Life

Julia Bradbury: I couldn't stop working – it's part of who I am

Surgery forced her to slow down but Julia Bradbury admits switching off can be a challenge. She tells Gabrielle Fagan how she keeps the balance

Julia Bradbury presented the BBC's Countryfile for 10 years until 2014

TV PRESENTER and mum-of-three Julia Bradbury may seem unstoppable, but she's been forced to slow down following a triple hernia operation earlier this year.

The 49-year-old former Countryfile star admits she unwisely ignored the symptoms for nearly a year, which she eventually discovered could have had life-threatening consequences.

"To be honest, I suspected the nagging ache and bulge in my groin could be a hernia but I just kept putting off going to the doctor," she says. "I'm conscientious about the kids' health but I'd keep delaying on my own. In the end, the pain in my groin was impossible to live with, which made me seek the treatment and it turned out surgery was essential.

"I certainly wouldn't advise anyone delaying as I did, it was wrong and I didn't appreciate until I got the diagnosis that it could have been dangerous. I just find it very hard to stop rushing around to take time out for myself," she says ruefully.

Investigations revealed she also had two umbilical hernias, as well as the inguinal hernia that'd been troubling her.

Bradbury, who lives in London with property developer Gerard Cunningham and their children – Zephyr, seven, and four-year-old twins Xanthe and Zena – says the worst part of recovery is being unable to lift her kids. "I've had to explain to them I'm having to take things gently... I've been warned unless I do, the hernias can come back, so I've really heeded that advice."

She's uncertain what caused them but believes it could have been a combination of her pregnancy with twins, lifting her children, carrying filming kit and constant travelling.

Despite the setback, Bradbury looks years younger than her age, and exudes her trademark seemingly boundless energy. "I'm a naturally energetic, passionate person who gets excited very easily, so slowing down and being calm doesn't come easily to me," she says.

Indeed she's rarely off screen and work often revolves around her love of the great outdoors and travel, so can be physically demanding.

Bradbury presented Countryfile for 10 years until 2014 and has also fronted Britain's Favourite Walks: Top 100. She spent time in Australia for ITV's Australia With Julia Bradbury and co-presented Britain's Greatest National Treasures alongside Sir Trevor McDonald, celebrating iconic buildings and feats of engineering.

"I couldn't not work because I have three children and want to provide for them, and I also wouldn't want to stop because it's part of who I am," she says. "It's such a rewarding career and allows me to draw attention to things I'm passionate about. In Australia I got to highlight deforestation, coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, and of course plastic pollution."

The downside, she confesses, is absences from the family. "It's really tough being away. I explain to the kids I have to go and we count the number of 'breakfasts' I'm away for. I do call but more often send them messages that can be played to them, rather than randomly ringing when they might be busy or tired.

"Zena's more introvert and shy and I think she feels it a bit more when I'm away. When I call, she sometimes gives me the silent treatment. It's really hard but when I've been away, I usually get a break with them afterwards."

While work may sometimes be unpredictable, she recognises the importance of routine. "Both my partner and I have quite intense schedules – I'm away for work a lot and so is he – so routine's really important in our house, and whoever's in charge follows the routine."

Included in that is dental care, and Bradbury is an ambassador for Simplyhealth's Big Family Brush-Up campaign, highlighting the importance of a proper tooth-brushing routine.

"Proper brushing's so important, as you've only got one set of adult teeth. The kids are pretty good at their two minutes every night, but we're not quite as good in the mornings in the week. They only manage that about 50 per cent of the time because like most households, you're more stressed trying to get out of the door in time for school and work," she admits.

Having children later in life – she had her son when she was 42 – has its advantages, she notes.

"I'm much more sorted as a person now than when I was younger, and I certainly don't have any yearning to go out partying 'til late. I did all that years ago, also I'm mindful that around 7am, my kids will be up and breakfast needs to be in cereal bowls. It's far better to be awake and fresh to face that," she says.

"I adore being a mum and hope it's made me a better person, because you want to be the best person you can be when you're raising children for the next 20 years."

Fitness is key to keeping up with three active youngsters, but since the surgery Bradbury has stopped exercising on the pole she had installed at home, so she could pole dance for fitness.

"I'm too scared to go back to the pole at the moment as it's too demanding, so I've taken up tennis and continue going to the gym and yoga. I've realised that with such a busy life, switching off is important for my mental health and wellbeing, so nowadays I read a lot and I've taken up meditation."

Enjoying the outdoors is also key to her contentment. "Connecting with nature's vital and particularly important for children," says Bradbury.

"I see the difference in my own children when they've been outside playing – they're happier and more relaxed. I'm pretty tough about insisting on it, no matter the weather. I'm at my happiest when we're outside all together."

Turning 50 next year holds no fears. "Ageing doesn't bother me at all. I've had such a wonderful, brilliant time in my 40s, with great work and having my children – the greatest gift," she says.

Bradbury – who's been open about "struggling" when she was in her 30s, and seeking therapy as she dealt with career issues and endometriosis – adds: "My focus is giving my children a solid foundation, so eventually they go out into the world as independent, self-sufficient, well-adjusted people."

:: Julia Bradbury is an ambassador for Simplyhealth's Big Family Brush-Up campaign, raising awareness of the importance of a proper tooth-brushing routine. See bigfamilybrushup.co.uk

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