Pamela Stephenson likes to eyeball sharks on scuba adventures and can't shake her love affair with Fiji.
The one we had as a family in Fiji just after Billy [comedian Billy Connolly] and I got married. We had all five of our kids there and lots of friends on the island and just relaxed in the sun and laughed a lot. Oh, and I got to see Billy with a tiny bit of a suntan. He's usually pale blue, but he turned a pinkish shade of beige. I've been to Fiji many times; in fact, I have a family connection to the place because my mother was born there and spent her early childhood in a colonial setting in Suva. My grandmother was a Methodist missionary in Suva, and she used to talk to me about it with such love and longing. I have spent time on several of the islands in Fiji and have taken my entire family there. Billy and I got married on Toberua in a "traditional" Fijian wedding that took place over three days of celebrations (a great excuse if one of us forgets our wedding anniversary). We feasted on sea snake and local ferns (yes, really) and did our best to achieve my husband's goal to be "windswept and interesting".
That would probably be the Lake Palace in Udaipur, a gorgeous gleaming Maharaja's palace in the middle of a lake with a flower-filled inner courtyard, and waking to the sounds of a flute. Romantic sunsets, fire dancers on the roof. So exotic; it was amazing. They even scattered rose petals as we arrived.
What do you need for a perfect holiday?
Water, beach, a dive boat and a lovely, healthy marine environment with plenty of sharks. Oh, and places to dance onshore at night. A good addition would be a gorgeous man - preferably my husband. I love the Fijian climate, enjoy the tropical gardens, and adore the people. They are warm, welcoming and laid-back and I feel very at home with them. In Suva, I like to wander around the gardens, dally at the market and visit the museum, which has very nice south Pacific exhibits, including a fantastic, enormous, ocean-going native canoe. Most of all, I enjoy heading for the more remote islands. Each one a quintessential tropical paradise.
What do you always take with you?
My scuba gear, a string bikini, flip-flops, a sarong, bug spray, suntan lotion and my laptop. Yes, unfortunately, I can't leave home without it.
What's your best piece of travel advice?
S--t happens, so just relax. You'll get there sooner or later. And talk to other travellers on the road, especially people who've just come from where you're going. They'll save you a lot of mistakes and legwork. And here's my secret for a truly great, relaxing holiday in Fiji: if you tend to be a bit on the pacey, anxious side like me and find it hard to unwind, sample the local kava. It will render you comatose, guaranteeing enforced rest, and bestow on you a slightly scary, soporific smile so any jolly reveller approaching with deck quoits in hand will think better of it and leave you alone. Seriously, folks, you can't buy this kind of advice.
Where do you want to go next?
I have heard there's a place in South Africa where you can dive with tiger sharks (there are several operators and locations). It will be a bit scary, but I can't wait. I particularly love to dive in Fiji, in places like Taveuni, with it's truly amazing reef system. Some of the most gorgeous dives in the world are available in Fijian waters. The water is warm and the visibility is usually exceptional. In particular, I found the Somosomo Strait I visited on my sailboat a few years ago to be outstanding. I remember an enormous, pristine "White Wall" (actually pale blue) that was totally encrusted with soft and hard corals. Then there was the "Rainbow Reef" with multicoloured corals so vibrant they almost seemed unreal. Fiji is also the place to see pelagic marine life - turtles, tuna, rays, sharks, in particular. At certain times of the year, you can see pilot whales and humpback and sperm whales, too.
Billy and I once went to New York; this was before we lived there, quite early in our relationship. We went to a restaurant on the first night and got terrible food poisoning from some seafood pasta and, well, I'll leave the rest to your imagination. We quickly got to know each other very, very well. Almost too well. Fortunately, we both had a sense of humour.
What's the biggest packing mistake you've made?
Just recently, I went to Argentina and misread the website that gave weather and temperature info for Buenos Aires, so I froze the entire time and eventually had to go to a department store and buy a jacket. Never done that before. Senior moment?
Which is the worst hotel ever stayed in?
Years ago, I remember staying in a hostel where a stranger walked in and puked all over my rucksack. Nice.
What do you avoid on holiday?
War zones, crowds, people addressing me on a loudspeaker.
What do you hate about holidays?
That false sense of security that life will always be about lying on a sunbed with a pina colada in my hand. That rude awakening when I hit the airport.
As told to Julietta Jameson
Pamela Stephenson's The Varnished Untruth is published by Simon & Schuster, RRP $29.99.