MEET THE AUTHOR: PAMELA STEPHENSON
According to Pamela Stephenson her friend the writer Kathy Lette, is always saying, “Pamela, you need to book an appointment with yourself.”
Taking heed of those words of wisdom, Pamela Stephenson has done just that, putting herself on the psychotherapist’s couch in her memoir, The Varnished Untruth.
Traversing her life from a traumatic childhood growing up in the Sydney suburb Boronia Park, her early acting career, her big break into comedy as the female star of 80s British comedy sensation Not the Nine O’Clock News, motherhood, marriage to super star comedian Billy Connolly and a big career change to psychology, Stephenson lays her soul bare.
What’s revealed is a complex, sensitive person who has risen above trauma, rejection, and chronic anxiety to mature into a thoughtful woman.
Alternatively, to use her own words, she is a dork, frequently an idiot, and an adrenaline junkie, who is addicted to cosmetic surgery in order to service her vanity. That Pamela Stephenson is not afraid to reveal her less attractive side is one of the qualities that makes her so endearing.
In Australia to promote her memoir, Pamela Stephenson chatted with The Hoopla’s Meredith Jaffé.
MJ: What or who persuaded you to write a memoir?
PS: Basically I’ve written two very serious books, a book on psychology and one on sexuality, and I wanted to write something a bit lighter. I had this fantasy that I would write a book that would be very entertaining, that would be snippets from experiences that I’d had and try to perhaps capture some historical moments growing up in Sydney and early life in New Zealand. I found I absolutely couldn’t do it. It was ridiculously hard. I thought, ‘Oh I’ll call it The Varnished Untruth, that will give me license to lie.” I’ll just make it as funny and mad as possible.
It might have just been the stage of life that I’m at, or maybe it was just that there was this part of me that was wanting to be heard, and so this rather wounded child side of me started writing the book and I was absolutely not going to allow that voice to be out there. I didn’t feel it was for public consumption. This is not going to be what people want to read and I certainly will be ashamed and embarrassed if this goes out there. But sometimes you have to trick yourself and I sort of tricked myself into saying, ‘well I’ll tell you what, write what’s coming out and then you can look at it later and decide if you are going to publish it or not.’
One of the horrible things about any memoir is that there’s an assumption that you are going to try to make people love you, you’re going to write yourself in the most loveable mode. I’ve deliberately gone the other way. I’ve deliberately challenged people not to like me.
MJ: Oh come on! You’re just garnering sympathy.
PS: No! Some of the things I’ve said about myself are really ugly. I mean vanity I think is a very ugly quality in anybody. What about saying at the end saying, “I’d like to thank my parent’s for being dead so I could complain about them?”
MJ: But when you wrote that, I didn’t think you were horrible I just went yeah, that’s right.
PS: These are the kind of torturous decisions that one was trying to make writing this thing except that somehow or other, well in my case, I just ended up making it an exercise in self-discovery. I suppose it was a journey for me and even that’s embarrassing because you’d think the fact that I’m a therapist, the fact that I’ve had all this therapy over the years, that I’d be well beyond needing to go on a personal journey to discover a bit more about who I was. But somehow or other, I did put a lot of other things into perspective and putting it in chronological order, it was kind of, there were revelations there.
MJ: You write, ‘it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.’ Your childhood had its challenges including how your parents behaved towards you.
On reflection, as a mother yourself, having seen your children through the rocky teenager years when you yourself hit your troubled times, do you think there is any forgiveness?
PS: I think that forgiveness is overrated, I really do. I just don’t think it’s necessary. What’s more important, and more healing is probably to put it in context. I’m certainly able to look at who they are, to understand why they made a lot of the choices they did, why they were the way they were. They had their own struggles, they had their own difficult childhoods, certainly my mother in particular. They had their own set of anxieties, they were products of their times.
In context of the time that I was born, we didn’t think that children needed all that much love and attention. We didn’t want to spoil them, did we?
So you didn’t really bolster them and tell them they were wonderful and allow them to be the centre of your universe, you sort of just got on with it. I think that was the way they were.
They were brilliant in a very small, like, cell biological field, they perhaps couldn’t even see the gestalt of things. It was very telling that they told me that I was an experiment.
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