FERNE McCann is extolling the virtues of singledom.
She’s back on the dating scene after splitting from boyfriend Albie Gibbs, is positively “buzzing” about having no ties and doesn’t feel any urgency to find The One. Or any “one” at all, for that matter.
“I’ve been on a few dates, but I’m not putting pressure on it or looking to settle down. I have just surrendered with my love life and what will be will be,” she says.
This easy-breezy attitude is a complete 180 from just a few years ago when Ferne described herself as a “crazed psycho” on the dating front, admitting to stalking tendencies and a total inability to play it cool. Today, she says there’s still a bit of that in her, but she’s calmed down an awful lot.
“I think if you’re one of those people who likes to have a stalk or a Google, that will never leave you, but my god, I have changed so much! The obsessing and the throwing my all into someone? That’s gone.
"I don’t have time to wonder why he’s left me on a blue tick – if you’re not going to reply to me then, sorry, you literally won’t be able to handle me in a relationship because then I’ll want to be chatting to you all the time.
“Some men can handle that, some can’t. I’m an all or nothing kind of girl. Sometimes that’s endearing, sometimes it can be scary. I have toned it down a lot now, though.
“I still love love. And I’m looking forward to meeting Mr Right, having more babies and I’d love to say living the fairy tale, but we all know that’s not quite reality.
“Basically, someone is going to have to knock me for six for me to want to share the next chapter with them.”
All in all, Ferne’s 2020 has been bittersweet. On one hand, she’s lost work to the pandemic, broken up with Albie and twice had to cancel her 30th birthday celebrations.
“It’s like Boris knows when I am planning my party,” she groans. “I’d rearranged it for September 20, but then he announced the rule of six. I’ve given up now and just said we’ll do it next year. Let’s just cancel 2020.”
But it’s been a time for opportunity too, allowing her to focus on her new health and wellbeing platform, Embodyment, which has launched her into the fitness sphere during a money-spinning time for the industry. Indeed, this year Ferne has entered our Reality TV Rich List for the first time with an estimated wealth of £2.2million, having built most of her fortune while working as a single parent.
Daughter Sunday turns three next month and lockdown also meant being able to spend more time with her.
“I got to know Sunday on a deeper level than I ever have before and I’m really grateful for that. We both benefited from it.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was intense and there were highs and lows. She’s going through the terrible twos at the moment and I’ve had those mad, mental mum moments where you lose it and think if someone was to see me now… But it’s all part of parenting. You doubt yourself all the time. I want to do my best and I put a lot of pressure on myself.”
Ferne split from Sunday’s father Arthur Collins during the pregnancy (he is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence for GBH and ABH) and remained single – and celibate – for more than two years until meeting city trader Albie while on holiday in Dubai.
They were together for just over a year before splitting in May, with Ferne declaring him “the right guy at the wrong time”.
However, she says today there’s no chance of a reconciliation. “He has a new girlfriend now. It’s fine though, I’m really happy for him and it was the first relationship that’s parted where I’ve not had this obsession and jealous rage like: ‘Oh my god, who is she?!’ I genuinely don’t have the time.
“He and I were not right for each other on so many levels. We were at completely different stages in our lives and while I enjoyed the time I spent with him, I wasn’t myself. I’m done with being a chameleon, trying to adapt and change for the person on the other side of the dinner table and I just can’t be bothered with it any more.
“When you start being true to yourself and people accept you totally that’s when life gets exciting. There is nothing sexier than when someone is themself.”
Maybe it was the fame thing but I know now that I should be really proud of my show because I pour my blood, sweat and tears into it.
There were reports that Albie, 25, was private, shy and uncomfortable with Ferne being in the public eye and would grow frustrated with her frequent use of social media. Surely anyone coming into her life needs to see Instagram as less an intrusion and more a key part of her job?
“Absolutely. I’ve got a reality show [ITVBe’s First Time Mum] about my life and at times I felt embarrassed about that. Maybe it was the fame thing but I know now that I should be really proud of my show because I pour my blood, sweat and tears into it.
"That is my job and I am who I am and I can’t change that, so I have to have someone who is understanding.”
There’s an unflinching honesty about Ferne that makes her a joy to interview. Whether it’s the challenges of single parenting, the ups and downs of her love life, the drama of the day she started her period or even the story of her prolapsed bladder (“women brush things under the carpet and looking after ourselves often isn’t top of our priority list, but we need to talk about these things and get help”) she doesn’t bat a false-lash-lined eyelid.
She even goes to the loo halfway through our video call (“I’m bursting for a wee! That’s prolapse for you”) although, mercifully, turns the camera and audio off while she’s in there.
She is outrageous in the best possible way, possesses no filter and is up front about everything, including the reason she fought tooth and nail for nearly three years to get herself on to Towie – and again to remain on it – saying out loud what others wouldn’t dream of admitting publicly.
“I wanted to be famous,” she says simply. “That’s what I wanted and I don’t know if you’d call it a recipe for disaster now, but I was around the cast [off-camera] from series one, as Sam and Billie Faiers’ friend and dating Chloe Sims’ brother Charlie.
"I knew I had to get myself in front of the producers and work my magic, showcase my personality and convince them.”
But it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Ferne confides that the pressure to stay central to the story lines was, at times, unbearable and meant she became a caricature, doing and saying things she never would in real life.
“Once I got on, I literally threw my everything into it and got so wrapped up in the drama thinking: ‘If I don’t do this then I’m not going to get air-time, I’ve left my job for this so I have to give it my all.’
“And then you start behaving in ways you just wouldn’t normally. I was young and inexperienced so it was a really weird time. There were some tough times. I’ve never really spoken about it, but I got into some really dark places on that show.
