Culture

Yungblud meets Fearne Cotton: 'We’re pretty similar, I think'

How did Yungblud help Fearne Cotton make peace with her younger self? And what does The Big Issue mean to the former Top of the Pops presenter?

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A decade ago, Fearne Cotton was one of the best-known faces in the UK. She hosted Top of the Pops and was a regular on BBC Radio 1. Yungblud wanted to be just like her.

When they met over video chat for Yungblud’s guest edit of The Big Issue, Fearne revealed that watching Yungblud perform allowed her to make peace with her younger self.

Yungblud: We’re pretty similar, I think. We’re very outspoken people with very clear ideas on the world. And that brings a lot of love and a lot of judgement. 

Fearne Cotton: You know what was so funny? When you came on Top of the Pops – this sounds utterly absurd – but there was something about you that I thought ‘That reminds me of young me.’ And I couldn’t put my finger on it. For a while I was trying to get away from that old me and I was trying to be the new me. Seeing you do your thing, I thought ‘No, I like young me.’ Young me was absolutely wild and just untethered, but that’s awesome. So you really helped me, without knowing it, make peace with my younger self.  

It’s the challenge of the outspoken, isn’t it? I think the entertainment industry, right now, it’s getting a lot safer. I grew up on that Noughties British humour and bite – with yourself, Noel Fielding, Blur, Oasis. Outsiders. Naughty yet sweet. That’s all I ever wanted to be – like you lot. That scene was what made me put on a Harrington and want to go to the Hawley [legendary Camden pub The Hawley Arms] and smoke cigs and be in entertainment. It was so funny when I came out as an artist, that was the big thing I was ridiculed for. No label wanted to sign me. They’re like, ‘Rock’n’roll is not working. It’s all about grime.’ It very quickly turned. 

It was a great time. You could kind of do whatever you wanted back then. Lots of bands were quite wild and just completely themselves, essentially, without any media training, without anyone saying ‘This is what is popular right now’.  

There was certainly a shift, just as I was leaving Radio 1, where it felt like it was getting trickier for artists to cultivate a space that was their own. And even for DJs, it was a bit trickier to go, this is my thing, this is what I think. I loved my time at Radio 1, and I am by no means knocking it. But now I’ve created a space where I can almost go back to that way of thinking. Where you explore your own subjects a bit more, without any inhibition. And that’s really exciting.  

But like you just said, I think culturally, it’s harder because cancel culture exists, which is a horrible, toxic little bastard. I just can’t bear that. Everything should be up for debate. But also, everybody should be able to make mistakes, and then come back and try again. And in the Nineties, everyone was. Everyone was doing crazy shit and then picking themselves up and trying again, and we were much more forgiving. So we do need to go back to that way of thinking. 

It’s almost gone that far left, it’s gone right. It’s just so hard to be an artist now. Because it’s almost like living in a world of expression where you can only express yourself up to 90, 92 per cent. And the rest of the eight per cent is like, oh, maybe I need to amend that. 

And also, because we think we can quantify popularity now. Before you’d go, oh, David Bowie’s popular or Oasis are popular, but you couldn’t put them up against someone else. Now it’s like, look how many Instagram followers blah-blah has. Look how many streams on Spotify. Everything is quantifiable. I think that is really dangerous. I think that if we’re only ever aiming for popularity, and that is the only measure of success, where are we headed?  

Yungblud: For me, it’s literally like, I just have a purpose. I want to be like The Cure or The Smiths or Joy Division. But if I said that in NME, everyone would go, ‘No, you’re not like The Cure!’ I spend every day going, how the fuck do I get that respect? I think this next album and this tour is going to be the utter demise or the ascension of my whole career because I don’t give a fuck any more. I’m gonna say what the fuck I want, as long as it’s true. And as long as it’s real.  

Fearne Cotton: I’ve got a real problem, and I always have had, with people getting the wrong impression about me or creating a story that I don’t believe is true. Because I think I know what I’m about and who I am, and if someone misconstrues that, I feel wildly out of control. So I’m still, at 40, learning that lesson of: no, I can’t control that. I think you’re so right, the less you care, and the less it matters, the more people will see the real you and then respect you.  

It’s just so hard to not care though, isn’t it? And that’s why I was buzzing to have this talk. Because out of so many people who went through that, you came out of it. And I respect you so much. And I still think you’re cool as fuck. I mean, and I’m like, in the middle, so I’m kind of like… oh, shit, what did she do to get through it?  

I don’t think you ever get to a place where you go, I’m cool with people talking shit about me. All I know is that I will keep doing what I’m doing regardless. And that wasn’t a given before. I’ve met tonnes of people, where I think, they’re so robust, they’re built for this industry. I am not that. I’m like a little marshmallow. I still see myself as a very regular human from a working-class family. That’s my roots. I’m getting much better now at using the pain and channelling it into my work. You do that all the time with your music.  

I’m not on the telly any more, because I don’t fit in, it doesn’t work because the trends of TV are very different to how I am at the moment. But I’m fitting into this world over here with podcasts and books and events. And so you just have to go: you know what, I’ll always do what I do. And sometimes it might go over here, sometimes over here, but as long as you’re always you, there will be an outlet. 

Real art – that’s what it’s about. It’s about having the courage to say what people won’t. That’s what separates singers from artists, writers from artists, painters from artists. It’s that absolute fearlessness.  

Sometimes my friends get called this weird new term, ‘industry plant’, like Billie Eilish, and Lil Nas X and myself. What does that even mean? We laugh at it, because what determines whether an artist, a book, a painting is successful or not? Not the publisher, not the radio, not the record label, not the artist’s upbringing, not what is surrounding the artist. The people decide if that art is going to be big or not. It either connects or it doesn’t.

Fearne Cotton chats to a Big Issue seller as she arrives at the BBC Radio 1 studios. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo
Fearne Cotton chats to a Big Issue seller as she arrives at the BBC Radio 1 studios, in 2015. Photo: Alamy Stock Photo

Fearne Cotton on what The Big Issue means to her

I’m a huge Big Issue fan and have been for a very long time. There was a long period of my Radio 1 career, when I had this really lovely friendship with a Big Issue seller who would be in that weird forecourt of the new BBC building. I’d see him every day, and we’d have a coffee together. There’s numerous paparazzi shots of us, having a hug, having a chat (below). It was so lovely to get to know him. He was just an amazing guy.  

Obviously, I always bought The Big Issue. I just love the diversity of articles and subjects covered, so thoughtfully and mindfully. And it’s not like The Big Issue are trying to follow trends. The Big Issue knows what it is, and it does it beautifully. And it’s just always an excellent read and has very inventive articles and covers and subjects covered. So yes, I’m a long-term fan for life. 

You can still buy the Yungblud Edition of The Big Issue online here.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase individual issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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