Pamela Anderson greets me on the steps of her house in Provence holding a large glass of rosé on ice. “Would you like one?” she asks, smiling cutely. “We are in the South of France after all.” I shouldn’t, I say, it’s 3pm, I’m meant to be working. Anderson immediately discards the wine and leads me to a table in the all-white sitting room overlooking a swimming pool. “I prepared this for you,” she says, gesturing shyly towards the hipster-café spread of vegan baked goods and fruit, artfully arranged on a wooden board. Zeus, her golden retriever, hovers nearby. The combination of the heat, cake, boobs and all this cuteness is, well, how to put it – sexy. I should have accepted the rosé.
The Baywatch star and 14-time Playboy cover girl (a record, she will tell me later, she is very proud of) is wearing a three-quarter length, blue polka-dot cotton slip. “It’s from Mango, just a little thing,” she says, flushing prettily. Her brown arms are slim and smooth, her tummy flat, her pedicured feet bare. The famous bosom, the size of which has fluctuated over the years, is hidden under her dress but its magnificence is inescapable, like a famous national monument undergoing renovation. Her shoulder-length hair is still wet and wavy from the shower, and apart from winged black eyeliner, she is wearing little makeup. She looks utterly ravishing, and so much younger than her 51 years. Only her eyebrows – tattooed symmetrical arches, devoid of hair – seem artificial. But when you couple it all with a Euro-French undertone in her little-girl voice, it makes for quite an arresting package. One can only wonder what the residents of the small Provençal village of Cassis (she pronounces it as the locals do, the final ‘s’ silent) must make of the racy American, pottering about Bardot-like with her little straw basket on market days.
For the past two years, the passionate animal activist and eco-pioneer (she launched the Pamela Anderson Foundation 20 years ago) has been in an on/off relationship with the Moroccan footballer Adil Rami, 33, who plays for Marseille – hence her “rebellious and brave” move to France. He may have been a means to an end, a romantic dream she always wanted to fulfill, although it’s unclear who attracted her most – man or country. “I fell in love with Saint-Tropez 20 years ago, when I did a photoshoot for Playboy. It was always my plan to come and live here when the kids were grown up,” she says. “Everyone is so beautiful here. Maybe it’s the light, very healthy and golden.” Or maybe, after years of intrusion, she’s learnt the art of obfuscation.
The story of her life reads like a treatise on fame – a Homeric tale of epic voyages (both real and metaphorical), battles lost and then won (ditto), and especially romances fought (very real). Even though she occupies a symbolic place in the collective consciousness, she has never spoken much about her early years growing up on Vancouver Island in Canada. “I will never do a movie about my life,” she says, “because I don’t remember all of it.” This sounds funny at first, but throughout our conversation she will allude to, but not expand on, past struggles. She describes young Pamela as bookish (she read fairy tales and mythological stories with her grandfather and was an early adopter of Carl Jung). She was also devilish and always up to no good. “I couldn’t wait for everyone to be asleep,” she says. “I would wake up at 3am, go to the kitchen and concoct a mix of butter and spices and then I would rub it all over my cat and put her in the oven. But I couldn’t turn it on, thank God! This is not going to go down well with my activism friends, but I was little.”
I fell in love with Saint-Tropez 20 years ago, when I did a photoshoot here. It was always my plan to come and live here when the kids were grown up. Everyone is so beautiful here. Maybe it’s the light, very healthy and golden”
Her parents, who married at 17 and who, she says, are still madly in love, didn’t have much money – her mother was a waitress; her father a chimney sweep – and lived in a little cabin on the beach. When they weren’t at work, they would play cards. “I ended up dealing for them a lot. And getting the beer. They would always joke, ‘I’ll time you!’ I was like the hostess and the dealer.” She never thought she’d leave Vancouver – in fact, she subsequently bought the small nearby island where her parents and all their friends were married. “They’re all still together.” Pause. “Maybe I should have got married on that island, too. No, wait, I’m still waiting for the one. When I get married there, then I’ll know.” She looks towards the pool. “No, I don’t know, we’ll see… I can’t believe I’m the age I am. I keep thinking I have so much time, but I don’t.”
Anderson was discovered in 1989 at a Canadian Football League game when the camera panned in on the 21-year-old wearing a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the Labatt’s beer logo. The crowd went wild. In the days before social media and ‘going viral’ was a thing, word spread fast about the Canadian beauty and, within a year, Playboy had tracked her down. At first, she said no, then she relented. All she had to do was get into America.