“It’s not normal to see on TV what your friends or boyfriend say about you and that’s always going to cause a reaction. I had anxiety and paranoia. But no matter what industry you’re in, you have to learn the tools to support yourself if you are going through that and learn what works to help lift you
For Ferne, that often means seeing her therapist, who she’s been going to regularly for the last two and a half years.
“I think in the UK there is this stigma attached to having a therapist, almost like you have to hit breaking point before you can seek outside help. But there was no rock bottom for me, I just find it really healthy to offload and speak to someone with no judgement.
“It’s funny, because when you share what’s bothering you with your loved ones and they start giving their opinions, it really p**ses you off! So it was my mum who said I should go and see someone who was totally impartial.
“I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Therapy is just very…” She pauses to search for the right word before settling, in a very Ferne kind of way, on
Her no-show during Towie’s recent 10-year anniversary celebrations wasn’t a snub, as some other former cast members who did take part have suggested.
“I’ll be honest with you, it wasn’t an easy decision,” she says. “I’m in a different place in my life and I wondered whether I wanted to go back and relive moments where for the majority I was rowing with someone.
I constantly have that tug-of-war battle between work and being a mum.
“In the end I decided I would do the 10-year thing [the All Back To Essex retrospective], but then I couldn’t work out the schedule because I’m filming First Time Mum and so life literally took the decision out of my hands.”
Ferne insists she will always be grateful to the show that provided a springboard to the life she has today, but she has played a savvy game since quitting five years ago after eight series, winning the public over with a gutsy performance on I’m A Celeb! in 2015, bagging a stint as showbiz reporter on This Morning and securing lucrative contracts with brands such as Miss Pap.
Last year, she and Sunday moved into a £1m dream home in the Essex countryside, but despite the life she’s providing for her daughter, the mum guilt is never far away.
“I constantly have that tug-of-war battle between work and being a mum. I just hope that – sorry, I am actually going to cry – I just hope she will be like: ‘That’s my mum’. Every decision I make I am doing it for her.
“I often describe myself as being in the middle with about 50 ropes wrapped around me – one is Sunday, another is my house, my agent, my love life, my Instagram, my friends, my body image and it is like being pulled from pillar to post.”
Embodyment is the latest string to her bow – since having Sunday, Ferne has been on a twisty-turny journey with her own body image and with everything she’s learned along the way, feels she’s never been in a better place to start this new venture. The subscription platform gives access to recipes, nutrition plans, a wellbeing hub and workouts with Ferne and leading trainers including yoga, dance, kettlebells and HIIT.
“I absolutely love working out, but trying to have variety and get to this exercise class and that yoga class can be expensive and time-consuming. So that’s how Embodyment was born, really,” she says.
“I wanted to incorporate everything from simple, delicious meals to mind, body and soul and meditation. I love it when a group of women get together and motivate and support each other, and that is exactly what I wanted to do with this. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of. I love what it stands for.
“It’s so accessible, you can open your phone when the kids are in bed and pop on a 15-minute workout, smash it and feel great. I’m all about setting yourself realistic goals, because before pregnancy I would be like: ‘Right, I’m going to train for six days a week, twice a day, I’m not going to eat anything’. And you’re only, inevitably, going to fall off the wagon and feel disheartened.”
She’s not a huge fan of the term “body confidence” preferring instead “body contentment.” A lot of women, she says, would struggle to feel 100% body confident.
“To have a body you are happy with and that supports you throughout the day, I feel like that is a success. I’m not the smallest I’ve ever been in my life, but I’m the strongest mentally, and physically I’m the fittest.
In the wardrobe with Ferne
What was your lockdown look?
Oversized joggers and a crop top.
Favourite high-street brands?
You can never go wrong with Zara. I also love H&M.
Biggest fashion splurge?
My Givenchy boots, but they are a classic and I will have them forever.
Most worn item?
My gold jewellery, I love a gold chain and my rings.
Your go-to outfit?
A pair of flared trousers from Souki Belair which, if I’m struggling, are the best fit and go with any top.
How has your style evolved?
I used to be quite boho, but now I love minimal and sexy. Less is more.
“Body contentment is what’s important, to feel comfortable in our own skin by looking after ourselves, physically and mentally, by fuelling ourselves with nutrition and goodness, by exercising, by being supported by other women who are also on their own journey and also by not beating ourselves up when we order pizza.”
Self-acceptance means Ferne is no longer planning to have the boob job she swore she would have after pregnancy and breastfeeding left her feeling deflated.
“Oh god, totally off the cards!” she screams. “I was so sure I was going to have one, but now I think I would look ridiculous with a boob job. I feel so far away from having something like that done.”
Getting rid of her extensions and cutting her hair into a choppy bob was another sign of her refreshed outlook.
“I know this sounds ridiculous, but the hair was so symbolic for me. I cut it the day before my 30th birthday because I felt I’d been hiding behind these extensions and conditioning myself to think that is what made me sexy, more youthful or what men would find attractive.
“So I was just like: ‘Cut it off’ and I have never felt more liberated or sexy in my life.
“These last few years, I’ve really got to know who I am and who the people I want to spend my time with are. I spent a lot of time being someone I wasn’t to please others but I’ve learned it’s OK to say no and do what you want to do.”
Having the faith and confidence to make those decisions has been life-changing. That and learning not to get hung up on the things over which she has no control.
“I just roll with the punches,” she says. “I feel like I am where I am meant to be. I’m so happy. I’m very well, I feel very content in all areas. I can’t complain, life is good.”
- Sign up to Ferne’s new health and wellbeing platform at Embodyment.co.uk.
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