From saving lives on Malibu Beach to saving life on Earth, PAMELA ANDERSON has come a long way in the past few decades. “I’d be doing it anyway, even if I wasn’t famous,” she tells us
Photography by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin Styling by Mel Ottenberg Text by Hanna Hanra
It’s hard to introduce Pamela Anderson: she is nebulous and ethereal and surprising. She may have appeared on the cover of Playboy more than any other model, but for the past 20 years has also been a very public activist for countless causes.
She has touched on many, varied issues with the work of her Pamela Anderson Foundation, from stripping down to her undies for Peta’s notorious “I’d rather go naked” campaign, to writing letters to Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, to protesting against seal-hunting, to meeting with Kremlin officials to discuss animal welfare, to becoming a spokesperson for Aids, to supporting France’s gilets jaunes and the German Diem25 campaign for a pan-European political movement. In her words, she just wants to help. Speaking on the phone, she talks eloquently and passionately about her projects, excited at the prospect of sharing information on her causes. She is decidedly less interested, though, in her de facto celebrity status – as the 1990s Baywatch pin-up CJ Parker, one of the most iconic characters of the decade – but rather wants to focus on her philanthropic efforts. “I’d be doing it anyway, even if I wasn’t famous,” she says. It’s easy to believe her, too.
Pamela, what’s your morning routine?
Dog time. Scratching him and giving him a little massage. I feed him first, of course, and take him for a little walk round my property and then I make my coffee. I only have one dog right now, but I am going to get more, I usually have about four rescues. Blue and I have been around the world and now we are settled it’s time to get more. He’s a golden retriever… ish.
You love animals, don’t you… was that what made you start the Pamela Anderson Foundation?
I started it when I was on Baywatch. I wanted to share the attention I was getting with something more meaningful than my boyfriends and my boobs. I was travelling all over the world and seeing so many animal issues, and knew that I could connect people – that if I had a foundation I’d be able to connect funds to those who needed it. I connected with people who were risking their own lives and activists who were being harassed by governments. I wanted to help the vulnerable – people and animals.
What is your mission statement?
Environmental and human rights issues – it has nothing to do with my political points of view. I’m starting another foundation called Tenure; it will pick 10 activists a year and pay their salaries for 10 years with the hope of encouraging them and others to remain activists. I think the only way to have a democratic society is to encourage civil disobedience. The government should be doing what the people want, and I think we have lost sight of that.
Had you always felt the injustices of the world?
I grew up on Vancouver Island and I am actually living on the property that my parents were married on. I have always been surrounded by nature – water, bears, eagles – so it’s been instilled in me to be close to nature; it’s very important to me. I stopped my dad from hunting when I saw a dead deer with its blood dripping into a bucket. I thought, ‘that’s meat? OK, I am not eating that.’ It came from a compassionate place and then later on I realised the other benefits. Being vegan is trendy now – even in my tiny little town there is a vegan restaurant – but 20 years ago people thought I was crazy.
Do you think your work suffered?
I once turned down doing a hair campaign because I didn’t want to add to all the plastic bottles in the world. I asked if they could make biodegradable bottles, and they said I was mad – but now everyone is doing it and I am so happy to see it.
Do you think young people see the need for change more than previous generations did?
Oh yeah! I just visited my boys in Malibu and they are into no waste, no plastic, they go to farmers’ markets. People think that being progressive is crazy but then 10 years go by and you see that it makes sense. People don’t like change, but nowadays we all have to do it.
Do you think that people will say this of your friend Julian Assange?
He is such a mild-mannered, intelligent person and it kills me when people say terrible things about him. No-one is complaining about how he is being treated in prison. Prison is meant to be uncomfortable, but they are using him as a deterrent for free speech. He will be in the history books. Hopefully he gets out of jail soon, and I am not saying this because I am in love with him; everyone likes to say that and sometimes I feel like people diminish me to being a romantic interest because they don’t think I could be aligned intellectually with him. He always says that’s part of my charm, that I can reach people in different places. The question for me is: what is the point of putting Julian in a supermax prison? He is not a threat to anyone. It’s abuse and torture and I really hope it turns around. We need to have a big public uprising; he’s our Nelson Mandela… I could go on and on for days about him!
