - I guess we can say you don’t have any regrets about posing for the magazine then?

I can already tell you have a twisted idea of what Playboy is all about. A little backwards and insulting but I’ll play along. No regrets. 

That endless stream of boobs and sex ended up making the magazine a tacky, parody of itself - as it now descends from the top shelf, what would you like to see for it in the future? Perhaps a more diverse representation of body types and female perspectives?

I don’t think that Playboy was tacky in its day. It just became hard to compete with the internet and a desensitised society – Playboy wasn’t risqué enough anymore? Just to be a little naughty isn’t enough these days when young kids are seeing explicit sex on their computers. Playboy was innocent, it was a lifestyle of beautiful girls and charming men. There is no such thing as the girl next door anymore, everyone wants to be famous and takes selfies. It’s a different time. We didn’t ask our managers to be in the magazine we asked our moms and most of us girls had never taken a photo professionally before Playboy. It had a very different feel. 

What are your recollections of those early years in Hollywood, living in a mansion in Bel Air with Hef and lots of Bunnies, what went on behind closed doors that you’re allowed to say, apart from the obvious?

I never lived in the Playboy mansion. We had a lot of parties there and movie screenings, played some backgammon, picnics at Easter and we all brought our kids up for an Easter egg hunt. 

And then came Baywatch in 1992 - life guards with huge boobs running in slow-mo, it was more sex on the beach than saving lives! Do you still own the red bathing suit? 

Baywatch had very sweet storylines, and it may have been kind of sexy but that was not what we were thinking about. I don’t remember anything salacious, it was a show on the beach. We wore one piece athletic style swimsuits. Yes I still have a few of them. 

Talking about your boobs is so 1999 now, but let’s talk about them anyway. Yours adorned many bedroom walls and pretty much had their own career - was it hard to move away from being typecast and reinvent your public image?

You seem obsessed with breasts, I have never been typecast. I have never tried to reinvent myself. It just happens as you get older. 

That vacuous plasticity that was associated with you is obviously very different to the real person you’ve unveiled in recent years - do you enjoy seeing the surprised reactions when people actually realise you can form a sentence, and that you watch culturally diverse art house films?

I don't pay attention to tabloids as you seem to do. I've read some hurtful things then just shut it all out. I learned quickly that it was out of my hands. I just wanted to be in love, raise my boys, be healthy and save animals. Most of what I do now is my Activism. I am the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, I have my own namesake foundation, and I’ve been knighted for my philanthropy. I work a lot with PETA, with Climate revolution, Cool Earth. I am building an extension of my foundation to protect activists. I’ve been working with PETA for over 20 years. From the very beginning - people just didn’t see that back then. 

We have changed and created animal welfare laws all over the world. I’ve spoken at Cambridge and Oxford University about the negative impact of the meat industry on the environment. 

I’ve always watched art house films. I love David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch (was an extra on VIP just to meet me), Quentin Tarantino's favourite TV show was Baywatch. He tried to cast me in a movie but I got too nervous and wouldn’t take the meeting. I love John Waters. All these indie cool kids coming up. Safdie Brothers met with me. Luke Guilford and I shot a short film - about a woman ageing, losing everything and joining a cult. I love Russ Meyers. Always have watched him, Fellini. And David LaChapelle and I have plans to do a film. 

“I actually think it’s much more in style now to be compassionate and conscious. I have a Vegan luxury brand. Compassion is sexy.” 

And what's your view on female empowerment now, away from your Playboy days - are you a feminist?

I don’t think I’m a feminist. I do care about the health and welfare of women and I work with the National Domestic Violence hot line. I’ve raised almost $200,000.00 for them in the last few years, it’s important to have somewhere to turn. 

Which other past/present female icons do you personally admire and why? 

I love Jane Fonda. I love her movies and her political points of view. How brave she was - and how misunderstood she was at times. I relate to that part. And - she is still gorgeous. 

I read that you once said ‘natural beauty takes about two hours in front of a mirror’ - so you’re not toning down the glamour then?

My Mom said this jokingly. I don’t wear a lot of makeup in my daily life. 

Do you think you’re growing older gracefully - do you look forward to the coming seasons of life, or are you afraid of losing youth like a lot of Hollywood stars who go under the knife? 

I love getting older. I have to say I’ve never felt beautiful. I’ve always felt it was my personality and self-deprecating ways. Un-alarmed people. I love my garden. My Jazz and blues. I’m an old soul. 

