An interview with Fern Britton

I wrote this article back in 2011 and have been hosting a link to it from my site. However, I noticed it’s lost its punctuation and formatting – so here’s the original, along with links to  Iain Rennie Hospices at Home, now known as Rennie Grove, the charity that prompted Fern to grant the interview in the first place.

As she launches a new Chilterns cycle challenge, Fern Britton talks about padded saddles, Strictly Come Dancing Christmas and THAT gastric band…

First things first. Up close and personal, Fern Britton looks even better in the flesh than she does on the television.
She parks her modest little run-around, steps out into the rain and sashays into the Iain Rennie charity office in Chalfont St Giles, close to her home, the epitome of a yummy mummy in her plain tube dress, waist-clincher belt, flat pixie boots and trendy leather jacket. Her only jewellery is a ruby-winged heart necklace and a discreet watch – no rings, no bracelets, not even earrings.
A different kind of person might have dashed into the loo before facing a camera and interviews – not Fern. Clearly her decision to step down from This Morning, the hugely popular daytime show she hosted for more than 10 years, suits her. What hasn’t changed is the megawatt smile familiar from a thousand TV sofa chat close-ups and not a few paparazzi snaps. She greets the fundraisers in the office like old friends and they, in turn, congratulate her on her appearance, because despite the rained-on hair and today’s gruelling schedule she looks sassy and she’s glowing with vitality.

It’s the make-up from Strictly Come Dancing, she says, without a trace of false modesty. She’s been rehearsing with her secret partner (there’s speculation it might be fellow Buckinghamshire resident Brendan Cole, but she’s tight-lipped because we’re meeting before the Christmas special show line-up has been announced) and has driven straight to this interview from the dance studio. She’s loving the whole experience, from the gorgeous dress (she rummages in her handbag to show me a swatch of the material, but can’t find it, to our mutual disappointment) and the high-heeled dancing shoes, to strutting her stuff with some of entertainment’s finest. She’s never had the time to accept an invitation to join the show before though she did a solo number for Let’s Dance for Comic Relief.

The extra eyeshadow and foundation, together with her shorter hairstyle, may add a certain glamour, but as Fern walks up the stairs in front of me I can’t help but notice (women tend to) how very slender she is, or rather, has become.
After we’ve talked about her extensive charity work I finally come out with the question I’ve been itching to ask since hearing all those greetings in the office downstairs, ‘Does she mind everyone commenting on her size these days?’.

“I could either continue as I was and take the consequences, or think – hang on a minute, I don’t want my knees to be replaced”

Famously, or rather, notoriously, she had a gastric band fitted some four years ago and kept the operation a secret while crediting a better eating and exercise regime as first the pounds, then the stones, fell off her formerly voluptuous plus-size frame.
She draws herself up in her chair and looks me straight in the eye as she replies: “These things don’t work by themselves. You have to work hard to lose weight! I wish people would acknowledge how hard it is to get fit or get fitter.”

Notably, though, there are mini mince pies and biscuits on offer as we chat, and Fern doesn’t touch them. But far from getting annoyed, she’s flattered by those kind remarks about her looks. She says her age, (she’s 53), has given her an understanding of who she is. She decided to lose weight to improve her health, which was beginning to cause concern, not for anyone else’s benefit.
“I could either continue as I was and take the consequences, or think – hang on a minute, I don’t want my knees to be replaced,” she says.

Gastric band or not, she stresses her sustained weight loss has been achieved over several years. She feels as good as she did in her twenties, but adds:
“I’ve got wrinkles, I’ve got this and that, but since were talking about the Iain Rennie Hospice, we are also in an era where we must look after ourselves and do something to prevent those illnesses we can.”
Not that every illness is preventable, but with the National Health Service under scrutiny, a population that takes more responsibility for its fitness takes pressure off the system, she feels.

Becoming involved with the Iain Rennie Hospice at Home charity wasn’t a sudden epiphany, but as she grew up and still lives nearby she was aware of its work and its shops in the Chilterns.
“I’m all for local. The big national and global charities like Oxfam and Save The Children do amazing things but you mustn’t forget local charities which may be helping the person right next door to you. It’s particularly in this financial climate you have to think neighbourly charity begins at home,” she says.

It’s a phrase that might be used to describe Fern’s new fitness philosophy, which ties in perfectly with the IRHH‘s latest fundraising venture.
The charity is launching its first Chilterns Cycle Challenge, in March, featuring three different routes. The longest of these, at 75 miles, follows the boundary of the current Iain Rennie nursing catchment in the Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire Chilterns. The other two routes, at 10 miles and 35 miles, take in the area’s glorious countryside – and who better to launch their new fundraiser than a Buckinghamshire resident with a known penchant for pedal power?
“I’ve always cycled,” she says. “I cycled around the Chalfonts in my youth. Then you reach an age when you’re excited with your car. But when I was about 45 or 46, I picked up a bike again. I’d bought one for my husband (celebrity chef Phil Vickery) for Christmas, but he’s much more of a runner.” Fern borrowed Phil’s bike to ride the roads around their home in Holmer Green and became hooked.
“I started off doing a mile or two and when I got to four miles I thought I was doing very well – then I got to eight, then I did a ride for the British Heart Foundation that was 15 miles and that went well.”

Professor Lord Robert Winston, the fertility expert, involved her in Women for Women charity cycle rides and she has continued to clock up some impressive mileage by cycling through Egypt, India, Cuba, Jordan and most recently, China.
“Before you know it, you’re doing 30 miles, or 60 miles,” says Fern, revealing she’s progressed from a padded gel saddle to a sliver of a thing. She’s not competitive, though, and doesn’t tear around at Tour de France speeds. What she does do is train, 10 to 15 miles, three times a week plus up to 40 miles at weekends and it’s this regime that has kept the weight loss continuing.
“I’ve got a very understanding husband,” says Fern, when I ask how she fits all that cycling into her already busy schedule. She has a new series of Fern Britton Meets interview shows coming up soon with the Rev Jesse Jackson, Clarissa Dickson-Wright, June Brown (Eastenders’ Dot Cotton) and Cliff Richard in the hot seat that got Tony Blair talking candidly about the Iraq War in the last series. Then there’s the novel writing and being a mum to four children.

She urges prospective cyclists to take advantage of the training advice being offered by Reactivate Bucks in the lead-up to the IRHH event and she will be there on the day, probably lagging at the back of the pack, chatting, she says.
“If we can get 500 cyclists and they manage to raise £150 each – 500 times £150 – that’s… a lot of money!” she says, as we give up on the maths (it’s £75,000 I work out later).
And if Fern’s experience is anything to go by, taking a cycle challenge could be the start of something truly amazing.

Find out more about the Chilterns Cycle Challenge at http://www.renniegrove.org.

Fern Britton Interview

I interviewed television presenter Fern Britton before Christmas 2011. It was published in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire Life and I have been hosting a link to that site. However, I spotted that the text has lost its formatting, so here’s the original version, uploaded complete with links to the charity Fern was supporting when she granted the interview.

December update – Lights, Strictly Christmas and action

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve been busy interviewing, writing and bringing up my (not very small) babies… and I’ve got the lurgy. Here’s a taster of what my diary has been filled with recently.

My daughter celebrated her 18th birthday last week. It’s true to say I have no idea where the time’s gone since she was born. It barely seems two years since I was asking myself how my son had reached 18. I can’t say I don’t feel my age since bits of me are creaking and, with the lurgy, croaking, but 18 years? Really? I’d better get used to the idea my baby is all grown up, however, she’s interviewing for a place to study medicine at various universities around the country – another pull on my time as well as hers.

The night before her interview at Liverpool University I whizzed along to Waddesdon to see the Christmas lights at the Manor. This is one of my favourite invitations of the year. Waddesdon Manor ‘s current series of Christmas themes is the great European cities settled in by the Rothschilds’ banking sons – last year was Frankfurt, this year, Paris. Waddesdon Manor really is magical any time, but with the bachelor’s wing specially decorated for Christmas (the planning takes months) and the trees outside spectacularly lit it’s well worth a visit. I went on the guided tour with an acquaintance who also happens to be the marketing director at another of the nation’s grand houses. I’m sure she won’t mind me mentioning she was more than a little wistful when she saw how beautiful the Manor’s Christmas decorations were, and she had to have two buns at the press tea to make up for it.

Galloping through to December I found myself interviewing Fern Britton (that’s the Ready Steady Cook Fern, not the other one, in case you’re one of those people who get Fearne Cotton and Fern Britton muddled). It required a quick turnaround with only a day’s notice. I was busy all morning and into the afternoon, but Fern and I arranged to meet at the Iain Rennie Hospice at Home office at 5pm – it’s a charity she’s supporting with her renewed enthusiasm for cycling. I sat in the car park waiting for a while, then knocked on the door and met up with the IRHH’s PR officer, Gemma.

As we made a cup of tea, Fern arrived and what struck me was her poise and elegance and down-to-earth entrance. She parked her little run around in the car park and skipped in from the rain. Everybody complimented her on her looks – she was glammed up thanks to the make-up artists at the BBC, where she’d spent the afternoon recording the trailer for Strictly Christmas. There was no mistaking the subtext in the comments – she’s lost stones in weight and every woman in the office noticed. Fern was candid enough to tell me about her battle with the bulge in the interview. I’ll post it here just as soon as it’s published.

Within days of interviewing Fern an e-mail inviting me to interview House of Commons Speaker John Bercow turned up in my in-box. I’ve been chasing this interview for several months, but with the election and his busy schedule there’s been no space in his diary for me. I always approach my interviewees with an open mind. That’s not to say I don’t read up on them before I meet them or I give them an easy time, but there’s also no point standing on the sidelines with an agenda and if you want a fair interview you have to be an impartial observer. I did ask John Bercow for his views about the HS2 Link (which will affect many of his constituents adversely) and question why there was such a furore over the omission of LibDem and Labour candidates from the Buckingham ballot paper last May. I hope my interviews give you the feeling you were in the room with us and that the questions I asked were those you wanted answered. You can let me know what you think of the interview when I’ve posted it, but in meantime it’s on hold for a couple of months until the magazine that is paying me for it can fit it in.

In the run-up to Christmas I’m writing an article for The English Home which has been fun, though with my lurgy flattening my senses, I’m feeling slightly worried about when I’m going to chase up all the loose ends. The deadline is next week.

It’s been a busy month, so I’ve had little time for fiction writing – I know there are people out there who say you should make time if you want to be a writer of fiction. I assume these people don’t have five children at home and have a living to earn and a household to run at the same time. Or maybe they have a wife. I have been working on Fallen, since my other fiction has taken a bit of a back seat at the moment. I have taken to reading a couple of light (if there is such a thing) crime novels while I get over my ‘flu-like lurgy. They’re not my usual thing, but I thought I ought to get a bit more of a handle on the genre if I’m writing what seems to be shaping up into a crime mystery sci-fi thriller. I’ll post the next instalment of Fallen soon, I promise.

In the meantime I wish you a Happy & Healthy Christmas. Now where’s my box of tissues?