Drew Barrymore: I never thought I’d still be here
A 46, Hollywood’s most famous ‘wild child’ DREW BARRYMORE has finally embraced her past. She tells Caroline Graham about her chaotic upbringing, her three divorces and the ‘long, juicy’ breakdown that helped her turn her life around
Backstage at her eponymous television talk show, which is filmed in New York, Drew Barrymore grins in delight when I ask if ‘rebel child’ Drew would ever have envisioned being 46, a single mother of two and head of a multimillion-pound empire which includes her own cosmetics line, kitchenware brand, a hugely successful Hollywood production company and a new cookbook. ‘I’m an eternal optimist,' lei dice. ‘What would I say to the younger me?
I wouldn’t say anything – she wouldn’t have listened. You can’t get in a time machine and change your past, and I can tell you what I won’t spend my life doing is regretting s***. I’m not going to beat myself up.’
In a world where it increasingly seems that every celebrity, sports star and, sì, even former members of the royal family are hellbent on ‘sharing’ the minutiae of their painful emotional journeys (and often blaming others), Drew isn’t just a breath of fresh air – she’s a hurricane. For one thing, she is unashamed of her past. A child star at seven thanks to Steven Spielberg’s E.T., her experimentation with alcohol and drugs before her 13th birthday is well documented. Fast forward to today and she’s talking exclusively to YOU about the new book, her third divorce (‘it nearly broke me’), co-parenting two daughters with ex Will Kopelman (whose new wife she ‘worships’) and the perils of online dating. Over the course of the past three decades she has, lei dice, learnt to embrace ‘every f*** up’.
In person she is utterly captivating. The doe eyes which entranced the world when she played adorable Gertie in E.T. are filled with expression. She answers every question, often with an expletive or two thrown in for good measure. She comes across as the type of woman you would love to have as your friend.
Infatti, she has known some of her closest girlfriends for decades: ‘I first met Cameron [Diaz, her Charlie’s Angels co-star] when I was working in a coffee shop at 16 and she was starting out as a model. My other friend Mel and I have just celebrated our 40th anniversary. My girlfriends are more important to me – aside from my children – than anything else because they have been most like family to me. I love them so much.
‘I’m unguarded because I don’t want to come across as someone who has their s*** together. I’m not a total clown but I don’t relate to people who glide through life or parenting. I relate to struggle, conquering it, the humour, the messiness of life. I can’t stand fakeness.’
We are here to discuss Drew’s new cookbook Rebel Homemaker, which she has written with close friend and professional chef Pilar Valdes. Drew and her two daughters, Olive, nove, and Frankie, Sette, spent lockdown in a 1920s beachside house in Long Island (she also has a flat in Manhattan) e, like many of us, turned to food for ‘comfort’ during the pandemic.
‘I relate food to love, to feeding my family. I didn’t want the food in the book to look perfect. I’m a mum, not a chef.’ The book contains photographs of a make-up-free Drew in her kitchen while her dishes are mostly food she makes for friends and family – such as roasted chicken and steaming bowls of pasta – enhanced with flavours she’s picked up on her travels.
Child star Drew with her mother Jaid, 1982
She loves Jamie Oliver and MasterChef (they are ‘real chefs, unlike me’) but says her book, born out of the pandemic, is ‘honest’: ‘The reason I love the word “rebel” is because it’s me. I can’t stand rules and even when I try to create them they blow up in my face. I’m a messy cook – I spill, I splatter and I laugh.’
She moved her family east just before the pandemic struck, selling the Hollywood Hills home she had lived in for nearly a quarter of a century for a fresh start in New York. In typically optimistic style, she says the 2,500-mile move allowed her to ‘reset’ her life which had been spiralling downwards after her four-year marriage to art consultant – and father of her children – Will ended in divorce in 2016.
