Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

Pamela Stephenson, mother, actor, writer, comedian, travel narrator, dancer, artist and adrenalin junkie has finally penned her own story, having already written two books about her famous husband, Scottish comedian Billy Connolly.

It is hard not to be enticed into reading a book that begins, “Just before last Christmas, I broke a tit.” So begins Pamela Stephenson’s memoir The Varnished Untruth, a book about the benefits and pitfalls of surgery and the life of a celebrity married to a celebrity. It is amusing, irreverent and at times deeply sad.

Stephenson was born in New Zealand, grew up in Australia, moved to London in her early 20s and then to LA where she and husband, comedian Billy Connolly, raised their family. A graduate from NIDA she joins an elite alumni from the well known performing arts institution, including Cate Blanchett,  Mel Gibson and Geoffrey Rush. She had a successful theatre career in Sydney before leaving to make her mark in London.

The television comedy sketch show Not the Nine O’clock News launched Stephenson’s career in the UK. She performed alongside Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. Broadcast on the BBC, 1979-1982, the show was the launch pad for a number of other comedy series including Blackadder and Mr Bean. It was the show of the time, the one everybody talked about.

From this show Stephenson moved on to a Hollywood career, after her move to LA, where she starred in  a number of films  as well as appearing on the American sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live.

Most recently Stephenson gained a huge following as a star of Strictly Come Dancing. A show her husband advised her against. Stephenson relished every moment of it and went on to reach the finals. During a Graham Norton interview to promote the show, Stephenson and Norton take to the dance floor with hilarious consequences, but it is the tirade she receives from Alan Sugar, host of The Apprentice in the UK, that is documented in her book. Lord Sugar belittles her credentials as a psychologist. If you look at the episode Stephenson seems to hold her own well, but in the book she berates herself for not standing up to him. The episode is worth a look.

The Varnished Untruth is just that, a candid memoir that tracks Stephenson’s life from teenage trauma to nights out with celebrities and royalty.  She is brave with her feelings and asks readers to make up their minds about whether she is a likable character or not.

Throughout the book Stephenson continues to look at herself through humorous eyes. She describes herself as having ‘exhibitionist tendencies’.  Even at a young age she frequently paraded naked past her living room bay windows for the outside world to see.

Despite her difficult relationship with her own parents Stephenson realised, to her surprise, that she loved being a mum.  She obviously takes pride in her role as a mother and with a brood of five she has her work cut out for her. Stephenson documents the many bumps along the way that come with family life, but together Pamela Stephenson and Billy Connolly seem to have been able to create a stable family life for their brood.

Stephenson freely admits that she has had numerous tweaks to her body to maintain youth as ‘being a babe’ is paramount. But beneath the humour and plastic surgery stories there is a depth and intelligence to Pamela Stephenson that radiates as she tells her story.

The Varnished Untruth is a compelling memoir, an insight into the life of a celebrity who doesn’t always take herself too seriously.

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