Life

Gloria Hunniford: Once you've got your luck, you've got to work hard to retain it

From Rip Off Britain to Loose Women, This Morning and The One Show, not to mention several of her own shows on TV and radio, Gloria Hunniford is well known and fondly regarded throughout these islands. She tells Prudence Wade about ageism, healing and her new autobiography

Gloria Hunniford with her late daughter Caron Keating at her marriage to Russ Lindsay in 1991

TOO old. Too female. Not paid enough. We hear an awful lot about the inequality between men and women on TV. But at 77 years of age, it might surprise you to hear that Gloria Hunniford doesn't feel she's ever encountered ageism or sexism during her career.

"I'm quite sure bigwigs would have said they wanted a younger person – or a man – for the job, but I was never made conscious of it,'' says the Co Armagh-born radio and television presenter.

And while Gloria might be diminutive in stature, her bubbly personality and natural charm have unsurprisingly carried her well at work.

"I've always felt that I'm a hard worker, and I think my dedication and passion always stood me in good stead,'' she explains matter-of-factly.

However, she never comes across as big-headed, and concedes she has been incredibly fortunate throughout her life.

"Luck and being in the right place at the right time plays a major part,'' she admits, "but once you've got your luck, you've got to work hard to retain it.''

Gloria is taking a look back at that luck and hard work in her book My Life. A follow-up to Always With You, which was an exploration of grief after losing her daughter Caron in 2004, this latest publication explores a life that's taken her from Northern Ireland before the Troubles, to a glittering entertainment career in London.

As engaging and affable in person as she is on Loose Women, it comes as no surprise that she's been something of a trailblazer in the media, as the first female to land her own nightly programme on UTV and the first woman to nab a daytime show on BBC Radio 2.

Her upbringing was unusual, to say the least. She giggles over wild tales from her childhood in Portadown, where she started singing professionally at the age of seven – sometimes performing five nights a week and coming home at 2am to get up for school five hours later.

For Gloria, recounting this time came naturally: "The early part of my life was easy,'' she smiles. "Because it was different, and I had so many different kinds of lives within that.''

From early on, she had a love of performing and entertaining – whether it was singing, or later, on the radio. Her passion was so strong that very little could deter her, even being put on an IRA death list in 1969.

There were many close calls during her time as a reporter during the Troubles. One anecdote she tells that particularly stands out is when Caron was sick from school, so Gloria took her along to work, only to find herself and her daughter caught in the midst of a riot in Derry. Needless to say, she didn't take her kids (she also had two sons, Paul and Michael) along to any jobs after that.

Eamonn Holmes and Gloria Hunniford host a peace rally at Belfast City Hall in 1996

Gloria never brags about her bravery, but it's evident when you meet her and read her book. In the mid-70s, she was about to go on air in the BBC studios in London when she was told that a car bomb was about to go off right next to the building. Instead of leaving, she and a few others stayed inside the building and the programme ran smoothly – even when the bomb went off and the air was thick with dust.

And that wasn't the only issue she seemed to breeze through in the workplace. Gloria thinks her career flies in the face of all accusations of ageism and sexism in the entertainment industry.

"When it comes to ageism, I just laugh, because here we are, three women of a certain age, being recommissioned for Rip Off Britain until 2019,'' she says.

She is, of course, referring to the vastly successful BBC One show that she presents alongside 70-year-old Julia Somerville and 72-year-old Angela Rippon.

"I've always been realistic,'' says Gloria, who married husband Stephen Way in 1998 after the tragic death of her first husband Don. "I've always known that I wouldn't be prime time every night.

"Where I think I've been able to succeed is the fact that I am prepared to go in different directions.'' This is proved by the sheer number of hats she has worn during her career – from hard news to chat shows and entertainment.

It also helped that she never had the pressure to provide for her family – her career was just something she enjoyed doing. "I wasn't the breadwinner of the family, so it was all just a bonus,'' she says with a smile.

It's this passion for her work that's helped her through some of the toughest moments of her life; namely, the loss of her daughter Caron to cancer at just 41 years old.

She set up the Caron Keating Foundation in her daughter's memory, which sends money to cancer charities in the UK and helps finance professional carers and support groups. Thirteen years after Caron's death, Gloria is still very much moved when talking about her.

"Caron's charity work is my healing,'' she says quietly. "I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have that in my life to be really positive about.

Sir Cliff Richard and Gloria Hunniford with a Jill Dando rose at the Hampton Court Flower Show in 1999

"Work for me has always been solid ground,'' she adds. "It's always been a constant in my life because I've been doing it since I was seven – and the foundation fits into this as well. I think Caron would be very proud."

While it can't exactly be said that Gloria's career proves there is no sexism or ageism in the media, it's still an impressive testament to what can be achieved by a woman of a certain age – and don't expect to see her slowing down any time soon.

:: My Life by Gloria Hunniford is published by John Blake Publishing on October 19.

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