She had never been abroad before, let alone on a plane. “I was terrified,” she says. She was stopped before she could even board because she didn’t have a work permit, only a letter from Playboy. So, she ran to the airport bathroom, changed her outfit and approached a different airline counter. “They caught me there, too,” she says. She was told they wouldn’t allow her through unless she had the proper paperwork. While the Playboy execs worked on that, the impatient and enterprising young model jumped on a bus to Seattle. “They didn’t check me at the border, so I got into America. And I did my first Playboy cover.”
Los Angeles was a very different experience to the one she had left in small-town Canada. “I arrived during Gay Pride. I remember calling home and being very naive and saying, ‘Mom, not only do gay people exist, but they walk around holding hands wearing hot-pink shorts, handcuffed together with all this makeup on and these big wigs.’ My mother thought this sounded fantastic.” Anderson had been invited to stay at the Playboy Mansion but chose to check in to a hotel instead. She remembers her joy at catching sight of her first celebrity, Shirley MacLaine, whose book, Out On A Limb, she happened to be reading.
“You know, my university was Playboy,” she says of the magazine that, back in the day, was probably more difficult to get into than Harvard. “I met some of the most amazing philanthropists, artists and musicians at the mansion. It was very chic.” Chic? “Obviously, it was,” she says, nodding, wide-eyed. “There were moments where I guess it was a little racy, but it was chic, it was elegant… I mean, only Hefner could get away with this because it wasn’t exploitative or weird. I call reality TV exploitative. But Playboy? We all wanted to be there.” Did Hefner ever behave inappropriately with any of the girls? She shakes her head. “No. He was a true gentleman. He behaved with chivalry. People had that joke – ‘I read Playboy for the articles’ – but it was true. And he was a great human-rights activist, too. He put everybody up there, like Sammy Davis Jr., you know, the first black comics appeared in his clubs and he did so much for so many people.”
I shouldn’t have done anything to my body, I can’t take it back, but I had a cute little body. It was just the time, and I did it. I did not put a lot of thought into it. It became a little bit cartoonish later on”
She has never forgotten her first nude cover story. “They had to capture it with the first roll of film because I felt so nauseous – a girl had touched my boob.” Just as I am about to say, “Isn’t that what’s meant to happen,” she puts her hand on herself to show me. The girl, it turns out, was just trying to help her ‘adjust’ her embonpoint. “I thought, ‘Ah, OK, that’s what it is.’” Is that what prompted her to have plastic surgery? “Well, I shouldn’t really have done anything to my body, I can’t take it back, but I had a cute little body when I came to Los Angeles. Then I asked, ‘How do these women have these bodies?’ And they told me, and I said, ‘That’s not fair. I want to do this, too. Where do I sign up?’ And it was just the time, you know, and I did it. I did not put a lot of thought into it. I know it became a little bit cartoonish later on. My grandmother was always concerned; she’d say, ‘Pamela, what are you doing?’”
Hugh Hefner always told her she was the DNA of Playboy. “He said a girl like me was the reason he made the magazine. He gave me the highest compliment. And he didn’t want to end Playboy – I did the last issue that was nude. They’ve gone back to nudes now, but he said he wanted it to have started with Marilyn and ended with me.” When she starts describing Monroe, who she bears an uncanny resemblance to, both in manner and physically, it’s almost as if she is describing herself. “Marilyn was very smart, very sincere, she was also very wise about her sensuality; her vulnerability was sexy and people responded to that. So with this really manufactured sexiness now…it’s different. Today, everything is so abrasive. It’s more exposed, everyone’s a celebrity; everyone can be, you know, on Instagram, and to value yourself on how many followers you have is really out of control.”
It’s no accident Anderson became a somebody. If her fame was initially underpinned and hoisted aloft by her looks and body, she also possessed the right qualities to make it – balls, naivety, a little of both, probably, and brains and charm, too – and was able to translate it into a TV career, something I can’t imagine would be possible today. Her first role was on US sitcom Home Improvement, then came Baywatch, the show that propelled her to stardom, infamy and her position today as a beloved cultural icon. She has also starred in several movies, most memorably in 1996’s Barb Wire (she famously had a tattoo of a wire wound around her upper arm), and appeared in Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat in 2006, which gives her the right to say she was in a Golden Globe- and Oscar-nominated movie, and has also taken part in various reality-TV shows, such as Dancing with the Stars.
