Monday 22 January 2018

Amanda Holden: 'I never dreamt I would get pregnant again so quickly'

Amanda Holden
Amanda Holden

Celia Walden

They say that you know by looking at a woman, but you don't. It's as she opens her mouth to tell you that you know. "I'm pregnant," says Amanda Holden. Beside her, eyes on his wife, the actress's husband Chris Hughes squeezes her hand.

We're in the back garden of their holiday home in West Hollywood. For any woman, this is a glorious day: those three months of secrecy have passed and it's time not just to share the news but believe in it yourself. For Holden and her 38-year-old husband, the joy is sharper and more poignant. In February this year, the 40-year-old actress lost a boy seven months into her pregnancy.

"When I found out this time that I was pregnant, I burst into tears," says the star of the musical Shrek in London's West End, her face lighting up. "I never dreamt it would happen so quickly, so when it did we both decided that we would try not to think about it until I reached the 12-week mark. Now that we have and I know that everything's fine, I feel like we can really enjoy it.

"People forget how amazingly blessed you are to be able to have children at all, and how lucky you are if everything goes according to plan. The funny thing is that this time I just know everything is going to be fine."

It was for personal reasons -- Holden suffered a previous miscarriage in 2010 -- that she kept the last pregnancy a secret until the baby was six months along. "I found out soon after signing the contract to appear in Shrek," she explains, "and even though we were so excited, the timing was tricky, and we decided not to tell everyone until we had to."

She was working hard, she says, filming Britain's Got Talent auditions, but no harder than when she'd been pregnant with Lexi (now 5) and working on a TV show in South Africa. "The thing is," here her speech slows, "he was really boisterous. So boisterous that I'd gone to the doctor and been told that everything was fine -- that my boy was big and healthy. And then a month later . . . "

Holden had been watching TV when the worry seeded itself. "I hadn't felt the baby move for a few hours, so I rang this wonderful midwife, Jackie Nash, and asked if I could pop down and see her. I didn't tell Chris, because although I'd had the instinct, I still couldn't face the idea that I might be right."

With a steady voice and unwavering eye-contact, Holden recounts how her friend examined her, searching in vain for a heartbeat, before "popping into the next room for a minute". "Later, she told me that once outside, she'd collapsed against the door, because she knew."

She pauses. "You know when you read about people who hear someone screaming and only realise later that it was them? That happens. I found myself calling out Lexi's name, because one of the first things I thought is: 'How am I going to tell her?'"

After that, it was the unthinkable ordeal of every woman who has suffered a similar loss. Holden was asked if she wanted to hold her baby. "I held him and he was perfect. There was nothing wrong with him at all."

She falls silent. "What's strange is that from the very moment I found out I was pregnant I knew that I was never going to meet my baby. I think that I was chosen to carry him for those seven months and that he'd completed his life span."

Only now does Holden start crying. "So wherever else he needed to be, he is now. And I feel honoured to have carried him and looked after him as long as I did."

It was that logic that helped Holden get through the following months. When I tell her how strong she's been, she points at the little girl lounging by the edge of the pool. "That was because of her. She was so cross with her brother because she'd wanted someone to play with, but I told her that his heart wasn't strong enough and that, like Peter Pan, he'd gone off to play somewhere else."

Holden's debt of gratitude to the midwives -- Nash, Pippa Nightingale and Natalie Carter -- and an alternative therapist, Zita West, who helped her "believe in her body again", is part of the reason she has decided to talk about the experience.

"These are amazing women, who helped me through one of the worst episodes in my life. I would wake up with these stupid ideas in my head, like, 'Was it because I had a glass of champagne last month? Was it because I was working too hard?' The guilt was just everywhere.

"But Jackie never belittled anything I had to say, entertaining every question and every doubt."

Holden's husband was desperate to spare his wife any more pain, but Holden had only one thought: "When can we start trying again?"

Fulfilling a desire to return to the stage for the first time since seven years ago, and the complimentary reviews she began to garner as Princess Fiona, didn't sustain her as much as the hope that she might get pregnant again.

"I started rehearsals six weeks after leaving the hospital -- I think it stopped me falling apart completely. There's nothing like the challenge of the stage as an actress. I also think that if I'm going to judge people on Britain's Got Talent, it's important to remind people what you're capable of."

It was as a classically trained actress, born in Bishop's Waltham, Hampshire, and brought up by a secretary mother and car-salesman stepfather that Holden began her career, going on to appear on shows such as Cutting It, Kiss Me Kate, Wild at Heart and The Grimleys.

"Acting is great if you love attention, and I do," she explains. Like all beautiful women she claims to have been a "hideously ugly child" with "gappy teeth and a large forehead", but by her early twenties, Holden was being noticed for her looks as well as her acting.

Aged 22, Holden met Les Dennis, marrying him two years later. The eight-year age difference proved too much, however, and the pair divorced in 2003. When she met Hughes that year, "he changed everything," she says.

It was Simon Cowell who persuaded people to see Holden in a new light when he cast her on Britain's Got Talent. "You can't hide on that show," she laughs. "On the first series I couldn't stop crying at all the acts, but I hope it made people see me differently, as a mum with a daughter -- and not a minx."

Four years on, with a baby on the way, all that seems unimportant. If this past year has taught Holden anything, it's that her priorities have changed. "I've loved every second of Shrek, and I'm going to try to stay on for the next month but the slightest twinge and I'm out.

"I've been working for 20 years now, non-stop, so I'm looking forward to taking it easy. I'd like to be home past 5pm to help Lexi with her homework, and learn how to cook so that Chris can come home from work and find me sweating over a hot stove in a pinny . . .

"But we've both agreed that it's probably best to wait until after the baby's born for me to fulfil one final ambition -- to get my pilot's licence."

Irish Independent

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