Carol Vorderman: Why my skin cancer scare means I no longer sunbathe

Carol Vorderman had a skin cancer scare more than 10 years ago (Sassy Create/PA)
Carol Vorderman had a skin cancer scare more than 10 years ago (Sassy Create/PA)

Carol Vorderman was well and truly a sun worshipper growing up.

“Oh God, yes. I was burning away merrily for many, many years,” she remembers with a groan.

The former Countdown presenter, 62, says her generation was the first to really become obsessed with the sun.

“I’m of the generation where we started to sunbathe – my mother’s generation didn’t. We were also caught in the formative years, the 60s, 70s, 80s, where we had absolutely no idea of what sun protection was – you just couldn’t buy it. I think it was the 90s that began,” she explains.

“So in all of our youth we were encouraging each other to sunbathe doused in cooking oil.”

Vorderman remembers the ways people would try and boost their tan – from sunbathing surrounded by metal foil (so you could “get all the rays of the sun” and “burn nicely”) to discovering sunbeds (“we thought they were marvellous”) – and she was particularly keen on soaking up as much of the sun as possible, as she grew up by the sea.

She says anyone her age “will remember all that”, but now “we know the dangers”.

Vorderman is unsurprised by Cancer Research UK’s latest statistics, showing melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK have reached an all-time high. According to the charity, 17,500 cases are diagnosed every year, with projections suggesting the numbers could increase by 50% over the next 20 years.

Research suggests people around Vorderman’s age are increasingly affected, with the probability of people aged 55 and older getting skin cancer almost tripling since the 1990s.

Bristol-based Vorderman herself had a scare when she was around 50. She was concerned by some changes in her skin, so went to see a dermatologist – who sent off a biopsy for testing, with results revealing the cells were precancerous.

The presenter is at pains to emphasise she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her – “I had no symptoms, nothing like that” and the cells were removed – but she’s instead trying to highlight how crucial it is to be sun safe.

“What I do now is I’ve had a check-up every year, all over, ever since,” she says – and that isn’t the only change she’s made.

“I slather myself in SPF at all opportunities. In many ways, the damage is already done, but I don’t sunbathe now, or I cover myself up.”

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Vorderman has teamed up with Boots brand Soltan and Macmillan Cancer Support on a sun-safety campaign, and her efforts to raise awareness around the issue aren’t just inspired by her own experiences.

Her mother died in 2017 after suffering from three types of cancer – the third being melanoma. “Not a single time in her life did she sunbathe – my mum had a different skin to me, she had moles, I don’t,” Vorderman says. “I know that makes you much more prone to melanomas.”

Cancer Research UK cites a study that found melanoma risk was higher in people with more than 100 moles compared with people who have fewer than 15 moles.

For Vorderman, talking about these issues, whether publicly or among friends, is key.

“It’s part of life. The more we talk about it, the better it is – as with everything. It’s like talking about the menopause, talking about women’s issues, talking about all sorts of cancers… As we know with all cancers, the sooner you can have something checked, the better the outcome should be.”

Vorderman has in recent years made a name for herself for posting her unfiltered political beliefs on social media, and whether it’s talking about politics or causes close to her heart, she won’t back down.

“I’ve always been pretty confident, but now you get to a point in life where you think – I feel strongly about things as they stand in this country at the moment. I’ve never known anything as bad. I think everyone should speak out.”

She believes in the old saying: ‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to say nothing’, adding: “I take that with me.”

Broadcaster and author Carol Vorderman MBE is working with Boots brand Soltan, which is joining forces with Macmillan Cancer Support for the second year running, as its official sun-safety partner.