Her romantic life, from the outside at least, has always looked like a bit of a car crash, and has attracted equal amounts of fascination, notoriety and amusement, thanks to her short-lived, and often volcanic, marriages. The first was to Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee (the couple have two grown sons, Brandon, 22, an actor, and Dylan, 21, a musician). They married on a Mexican beach in 1995, four days after meeting, with Anderson dressed in a white bikini, but divorced three years – and one sex tape – later. Musician Kid Rock, whose real name is Bob, was her second, and they wed on a yacht in Saint-Tropez in 2006. Four months later, she filed for divorce. Her most recent husband has been Paris Hilton’s ex, socialite/film producer Rick Salomon, who she married twice: the first time in 2007 (annulled after two months), and again in 2014 – for six months. Her father would always tell her before she got married: “‘You know if you want to get out of here, I have a car in the back. Let’s go. Like, this is your last chance if you don’t want to do this.’ And we always laugh about that because he said it every time.”
She talks lovingly about her two sons, who live in the US, and proudly shows me photos of them on her phone. “They have always been supportive of even my most bizarre decisions and my bizarre marriages. They’ve always been there for me – the last ones to dance at the party.” She remembers how she used to take them to the Playboy Mansion for movie night every Sunday when they were little, as well as to the yearly Easter egg hunt with the other Playmates. “My kids have been there many times,” she says. “They have funny stories. They would be in the Jacuzzi with Marston and Cooper [Hugh Hefner’s sons], and they would come back and say, ‘Do you know what Hef does for a living?’ And I’d think to myself, ‘Oh, I’m nervous about this.’ And they’d say: ‘He takes pictures of naked girls.’ And I’d reply, ‘Oh my God, let’s get out of here.’” When did she confess? “I didn’t have to. Hefner would say so many funny things to them, like: ‘Your mother couldn’t afford clothes when she got here.’ And my kids would reply: ‘You’re not my uncle because you took naked pictures of my mom.’” She laughs. “Oh, this is going to sound so awful in print, but it’s just funny…”
She is more thoughtful and considered when she talks about fame, and how it has affected her. “I was in shock over it. I didn’t want to be an actress, I wasn’t searching for that, but once I did get the attention, I wanted to share it with something more meaningful [her activism], so that’s what gave me meaning, even though I did really silly things. I made choices along the way that were not really big career choices, but I didn’t feel like a serious performer, so I was doing things for fun.”
She landed Baywatch when her then boyfriend, the actor David Charvet, took her to the audition with him. “He was so cute,” she says of the ’90s heartthrob. “He was upset because they gave us both the job. It wasn’t planned. I wasn’t supposed to go. They didn’t even know what to do with me. So they stuck me in a bathing suit and asked me about my life and, really, C.J. Parker [her character] was basically me – a hippie kind of bohemian life, a girl who loved animals and wanted to be at the beach. That was who I was.”
I’ve written a book about staying together and being in love and really working things out. Because I do believe in being in love”
She met and married Tommy Lee at the height of the show’s success, but the crew were always wary of his visits. “He was very possessive, he didn’t like me around other men so it was difficult on that show. If they knew Tommy was coming on set they would change the script – they were so worried about me. I mean, I guess I can be jealous at times, but not like that. Sometimes when somebody’s jealous with you, you start becoming like them. Because you also start thinking if they’re jealous… how could they even dream this up? What are they doing?” She says she was never jealous of him, and conversely says they are still close. “Even though it was probably a crazy time, he might have been one of my easiest relationships.” She looks up to the ceiling and laughs out loud. “I don’t want to talk too much about Tommy or men in general, but I look back now and I think…” She lets out a loud gasp. “You know, I’ve written a book [Lust for Love] about staying together and being in love and really working things out. Because I do believe in being in love.”
And what of the Hoff, David Hasselhoff, her Baywatch co-star – were they great friends? There is a surprising pause before she answers. “I didn’t really spend too much time with him but… he loved being him. It was almost like he didn’t understand. He would give out 8x10 photos of himself to fans all day and send his assistants to give them out, too. At Christmas, he would give us his CDs and calendars. I remember him being on two phones all the time, even off-camera, and he would always talk to me looking at my forehead.” She makes it clear they weren’t close. He comes across like a typical Hollywood narcissist, I say. “It’s an epidemic now,” she replies, nodding, “not just in Hollywood. Nobody really has to think outside of themselves anymore.”