How did you meet him?
Vivienne Westwood introduced us. She knew we would get on great.
She is another famous campaigner for the injustices in the world.
People thought she was crazy when she started talking about climate change, but she is right, we can’t have business as usual. We need new unique thinkers to not be afraid. We need people to not follow the bewildered herd. If you are not talking about what you care about, then what are you doing?
It’s a good motto.
I always say, a sexy life is being engaged in the world, caring about other people, other things and having empathy. We are losing that human connection with each other and governments only care about getting richer and richer, it is the most narcissistic thing I have ever heard.
What do you think of Greta Thunberg?
She is an amazing speaker. She wants people to do something. It’s great when she says she doesn’t need applause, she just wants people to act. I love hearing her speak. These issues can be so complex that they’re hard to understand, but she puts them in simple terms.
How do you find the charities you work with?
It comes to me naturally. I went to Haiti after the earthquake with Sean Penn and met John from Waves for Water. Every time my kids take a surf trip to a remote area I go with them and take water filters to local community centres and churches. It’s always quite organic, I try and find the people who are actually helping. You can find big corporations to donate to, but I want to see and know the people on the front lines and help them. You can do a lot with $5,000, you know? “I once turned down doing a hair campaign because I didn’t want to add to all the plastic bottles in the world. I asked if they could make biodegradable bottles, and they said I was mad”
Do you think that there’s a big divide in America between those who help and those who don’t?
There are so many wealthy people in America, and then there are so many people who want to do more but can’t afford to; a lot of people who have the empathy don’t have the resources. But you can really help from within the community – I employ people who are homeless or who are AA and who come with a buddy to do my garden. That doesn’t take a lot of money. I try to help people register to vote, as voting is an empowering first step you can take for yourself. Some people, however, feel so beat down that they think no-one can help them, but people don’t believe that their vote doesn’t matter – look at what happened with Brexit.
I read that you turned a whole prison vegan.
Imagine how much it would save in energy and in animals if all prisons were vegan? I changed one prison in Arizona into vegan for a year and they saved about $300,000. The overweight prisoners became a better weight; the underweight prisoners became a better weight. I mean, essentially there are too many people in prison. It’s a real business in America. It’s disgusting and horrific – the children at the border going to private prisons that are essentially a money-maker for their owners? I feel like we are waiting for another world war. But people are getting away with it – and how do we make it change? We need to be protesting, we need to be writing letters to the government. Not just celebrities, everyone has to do it.
Celebrities have a real power though, don’t they?
Look at the Kardashians: they have millions of followers. Yes – we have a reality-TV star as president and that tells you a lot. It’s scary, as these are not the people who should be running the country. Trump owns beauty pageants and hung out with Jeffrey Epstein. It’s unacceptable that a person like this should be president. I don’t like it when people blame Julian Assange for exposing Hillary Clinton’s emails; she would have been an awful president, she is a real warmonger. They were her emails, Julian just leaked them. If we had the real information about people, then voters could make an informed decision. The voting system in America is pretty corrupt, but people need to get out there and vote. It’s revolution time.
You have a real hard-work ethic, where does that come from?
I like to work hard. I’m always doing a million things. Even having children, my kids were always very busy, and whatever husband I had at any given time was always very busy. We were always busy doing things we felt passionate about. You only have so many days in your life, you have to make each day important.
Do you think that celebrities should use their platform?
I am not a celebrity, I am a small-town girl who did Playboy, who did Baywatch. I am just an empathetic person who loves the world and who loves their children and who has a little bit of a platform. I would be doing what I am doing now if I wasn’t a celebrity, I would be doing exactly what I am doing – I’ve come full circle.
But do you think some celebrities could be smarter in the way they use their platforms? Let’s imagine the Kardashians started saying that flying was bad and wearing fur was bad…
I told Kim to stop wearing fur and she did. She used to look up to me. Kris Jenner used to ask me how the girls could be like me – I said that they really have to use their celebrity for good things. I did actually write to Kim the other day. I said, Kim, I need your help with Julian, I need you to get me a meeting with President Trump. I mean, if that’s the way it has to work, whatever. I am just trying to help. Who’s going to listen to me? I’m just a girl on the beach.
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