Deborah Hutton kicks off her sandals and steps into a tiny, south-coast beachside cottage. It’s filled with the sound of the surf, the smell of salty air and memories of archetypal Aussie summers whiled away in fibro holiday houses by the sea. In the kitchen, a kettle is on the boil. Also in the kitchen is the salty-haired boyfriend, Andrew Marsh (aka. Marshy), a surfer and meditation teacher.
Deborah looks relaxed, settled, happy – many miles, metaphorically and geographically, from the hum and whirl of activity that consumed her day-to-day life in Sydney. She settles on the couch cradling a mug of tea, and the woman who has sprinted from one project to the next since leaving both school and home to launch her modelling career at 16, explains why, at 60, she opted for a sea change and a calmer, more contemplative pace.
“A couple of things coincided. One was the fact that I was feeling very exposed in Bronte,” she admits. There was the awful incident in which an ex-boyfriend stalked her and staged a break-in at her home in 2018, and media reports at the time all but included a map of the location. Then there were the paparazzi.
“It was a beautiful house,” she says. “I lived there for four years and I loved every minute. But it had a lot of eyeballs on it. I felt I’d lost my privacy. Even going down to the beach, people [were] lurking. So that was part of it.”
Then COVID hit, and the lockdowns, and Deborah revelled in the peace and quiet. That changed her perspective profoundly.
“When we went into lockdown, I fell in love with Sydney,” she explains, “and particularly Bronte, because there was no one around. There were no cars on the road. There was this heavenly peace. It was like a beautiful blanket had settled over the area, and I loved it.
“It was the first time in my life where I’d just stopped. I didn’t work. There was literally no work for three or four months. That was a joy too. And this frenetic energy that those beach areas have – kids and bikes and screaming and lots of people parking and, you know, the whole thing – that just subsided and to experience what the area was like without that was beautiful.
“Then, finally, I came for a drive along the south coast. I’d known about this area for years, and there’s something I’ve always loved about it. We drove up and down and went, ‘this just feels right’. So, when Sydney went back to its crazy manic self, the decision was made.”
And she’s had not a single regret. What gives her the greatest joy?
“Everything,” she says, beaming. “I feel like I’ve moved back to the 1970s. People smile. People say hello with a smile. There’s an absolute community. Everyone has a dog. Dogs are allowed on beaches. There are beautiful young kids working in the local shops and cafes. I always say hello to them. I say hello to everybody. I love the local butcher who does ridiculously good pies. I hate him for it. I love driving along the coast to get here. I love the sound of the waves. I love the birds. I’m not even a bird person. I’ve been finding my green thumb. I never knew I had one. It’s very special. I’ve found my happy place.”
It’s no coincidence that finding this place of joy coincided with turning 60, and then, just last December, 61. In early 2012, Deborah celebrated turning 50 by appearing entirely, gloriously, proudly naked on the cover of The Weekly. It was a very public coming of age and an acknowledgement that female beauty and strength are ageless. But turning 60 has been a far more inward-looking journey.
“It’s interesting,” she says, “because turning 60, it’s not just turning a fresh page. I feel like I’ve put my life down over there and I’ve picked up a brand new book that has fresh, clean pages, and I’m so excited to look at the blank book and go, ‘what can happen from here on for the next 20-plus years?’ It’s so liberating, so exciting. I am the happiest I’ve been in such a long time.
“Turning 60 coincided with a decision to do less of the things I’ve felt I had to do and more of the things that matter to me. It’s simplifying my life. I think I’ve always made myself busy. I was trying to jam everything in and do as much as I could and tie it off with a bow and move on to the next thing, the next job, whatever. Turning 60, moving down here, I wanted to walk away from that, to calm things down. I’ve just calmed the f**k down.”
Sixty has also been about finally feeling comfortable in her own skin, and her own psyche. And about finding her own voice.
“Another thing that I love,” she begins and then stops for a minute to gather her thoughts.
“… I think, because I started working so young, when I was 16, and then, in my twenties, I was representing Grace Bros and then I started shooting television shows and representing brands like Holden and Qantas. So, I always had to be whoever that brand wanted me to be. I had to represent a brand, without really wondering about what was underneath. I just put on whatever I had to be for other people. So I’ve got to say, I’m the most comfortable in my body that I’ve ever been… and I’m more me now than I’ve ever been…
“I feel so lucky to be 60. I’ve had an amazing life; I’ve been very fortunate. Now I can put the façade away a little bit; put ‘Deborah Hutton’ over there a little bit; just be Deb and relax and enjoy the next 20 years; work on things I’m passionate about; bring it down to the things that really matter.”
One thing that matters to Deborah is meditation, which she didn’t learn from Marshy, but she admits that having a meditation teacher in the house does make her that little bit more disciplined.
“I meditate regularly,” she says. “I do TM [Transcendental Meditation]. I’m lucky that I can sit here and open the doors and the thing that brings me to it is the sound of the waves.