So from actress, model and pinup to activist, you set up your own foundation which protects human, animal and environmental rights - what drove you to start that?

I saw how good of a connector I was. My foundation gives to people on the front lines - protecting the rainforest, vulnerable people and animals and helps to protect delicate and complicated biospheres. If the oceans die - so does the planet - with everyone on it. It is urgent. It has to be on everyone's mind. 

A lot of the work you do within the foundation is artist driven, such as working with Ai Wei Wei, why are you particularly drawn to artists?

Artists are also drawn to me. I’m surrounded by them. David LaChapelle, Ed Ruscha, Richard Prince and Jeff Koons have all used me in their works. I love it. 

And you’ve also just released a line of leather-free footwear with French designer Amélie Pichard, inspired by veganism, bohemianism, sex symbols and the 90s - how did that collaboration come about? 

A friend of Amelie’s introduced us. I was asked to fund a vegan line of fun shoes. She’s used me as muse in the past and I was grateful finally someone was as interested as I was about creating an alternative to cruel animal fashion.

There’s still a stigma attached to vegan fashion as being associated with hippies and boho-types living in trees - but it’s actually meat-eating fur wearers who are really out of touch with saving the planet right?

I actually think it’s much more in style now to be compassionate and conscious. I have a Vegan luxury brand. Compassion is sexy. 

Your friend and photographer David LaChapelle shot the campaign for the collection - his hyper-sexed, provocative, theatrical and surrealistic aesthetic is so unique - how has your working relationship with him evolved over the years?

I’ve known David for 20 years. We love to shoot together. I trust him completely. I rarely look at photos I just like to do them. It drives him crazy. He said I’m the only one who never wants to see. 

David’s work is also rebellious and eccentric with an erotic energy, which fits with your past quite well, having being part of some of Hollywood’s wilder couples (Tommy Lee, Kid Rock etc) - have you calmed down more these days or is there still a little of the rebel in you? 

This interview is funny. I am rebellious as always. 

Are you an exhibitionist, do you like the attention?

I love attention and may be a bit of an exhibitionist. It’s like playing characters. I used to be quite shy until I realised no one with a brain really cares, or makes assumptions about others. I’m just going to live my life. Enjoying it. Like performance art - not hurting anyone. 

What about true love, have you found it now along with an inner peace? 

I'm always in love but I wouldn’t say I have inner peace. But searching is the fun part. I meditate, I write a lot. 

“I love attention and may be a bit of an exhibitionist. It’s like playing characters.” 

How has being a Mother changed you - do you think having your sons kept you in check and what kind of relationship do you have with them? 

I’m a good Mom. I have raised two beautiful boys. Having kids may have saved my life but I’m not as wild as you might think. I know how to compartmentalise my life. My boys are always #1. I’ve never had nannies. I raised my boys practically alone. I am so proud of us. Our family. 

And what’s a typical day like for you, where do you most like to be?

I live at the beach. I walk my dogs. I write letters to governments. I work. I travel. I go to museums. I’ve always wanted to be a docent. I know a lot about art and see that in my future and I’m sure I'll write a few books. 

Describe your home for me, are there Playboy covers framed on the walls? And what’s on your bedside table? 

No pictures of me in my house (accept a couple with my boys). No framed Playboy covers. I’ve kept nothing. I don’t do that. On my bedside table are a stack of books - Nin, Arenas, Bouvier, Neruda. Some garden roses. A feu de bois candle by Dyptique and my phone. My house is sustainable teak and white linen. My guest house is in the works. But I love construction. When it is done it will be the jewellery of the house. A floating glass tree house. 

Looking back at your life, who are your closest friends, the people who’ve stuck by you and you still see now?

I talk to my best friend from high school regularly. My friends are a close group of misfits, artists, acrobats. We have fun together. A lot of love. I never feel alone. 

You’ve said many times your public persona was like some kind of cartoon image - so who is the real Pamela Anderson, surprise me with something I don’t know about you?

I think that's what happens. Tabloid culture can be insensitive and mean. I never had consistent managers, agents/ publicists. I just closed my eyes to it all. The girl on Baywatch was me. They were my personal stories a lot of the time. CJ was Vegan. Ahead of her time. 

What journey are you on now, what’s your life motto going forward?

I have a lot left to do in life. I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface of what I’m capable of. I’ve taken a much more serious and effective role as an activist and will continue the fight till my dying day. 

By Kate Lawson