From narcissism we move on to the casting couch. It’s not surprising to hear she’s been the victim of harassment. “I’ve been asked plenty of times to go to hotel rooms – I’ve even gone to a hotel thinking there was a meeting and then they’ve said, ‘Oh, no, it’s up in the bungalow.’ I remember saying, ‘No, no. No, thank you.’” She never had a run-in with Harvey Weinstein except on the phone. “Harvey was just cruel. I have never been spoken to that way.” She asked him not to use a real dog in the 2008 film Superhero Movie. “And he said, ‘I’m putting Pamela Anderson in a film… you’re lucky.’ I think people knew he was a little lecherous, but most of Hollywood is. The casting couch is not a myth.”
She met her current boyfriend, Adil, in Monaco two years ago and they have been together, for the most part, ever since. “It was one of those moments. I was going to leave Saint-Tropez and he signed with Marseille and asked me to come with him. I just said no PlayStation here in Cassis – that’s all,” she says, referring to her boyfriend’s devotion to the gaming device. So, the age difference is a problem? “It’s not a physical issue. But I feel that he has so much life to live. I told him to go to Brazil for a year. Do something… find yourself.” She has since introduced him to yoga and veganism. “He’s experimenting,” she says. Interesting for a Frenchman, I say; they can be quite traditional. “Ah, but he can still do what he wants, he’s very open to it. He loves it.” Does he expect her to dress in a certain way, too? “Well… he picked the wrong girl,” she laughs. “I think I am pure torture. I think I’ve tested him on every level. It’s why I got the house in Cassis [they were originally living in Marseille together]; I said if you want to be with me, this is how I’m happy and this is something maybe I can show you. I’m not a little girl sitting here on the couch watching PlayStation – I did that a couple of times. Maybe twice. Before I went, OK, that’s enough.”
She describes being in a relationship with a soccer player 18 years younger as “self-sabotage”. “Yes, it’s fun. It’s taking chances. It’s not doing what everybody tells you to do. And you know, I guess I didn’t choose people – they chose me, and they were very persistent. I didn’t chase them.” So, who would she describe as the most persistent? “I think Adil,” she starts, then changes her mind. “No, Tommy. Adil reminds me of my relationship with Tommy because he will just not let me go; if I’m running away or saying I don’t want this anymore, there’s just no chance of that. Even my mom says, ‘Just give up, you’re not getting away from this one.’ He does the craziest, wildest things but not in a bad way. He’s very, very strict; he’s taught me a lot about discipline.”
I have had this resurgence of life where I feel younger than I ever have. I feel like I have a lot more energy”
Having essentially given up on acting, apart from the odd project, she now concentrates on the work of her foundation, which focuses on human, animal and environmental rights. She works closely with various organizations, including Peta, Cool Earth and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. What’s the cause that hits her in the gut? “I’m not species-ist, you know, so I think that animals are just as important as humans.” She was already involved with animal charities when she joined the cast of Baywatch. “My first Christmas card to all the crew was a picture of my golden retriever, Star, wearing a watch, with the caption: ‘Every five seconds an animal is lost to animal experimentation.’” She’s at pains to point out that she likes to be seen as a bridge between radicals and everyone else; a translator of intent. “I don’t think you’re a bad person if you eat meat, but don’t wear fur or use plastic.” Is she fully vegan? “Yes, but I am a naughty vegan.” By that she means she’ll have a cappuccino. She can’t remember the last time she ate meat. When Yanis Varoufakis, the economist and former Greek minister of finance, who she describes as “brilliant and charming” (they met through her foundation), recently asked her what she wanted to ban in France, she said: “Foie gras, just stop it.” She’s also in the process of writing a book called Saving Feminism from Feminists. “It’s too much. At this point, it’s like… it’s boring. Women have superpowers and we need to maintain them and we don’t need to talk about it anymore…”
She says she’s now in a really good place with herself: “I have had this resurgence of life where I feel younger than I ever have. I feel like I have a lot more energy.” Her life in France sounds like a gentle one. She wakes up naturally at 7.30am. “I can’t lie in bed – I have to get up, I have to feed Zeus, to do my little things, make my coffee. Adil’s either training or he gets up with me but it’s just very simple, and then I like to go for a walk or to the beach. I love swimming in the sea.” At night, the couple cook together. “He’s a very good cook. I love French food, too, but we just like different things. I was so afraid to cook for him the first time after seeing his mother make couscous. I mean, I like Buddha bowls. I make very clean food, very simple.”