“Meditation just reminds me that we are all one. It reminds me of the bigger picture. Everyone is tripping out right now because of what’s happening with the environment and the war in Ukraine and financial markets, electricity prices, inflation, mortgage stress, you name it. Everyone is feeling it. It’s a collective stress. But there’s a greater story here. We are but a blip. All the little things that stress me out, that trip me up, they actually don’t matter in the big scheme of things. We stress about going forward in life. What if this happens? It probably won’t. We also stress about stuff that has happened in the past. But what’s past is gone. It doesn’t exist anymore. Meditation reminds you to live in the present.”
*WATCH: Go behind-the-scenes on our shoot with Deborah. (Article continues below video)*
Meditation might also have helped her with menopause, which Deborah admits is a very personal, very individual journey but one that she “sailed through pretty well” by and large. “I went on HRT [hormone replacement therapy] when I felt I needed to balance my system out a little bit but I’m transitioning away from that now,” she says.
Deborah’s appearance has been integral to her self-image and her career for most of her adult life, so watching her body change post-60 has, she admits, taken some getting used to. Though as she clambers over furniture, balances on railings and sprints around the garden in our photo shoot, she looks decades younger.
“I’m bigger than I’ve been,” she says, “and I can’t seem to lose the weight. I know people say that happens after 60. It is what it is. I’m trying to accept that for me. The most important things are strength and flexibility, so I go to the gym and do pilates, and I walk a lot. But I can’t pretend that I’m going to fit into all the clothes I used to fit into.
“The joy of being down here is that I can let go of all that. I live in little frocks and my Frankie4 sandshoes. I wake up in the morning and just put my SPF tinted sunscreen on and my hat and that’s it. It’s really easy. I can go and swim in a pool and there’s not going to be a camera around. I don’t have to suck my tummy in because I’m just mixing in with everybody else. There’s an acceptance there that I’m still working on, but I’m getting better at it because the reality is that I’m healthy and I’ve got a beautiful life…
“I just have to accept the fact that I’m turning into my mother,” she adds and laughs.
Deborah’s mother has moved into an aged care home in the Southern Highlands, and Deb says they’ve grown closer as they’ve both mellowed with age.
“She’s much softer than she’s ever been,” she says with a chuckle.
“She never used to say she loved me. Now she’s, ‘I love you.’ I’m like, ‘Wow, where did you come from? Who are you and what have you done with my mother?’ But it’s really beautiful. We’ve found a much deeper love than has ever been reflected in our relationship. And she’s insanely stoic. She’s lost a lot of her mobility and her independence, but she’s always put on a stiff upper lip: ‘I’m okay, I can’t complain,’ is what she says.”
Aside from family and friends, two things that remain important to Deborah and that she hasn’t jettisoned in the great move south are her commitment to raising awareness around skin cancer and her passion for design.
After her last shocking bout with skin cancer, and the story and graphic cover image we shot for The Australian Women’s Weekly, she has become a spokesperson for the cause. She has also created her own range of sunhats, Canopy Bay.
“This is such a passion project for me,” she says. “After that Women’s Weekly cover, there was an enormous reaction and I was contacted by a lot of people. One of them was a hat company and they said, ‘You may not realise that the hat you’re wearing might not be giving you sun protection.’ Every hat doesn’t give proper sun protection, but this company works with a fabric called flexi-braid which is UPF50+. They asked me if I’d like to work with them and we spent a year designing these hats. I wanted them to be Australian-made, and I wanted a lifestyle range, with golf hats and beach hats and hats you can go to lunch in, hats that are stylish enough to wear to a daytime wedding. I loved working on the colours and designs and braids and trims, but the biggest message is that you need good sun protection.”
Deborah’s other passion project is her new ‘At Home with Deborah Hutton’ homewares range through My House. At the moment, there’s a beautiful, natural beachy collection in store with just the same aesthetic Deb is creating in her little cottage by the sea. Though the little cottage won’t be here forever of course – there is a grand plan to transform it into a sprawling, airy, elegant beachside home.
“I’m a homemaker,” she says. “I see myself fussing around this kooky little shack. I love making a home. I love the feeling of being at home, whether I’m by myself or whether I have a house full of people. I love entertaining. I love making a home a home. I love creating an environment that feels good and reflects calm.”
We can hear Marshy pottering around in the very cozy, homey kitchen. On first impressions he seems like a down-to-earth, good-natured bloke. And the two of them are plainly head-over-heels in love. Deborah doesn’t much want to talk about their relationship, but she will say he is a significant contributing factor to the joy that fills her life.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve found,” she says, when asked what she’s learnt about love these past few years. “I’ve found absolute contentment and happiness. That’s what I’ve found. It’s a lovely place to land. It’s a really beautiful time and it’s a time to treasure. Every moment is a gift.”