Drew’s own parents divorced when she was nine. Her father John Drew Barrymore, a member of the acting dynasty, was a violent alcoholic who was barely in her life. Her mother Jaid, an aspiring actress, ‘wasn’t prepared’ for motherhood. ‘Divorce was my worst fear,' lei dice. ‘It was something I never wanted to put my own children through. ‘I felt broken. Veramente, honestly broken.
I made some big, sweeping changes to my life and luckily I made them right before the pandemic because I fear the place I would have been in if I hadn’t. I just about managed to hold the nose of the plane up before it crashed and then the pandemic hit.’
Was she heading for a nervous breakdown? ‘I think I had one, a nice long, juicy one. You have to believe during this rollercoaster of life that you will get back up, but there was something very high stakes about this as my children were involved. Being a parent is the most important thing, but raising babies is terrifying and exciting and very hard.’
This may be true for all parents, but doubly so for Drew who had no experience to draw from. It is remarkable, poi, that she is so together now and has written this book. Unlike other celebrity vanity projects, this one is a statement. She is a loving parent and a homemaker, despite never having someone show her how. ‘I didn’t have parents. I was the “parent” to them. It was all totally upside down. So I didn’t know what I was doing.’ Her father died of cancer in 2004 after years of alcoholism. She now has ‘an accepting’ relationship with her mother.
But she is determined history will not repeat itself. ‘When people would talk to me about parenting I felt like an outcast. It took years for me to finally pluck up the courage to say: “Can you speak to me as someone who is desperately trying to learn? Can you teach me?"
‘There is so much pressure in life, particularly on mothers, to get it right, to get it perfect. I’ve travelled the world and I’ve seen many different styles of parenting. It confuses me when people get so righteous about parenting. It makes me feel defensive and small and inadequate. I’ve got love and humour, but we’re all learning on the job. I don’t want to be my kids’ friend – I am their parent.’
She has spent the five years since her divorce working on her relationship with her ex to the point where she has embraced Will’s new wife Allie, a Vogue editor, who he married this summer. When I tell Drew some women might find it strange that she says she ‘worships’ her husband’s new wife, she looks genuinely surprised.
'Perché? She’s a dream: dolce, kind and funny. I have to hold back from being overly friendly; I have to give her and Will their space. I feel so lucky. I’ve got this woman who, thank god, embraces me and doesn’t want me out of the picture. She has wonderful parents and a lovely sister. I worship the ground she walks on.’
On The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, 1982
In stark contrast, when Drew was a teenager, her mother placed her in a psychiatric institution for 18 months because her behaviour was so out of control. ‘My mum put me there because she couldn’t cope with me any more but it was the best thing that happened to me. It taught me boundaries. Until that point I had none.’
There’s that breath of fresh air again. Imagine any other Hollywood celebrity saying being placed under psychiatric care was the making of them? Soon after entering the institution, Drew realised she needed to emancipate herself from her parents. So at 14 she did, and it’s here the seeds of her new life were sown.
She bought an apartment (not a nice one, recalling previously: ‘There was fungus growing everywhere. It was in a dangerous neighbourhood and I was so scared to sleep. I had bars on the window. I was terrified’). Then she taught herself to cook (‘mostly Pot Noodles and mac and cheese from a box’) and started putting her life back together. A life that – 30-plus years later – sees her as content as she’s ever been.
‘Will and I have worked so hard over the years. I can’t tell you how hard it was. People who make co-parenting look easy… well, good for you. He and I really tried and it was messy and painful at times but we kept our eyes on the prize of our kids. It was always about what is best for the girls. It’s taken five years to function this way but
I’m so glad we got there and didn’t give up. High road, bambino. Less traffic.’ As for her own love life, she has been single since splitting from Will but has started dipping her toe in the dating world. ‘I go on dates occasionally. Some are just horrible.
