Billy Connelly's wife living a life less ordinary

Pamela Stephenson recounts her life with candour, says Nicky Pellegrino.

Pamela Stephenson's resume includes actress, comedian, mother and clinical psychologist. Photo / Trevor Leighton
Pamela Stephenson's resume includes actress, comedian, mother and clinical psychologist. Photo / Trevor Leighton

We're into "biography season", with publishers releasing a slew of memoirs in time for your Christmas shopping pleasure. Often it seems the subjects of these books haven't led lives worth recounting but that's not

a criticism you can level at Pamela Stephenson. Actress, comedian, wife to Billy Connelly, mother, Hollywood hob-nobber, clinical psychologist, writer, adventurer ... she's crammed a lot into her 63 years.

What is different about The Varnished Untruth: My Story (Simon & Schuster, $37), is that it is conducted as a therapy session with Stephenson adopting two voices - as patient and shrink - as she tries to find the answer to the question she asks throughout, "What is wrong with me?"

This seems an unnecessary device. Stephenson is insightful and candid enough for the memoir to have worked without the therapist's occasional butting in.

In fact, candid doesn't begin to describe the tone of this book. The first chapter opens with an account of Stephenson bursting one of her fake breasts at a New York jive club and by its end she has confessed to being hooked on cosmetic surgery and being the product of an unhappy childhood - and we're still only on page 22.

The memoir continues with the same odd but appealing mix of the frivolous, the profound and the dazzlingly frank. Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, Stephenson pins most of her adult angst on the relationship she had with her parents, academics who were low on affection and high on expectations. Since they are now dead she can say what she likes about them and she does.

Kicked out of home as a teenager, she ended up prey to the pimps and drug pushers of Sydney's seedy King's Cross. She entered an abusive relationship that pushed her close to ending her life.

Performing saved her. Having won a place at Australia's National Institute of the Dramatic Art, she went on to act in theatre, television and movies.

Despite all the professional wins - from her role on UK satire show Not The Nine O'Clock News to a more recent third place on Strictly Come Dancing - Stephenson continues to suffer from a sense of worthlessness, a fear of rejection and a need for adrenaline that she believes is rooted in her parents' inability to give her the love and attention she craved. This introspective blame game does start to wear a teensy bit thin eventually.

So, thank goodness for all the name-dropping. From dinner with Peter Sellers to parties with Elton John and Sarah Ferguson's hen night, she serves up a small feast of celebrity titbits, all of them harmless fun, mind, and the only famous person she deprecates is herself.

There are times in The Varnished Untruth when Stephenson is discreet, particularly where her children are concerned. The memoir is also gappy at points as she glosses over episodes such as her sailing adventures that have been covered in previous books.

So what is Pamela Stephenson. An outrageous ego? A fierce intelligence? A funny woman? Possibly all of those. But she knows how to write and knows how to live and those two things add up to an autobiography worth reading.

- Herald on Sunday

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