“My heart place, my Norfolk”

Amanda Holden

Amanda Holden - Credit: Archant

From the happy arrival of her two beautiful daughters and her dream job on one of Britain’s most popular television shows to her divorce from first husband Les Dennis, the loss of her son and her own brush with death – Amanda Holden’s new autobiography is a story of great joy and great sorrow.

One thing that has remained true throughout though is her love of our county – which she describes as “my heart place, my Norfolk” – and it has been a comforting ever-presence in her life in good times and bad.

As she prepares for Christmas with husband Chris and their children Lexi and Hollie, the Britain’s Got Talent judge says that writing the book – No Holding Back – has been an extremely cathartic experience.

“I have exorcised a lot of ghosts writing my book, and after it is published, I will never again do any interviews on the contents. Excuse the pun, but from here on I start a new chapter in my life,” she says.

After suffering the heartbreak of both a miscarriage and then the stillborn birth of son Theo, she became pregnant with Hollie, but suffering complications following the birth she herself came close to death.

“It is a book I am very proud of and a legacy for my girls. It is full of stuff I have never spoken about before,” she says.

As the title suggests, her autobiography is extraordinarily honest and as well as talking candidly about her childhood, her family and the early days of her career, she reveals about her marriage and subsequent high profile divorce from actor and comedian Les Dennis.

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“I was introduced to Norfolk by Les, and let’s just say my love for Norfolk is still on-going. It’s a place that holds huge memories for me, both happy and sad. Holkham is my favourite beach in the whole world. I feel like it must be what it is like to walk on the moon when I am there - endless sand and sky. I almost prefer it on a rainy day.”

In the book she describes her first visit to Norfolk with Les and the impact it made upon her.

“I fell in love with it too – it’s so flat and wild, with vast open skies. I had never seen anywhere like that in my life before and I felt instantly at home, and able to breathe and relax.

“Our new next-door neighbours Bob and Pat were Norfolk born and bred and we loved them. We loved that house so much that we drove up from London at least twice a month to stay there and always had breaks in it at Christmas and Easter. We’d take great long hikes across the fields and have picnics in the countryside or on the beach.”

She only recently sold the cottage which she and Les first bought - and she writes: “I took the plunge and sold our little Norfolk hideaway to a friend on the condition that he sells it back to me if ever he doesn’t want it any more”.

She still visits the county whenever she can, and says Chris fell in love it with it just as she had done all those years ago. It was to the beach, with daughter Lexi splashing in the sea alongside them, that the couple went to mark the passing of son Theo. In happier times, she describes her friendship with the late Paul Whittome and his widow Jean at the Hoste Arms in Burnham Market, the joy of “family picnics and noisy Sunday lunches,” and amusing tales from her north Norfolk hen party before marrying Chris.

As a child, Amanda would perform impromptu plays around the house for her delighted grandparents, graduating to the local theatre company and then an A-Level in drama. Always ambitious, aged 18, she won a place at the prestigious Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London.

Before Britain’s Got Talent, she first became known as an actress, starring in major stage productions such as The Sound of Music and Thoroughly Modern Millie, for which she was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Theatre Award, as well as in countless television shows, including the popular Cutting It and Wild at Heart.

“Britain’s Got Talent takes up about two weeks of my entire year, there is a false sense of me working non-stop,” she says. “I have the luxury of being able to be a hands-on mum, and do all the normal things that mummies do, such as Gymboree, Monkey Music, and the school run. I have worked hard for 20 years so I don’t miss the most important time of my daughters’ lives.”

She won’t be drawn on the details, but reveals that she has a “big project at the back end of 2014” and of course, Britain’s Got Talent auditions will start again early next year. So for now, she and Chris are looking forward to enjoying the festive period together.

“As long as I am with my family, Christmas will be perfect. I have been a particularly good girl this year so I am expecting Santa to be generous,” she laughs.

No Holding Back by Amanda Holden, published by Simon and Schuster, is out now, £18.99.

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