I’ve never been in the zone of hating dating. Flirting is fun. Getting ready for a date is fun. I don’t care if the date sucks – it’s the excitement of possibility, it’s a nice feeling. ‘I’ve been such a love junkie all my life it’s a relief not to be obsessed with having a relationship. I’ve got kids who are at a crucial age, where they still need me. The thought of being with someone else…’
Dancing on chat-show host David Letterman’s desk, 1995
Her voice trails off. ‘I did try a dating app but I gave up. I feel like it brings out a certain amount of laziness in people, as if there are so many fish in the sea. Also I’m not actually attracted by a photograph. I fall in love with someone for their personality, and that’s hard to get in an app. I’m not really looking. It’s very low stakes.’
Moments before our interview Drew is reunited on the stage of her talk show with her second husband, comedian Tom Green, for the first time in nearly two decades. The pair were married for a year in 2001-2002. (Before that there was an even shorter 1994 marriage to Welsh bar owner Jeremy Thomas.) Lei dice: ‘It was lovely to see Tom. It was fun to reconnect. I’m glad there’s peace and respect there.’ She pauses. 'Sai, I never thought I would still be here. I thought my life was a f***-up and that it would always be f***ed up. This is the best time in my life right now because I finally believe that maybe I won’t end up being a f***-up, and that’s so exciting to me. ‘I don’t regret anything. I knew what I was doing and I had a lot of fun. I wouldn’t change any of it even if I could. There are no negative feelings.’
With longtime friend Cameron Diaz on the set of Drew’s talk show
I wonder if this is a result of investing in her own self-care? ‘I hate that term. It’s so passive. There’s no fight in it. The whole concept feels cheesy and irritating to me. I can’t say “I love myself” without it sounding like bull****.’ She has learnt to listen to her inner ‘Jiminy Cricket’ – a reference to the Disney character who acts as Pinocchio’s conscience. ‘We all have the Jiminy Cricket which lives on our shoulder and never shuts up. Every single day he would tell me: “These are the things you do that are wrong. These are the things that make you broken.” I would gag him but finally I’ve let Jiminy out and I’m listening to him.’
Her priority now is being a mum. ‘I joke about being a doberman mum, but I hope my experience growing up in an industry toxically riddled with vanity can help me be better with my kids. That’s why I have an anti-perfection thing. I realised I had to turn it [fallimento] into strength.’
Cooking and relaxing at home: ‘This is the best time in my life right now,' lei dice
She limits the amount of time her daughters spend on social media and refuses to allow them on camera. ‘I want them to be kids. We’re still in a world that talks a lot about age and body image. It sometimes feels so miserable. I had a lot of rejection when I was young – “You’re washed up” or “You’re overweight.” ‘I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. And I’m OK with that. But I hope that my experiences make me a better mum.’
As she doesn’t have her parents as role models, I wonder who she looks up to? ‘Ernest Shackleton,’ she fires back. Sul serio? 'Sì. I read Alfred Lansing’s book Endurance about Shackleton’s [Antarctic] expedition and how he saved his men, and it inspired me. He showed how weaknesses can become strength. When you are in survival mode – as I was for much of my life – rule books go out of the window. Shackleton wanted his crew to stay alive, and they did. He’s my role model and hero.’
Another mentor and ‘father figure’ who is very much still alive is E.T. director Steven Spielberg. Her voice cracks as she talks about how they remain ‘extremely close’ and speak constantly on the phone. ‘He changed my life because he’s willing to stick by me. He was the first person to come into my life when I was a child and remains consistent. He’s safe. He still is. ‘I have such deep love and respect for him. I have with him what you must have with a parent. I feel shame when I let him down. I want him to be proud of me.’
As she prepares to leave to record a late-night talk show it is hard not to imagine Mr Spielberg must be very proud of his protégé. A 46, Drew Barrymore is in the best place ever. And she is appreciating every minute.
Rebel Homemaker – Food, Famiglia, Life by Drew Barrymore with Pilar Valdes is published by Ebury, price £25. To order a copy for £21.25 with free p&p until 5 dicembre, go to mailshop.co.uk/books oppure chiama 020 3308 9193. For an exclusive extract and recipes from her book, go to you.co.uk