She practiced yoga this morning for the first time in years, with a French surfing instructor, but was surprised by how un-supple her body had become. “I was twisting and turning and my body felt different. I said to myself: ‘No, no, no! Wait a second, let’s stop. This is not me. Surely, I am more flexible than this, there’s a body inside this body that’s me.’ But a little bit of yoga is going to help, because it’s so wonderful. It’s good for everything.” In the background, her French housekeeper Virginie drops something and shouts “sorry” loudly. Pamela giggles and replies in perfect French, telling her not to worry. “She doesn’t speak any English except for ‘sorry!’ That’s all you need to know, ‘sorry’,” and laughs again.
I have always been very imaginative… I feel like Sherlock Holmes; I don’t know what I’m doing, but sometimes something will really trigger me and I’ll take a picture of it and then I’ll write about it and it’s like I’m finding clues or some kind of synchronicities”
“Carl Jung,” she says, when I ask her what book has made the greatest impression on her. “Memories, Dreams, Reflections – I was fascinated by him. There was something in the book called Alchemy [Psychology and Alchemy appears in Volume 12 of The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, a study of the analogies between alchemy, Christian dogma and psychological symbolism], it said, ‘If you’re reading this, you’ve obviously undergone some kind of traumatic religious experience that you’re trying to put into…’ I was like, wow. I remember shutting the book and saying to myself: ‘Why am I reading this? I’m not taking a psychology course, I’m not taking any philosophy course, what am I reading all these things for?’ I kind of stopped for a little while but then I suddenly realized how it was helping me. Whenever I got into a downward spiral, writing too much poetry and feeling a little bit depressed…”
So now, she often goes to sleep reading Jung’s biography. “I don’t know why. I just know it sets me right back on track. It’s very strange. Sometimes, years have gone by and I’ve said to myself, ‘OK, I’m miserable, what’s happening?’ I had an analyst who was part of his inner circle. He was really interesting. And very old – now he’s in his nineties. He couldn’t talk any sense into me either.” It sounds like she has depressive episodes? “Yeah, I think… I don’t know what it is. I have always been very imaginative. When I was a lot younger, I would have these kind of out-of-body things, and then later in my life I would just start reading and reading and reading or writing and writing and writing, and still to this day I do that. I feel like Sherlock Holmes; I don’t know what I’m doing, but sometimes something will really trigger me and I’ll take a picture of it and then I’ll write about it and it’s like I’m finding clues or some kind of synchronicities…”
She looks fondly at her dog. “I am a Vancouver Island girl with a respect for nature. Wherever I go, I stick my feet in the ocean and make a prayer to the whales.” One of her greatest influences has been the British designer Dame Vivienne Westwood, who she says calls herself “the angel of democracy”. They met when the designer invited her to one of her fashion shows. “I don’t even remember the clothes – I was just fascinated and we started talking, then we did campaigns together.”
She says she finds the fashion industry difficult because of the use of animal products and the waste that it encourages. “If fur walks down the runway… I’m like, ‘Oh, what was this?’ Back in my Playboy days, it was easy for me because I wore no clothes [laughs], but if we’re going to choose clothing, and even Vivienne would say this, pick a few good things and don’t be a hoarder and don’t consume so much. And I’m lucky, I have a lot of friends who send me things, like Stella McCartney. Her father gave me the Linda McCartney Memorial Award, the first one after she passed. But I’m not a big shopper. My boyfriend likes to shop for me. He’s an insane shopper. He shops on his own for me because he knows I can’t stand it. We both love Off-White, the radicalness of it, and I’m actually inspired by it.”
I am a Vancouver Island girl with a respect for nature. Wherever I go, I stick my feet in the ocean and make a prayer to the whales”
She’s designing a line of vegan handbags made from apple waste (specifically apple skins), which she’s funding herself in collaboration with Ashoka, a global network of social entrepreneurs and activists. “I’ve been funding vegan things for years and it never went anywhere. I was ahead of my time…” The line, which she says will be “very chic and elegant”, will include “radical statements” concealed inside. She’s also collaborated with Russian designers on fake-fur coats.
It’s time for me to catch my flight back to London and, as we say goodbye, I ask her if I can take her picture. “No, no, no,” she says. “I look terrible.” Of course you don’t, I say. She’s not sure. It’s for my husband, I confess. “Ah,” she says, with a smile of recognition. This is a story she knows well. She obliges and poses standing up against a chair, on tip-toe, one leg kicked up a little in the air, a well-worn reflex. She throws her head back, she smiles coquettishly, nervously. For the next few weeks I show that picture to every male acquaintance I know, young or old. Their reactions are identical: knowing smiles, thoughts clear as day. She’s still got it, they all say. Never mind the men – I will forever bow at the altar of the wondrous sex-bomb that is Pamela Anderson.
The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown.