Kent Life interviews Gloria Hunniford at Knole, Sevenoaks

PUBLISHED: 10:58 23 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:26 20 February 2013

Kent Life interviews Gloria Hunniford at Knole, Sevenoaks

Kent Life interviews Gloria Hunniford at Knole, Sevenoaks

Gloria Hunniford reveals the secret of her new-found energy, talks about her long TV and radio career and why Hever will always have a special place in her heart

Fit for life

Gloria Hunniford reveals the secret of her new-found energy, talks about her long TV and radio career and why Hever will always have a special place in her heart

Waving cheerily as she crosses the courtyard at National Trust jewel Knole in Sevenoaks to meet me on a sunny Monday morning, Gloria Hunniford is the picture of health and vitality.

With her beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Gemma at her side, the blonde, petite figure in chic navy and white is immediately recognisable from our TV screens and magazines and then she calls out a friendly hello and the picture is complete.

That soft, distinctive Irish accent has been delighting audiences since her early radio broadcasts in Northern Ireland for the BBC. Originally a singer, Gloria began her career in radio in 1969 in the middle of the Troubles and at the start of free-flow broadcasting, when rigidly scripted, planned and controlled broadcasts were ditched in favour of something far more fluid and reactive.

She recalls the marvellous mentor who gave her that first break: I remember looking around the current affairs news department and he said youre not coming in here to doing knitting and sewing and cooking, youre as good as any bloke in this place and youll take your place and youll do your bombs, bullets and barricades.

It was a great lesson for life: Without me having to think about it, he planted in my mind the idea of sexism, or the lack of it, so thats never been an issue for me. Ive never been conscious of somebody saying to me either you cant have the job because youre a woman, or because of your age.

An improbable 71, softly pretty and standing just five foot two and a half inches, Gloria is a lot tougher than appearances suggest and when she puts her mind to something it tends to get done. Fast.

Aware that her cholesterol levels were high (not helped by an under-active thyroid), she went on the Flora pro.activ programme for three weeks and in that time lowered it by an impressive 19 per cent.

A convert now for life, Gloria is currently fronting the TV and magazine campaign to spread the word about how to tackle whats often dubbed the silent killer though of course not everyone can be guaranteed quite such spectacular results as hers.

I was surprised about was how easy it was to make the changes in my life, she admits. For example, I have a goodie cupboard for my grandchildren, but I really did put a mental lock on it, and I stepped up my exercise too. I walk my dog Gemma, but I also have a static bike and I put it in front of the TV and Ill do that at least three times a week.

A self-confessed vitamin freak since the age of 17, Gloria had always used Flora as her spread, so it was just a question of adding in the mini health drinks and the milk, though she doesnt use the latter exclusively.

When my cholesterol reduced so dramatically, I was really happy - and my doctor was very pleased too! Psychologically if youre doing something to make yourself feel better, you will feel better.

She adds: I judge my life now not by being a perfect size eight, which Im not, but by my energy and how I feel. And I want to have the energy and to feel right for everything I do, whether its work, play, tennis or holidays and now I have a new energy and keenness for it, and I like it!

I judge my life now not by being a perfect size eight, which Im not, but by my energy and how I feel

Gloria says her drive also stems from a Protestant childhood growing up in Portadown with a mother who, if she spotted her sitting in a chair reading, would ask what are you doing sitting there doing nothing? Go and do something.

The downside is that I do find it hard to relax because I hear that phrase buzzing in my head, with the result its that same old story if you want something done, ask a busy person.

Gloria is indeed unstoppable and her broadcast credits range from Wogan to Songs of Praise, Cash in the Attic to Castle in the Country. She has a weekly debating slot on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, has been awarded TV Personality of the Year and Best Dressed Female; shes made a health and exercise video, hosted the Eurovision Song Contest Previews three times and in 2005 was a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing.

The first woman to have her own daily radio show on Radio 2 in the early eighties, 30 years on Gloria hit the headlines again when she Angela Rippon and Jennie Bond presented Rip Off Britain last year right in the middle of the ageism on TV row.

Weve all been around the block and it came at the right time with the current economic climate, because everyone feels they have been ripped off. We made the series for daytime but it just hit a nerve and very quickly turned to primetime.

If theyd asked three 19-year-olds to do it, it wouldnt have had the same gravitas, but Ive always believed with TV and radio that its an amalgam of ages who watch and listen so why not have a family of presenters? We were listened to because we have the experience and the believability.

Gloria certainly has life skills to offer shes been through a divorce (to BBC current affairs producer, the late Don Keating), re-married in later life, and has been bereaved. Her family background, work ethic and faith all stood her in good stead when she lost her beloved daughter Caron to breast cancer in 2004.

The public rose to support her and she received an extraordinary 8,000 letters of support. One woman wrote: You have to find a way to make sense of something that makes no sense at all. Both you and Caron have the ear of the public and you now have to find a way of doing something in Carons name to create something positive.

On the basis of that advice the Caron Keating Foundation was born Gloria is its administrator and she finds it enormously comforting to be doing something constructive such as raising money to pay for pieces of machinery that diagnose cancer earlier, counselling services, complimentary therapies and Hospice movements.

Work has always been Glorias safe place and she went back within six or seven weeks, saying: Its good to keep your head busy because it diverts your mind.

Another way thats helped Gloria deal with her grief is what she believes to be messages from her late daughter in the form of lone feathers. One fell at her feet the day of Carons funeral and they have continued to appear.

It was Carons anniversary on 13 April and my two sons were abroad, so Steven and I decided to go out to Hever where she is buried. I arrived at her grave at 6.15pm, the time she died, to put down some flowers and there was a whacking great feather there, just on its own. I keep them all, I have jars and pockets full of them. I dont care if people believe it or not, I always say its Carons angel calling card.

The family remains very close, Gloria calls her sons every day and she and her second husband Stephen spend as much time as they can with Carons boys Charlie and Gabriel.

The couple live in Sevenoaks and adore it, but its a place Gloria discovered almost by accident. In 1982 when the BBC offered me a permanent job in London I needed a house to rent and I hadnt a clue I only knew Selfridges and Harrods!

Her boss suggested either Sevenoaks, Amersham and Wimbledon as being excellent places for education, and when Sevenoaks School accepted her youngest son, Michael, and she found a rented house close by that felt just right, the decision was made.

I came from County Armagh which is called the Orchard County and because Kent is the Garden of England the terrain is similar, so I made the transmission quite easily.

I keep on reading that Im about to move and Im not, Ill be here for ever!

My favourite Kent

Shops: I go to Hoopers in Tunbridge Wells all the time, they have the crme de la crme of designers and it saves all that hunting around in London. Bluewater nearby is very tempting and very well laid out and in Sevenoaks I like The Mousetrap.

Going out: We love San Bas and Food For Thought in Westerham. I go to the Pantiles for lunch and coffee. We support the Stag cinema in Sevenoaks, its just so easy, then well have supper at Chez Gerard opposite.

Place: Hever is my favourite place to visit and the countryside around it is beautiful weve had many family occasions there over the years, from birthday dinners to weddings and funerals. Its small enough to imagine you could actually live there.

Walk: Stephen and I walk everywhere with Gemma, a walk we particularly enjoy is through the woods beyond Seal.

Country drives: I love the villages, going through Westerham and Brasted, and the drives in a Goudhurst direction. Work takes me down to the seaside towns like Deal, which I love, and Whitstable.

Flora pro.activ

Introducing these foods from the Flora pro.activ range into your diet (spreads, one-a-day Mini Health Drinks and Milk) is ideal if you want to lower your cholesterol and follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. They contain concentrated amounts of plant sterols, which actively remove cholesterol from the body by partly blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the gut.

For further information, visit:

With thanks to the National Trust for permission for our photoshoot at Knole, Sevenoaks TN15 tel: 01732 450 608.

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