Didier Cohen – Dids to his friends – is rightly considered an inspirational and upstanding figure and perhaps, a misunderstood pretty boy. From a seemingly difficult upbringing, to living the high life, to battles with depression and drugs, he’s now come full circle. RK speaks to the actor, model, TV and radio personality, ahead of his DJ set at Pridefest Celebration.
“Where do you start talking about yourself?” asks the American-born Cohen as the discussion opens with the inevitable question about his challenging life as a teen. “I mean there’s no quick answer.”
His response isn’t stymied by reservation or reluctance. Rather, it becomes apparent that for Cohen, life is an opportunity not to be overlooked, despite its trials and tribulations.
“I had great parents and growing up for me was great, but things started going downhill for me when I was about 12-years-old,” he explains. “I was a really insecure young kid and got into trouble and ended up going to four middle and five high schools.” This eventually saw him kicked out of home. “My life at that time was a product of me; I was a fighter and rebel, a real troublemaker. I talk to my parents and their friends now about my behavior and they all agree that I was just an insecure child.”
There’s no doubt that as a teenager, Cohen fell on some very dark times. “I was homeless and I really had to find my own way. As a result I’m a huge advocate for the notion that people need to go through hard times to get to the good. There is no light without the dark,” he states.
“At 17, I got this job with Sony in A&R and instead of using that as an opportunity to turn my life around, I kept going down the same path – I was in trouble with the law and if I hadn’t been discovered by a model scout on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles at 21, who knows what might have happened?”
Living in the City Of Angels with its perpetual sunshine, celebrity and pizzazz – it wouldn’t be too hard to get caught up in the whirlwind of it all. But partying as a 17-year-old in the music industry didn’t get him very far.
“It all came back to find me,” he admits, reflecting on his time in the music business. “I knew what I wanted to do and I thought I knew how to do it. What I learnt from that period was that if you’re going to make bad choices, make sure you learn from them. The only thing that stops you from being successful is stopping. You know you’re going through bad times but you also need to know that things will improve – they have to.”
So the adage goes something like this: you’re nothing without your past and as a 28-year-old, Cohen’s thankful that it was the opportunity to migrate to Australia that transformed his life and ultimately rehabilitated him. “I’m not a jock,” he claims defensively. “I didn’t grow up playing sport and doing all that. Modeling just became a platform for me. I took it as a blessing and stopped partying hard and quit everything, essentially cold turkey.”
Admitting it was hard at first, coupled with the negative thoughts permeating through his psyche, things weren’t immediately easy. Perseverance paid though.
“I don’t think I’m this good-looking dude or whatever. When someone says, ‘come to a country where you don’t know anyone’ – that isn’t easy. But at the same time, it was physically impossible to get caught up with the people I was involved with in the past. I just realised I needed to better myself and wanted to grow and grow.”
And grow he did. Fast-forward to 2013 and Cohen is a leading voice of his generation, the golden pinup boy for his younger compatriots. His resume is extensive now – and he isn’t yet done. Appearing in film shorts and on the TV series The Apprentice has given him the opportunity to pursue a creative outlet through his relationship with fashion retailer, Cotton On. “I quit modeling in 2009 and didn’t think I would ever do it again but when they (Cotton On) contacted me, something clicked – a quintessential brand that wanted to give me a voice and the chance to create my own collection. It has been a great partnership.”
You can also add to his resume his work as host on a revamped judging panel alongside Jennifer Hawkins on Australia’s Next Top Model, he’s also a DJ, producer and ambassador and tireless volunteer for underprivileged youth. “I could never be one of these people who turned up once at a fundraiser. I’ve lived the dream now and this is what I want to do with my life. I want to make my mark on this world and give back – there is still so much to do. Every day people contact me and ask, ‘Is there a point?’ The simple answer is yes – never give up.”
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2 @ PRIDEFEST CELEBRATION, RUSSELL SQUARE, NORTHBRIDGE
Get your tickets here.