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Gloria Hunniford on her eye injury, The Masked Singer, what drives her and her belief she'll see daughter Caron again

An enduring presence on our screens, Gloria Hunniford has been honoured for her outstanding contribution to broadcasting. She talks to Jane Hardy about what drives her, feminism, the importance of being trusted by the viewing public and her experience on The Masked Singer

Although based in England, Gloria Hunniford still calls Northern Ireland home.
Although based in England, Gloria Hunniford still calls Northern Ireland home.
Although based in England, Gloria Hunniford still calls Northern Ireland home.
Although based in England, Gloria Hunniford still calls Northern Ireland home.

GLORIA Hunniford, Portadown's finest, is a consummate professional and journalists' journalist. That's because she always gets back to you with a quote. Down the line from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Hunniford says: "Well, I feel if somebody's bothered to get in touch, I'll do it."

Recently the 82-year-old had a bad fall and had to delay filming one of her many projects, the campaigning BBC series Rip Off Britain.

She tripped over a rug at home in Sevenoaks onto a hard wooden floor. However, trooper that she is, Hunniford went on to another of her outlets, daytime TV's Loose Women, to talk about it.

"It's a fairly easy ride. Somebody picks you up, somebody carries your clothes, you have an editorial meeting...," she says.

Make-up wasn't cosmetic but crucial as it turned out Hunniford had broken a bone beneath her eye socket and says that her face was "horrific - red, black and yellow". She adds that the make-up artist she uses on the programme skilfully managed to "block it out".

It was a therapeutic appearance: "I'm glad I did it. For three weeks I didn't see (my face), it was like feeling myself again". But the broadcaster says she's glad she didn't have to go on the next day.

Looking good has always been part of the Gloria Hunniford brand: "I never go out without make-up. It's not media, it's all down to my mother who would never go to the shops or answer the door without make-up."

Having been hard-wired to appear presentable – "pretty" isn't an adjective Hunniford accepts – it was tough being badly bruised: "It was horrific, from the eyelashes down to the chin. It was revealing for me."

But the presenter is keen to get back to her busy schedule.

"Totally, I get bored," she confesses. "I'm the last person to sit at home and watch television or rest in bed. That's not me. I couldn't do my scheduled work so had to do something."

Of course, she has done a tremendous amount in her brilliant career. Hunniford attended Portadown College and gained a reputation as a great singer. She was something of a prodigy, in fact, and when she was 17 she had the opportunity to go to Canada and while there started a musical career.

She says now: "I sang in my own programme, that sort of thing."

Returning home, she joined the fledgling Ulster Television as a production assistant in 1959 before moving to the BBC and Radio Ulster. From there, she returned to Ulster Television - very much in front of the camera this time - and on to a long list of network programmes.

"But I was so lucky getting the BBC job," she says, namechecking producer Dan Gilbert, who was in charge of the equivalent of Good Morning Ulster in 1969.

"He said to me: 'Ideally I'm looking for a girl, a female broadcaster. Do you fancy doing it?' Well, I'm not short of a word or two so, 'Yes'. Then he said, 'Can you start tomorrow?'"

Gilbert showed Hunniford round the newsroom. "He said: 'What can you see? Many men with typewriters,' then added: 'Remember you're as good as any bloke. You're not here to do recipes and flower arranging.'"

She notes that sexism never entered her head. However, the broadcaster wouldn't necessarily call herself a feminist.

"I've never been an out and out feminist but always believed in equality," she says. "I think feminism has gone too far sometimes and I quite like old-fashioned things like men standing up when a woman appears and opening the door for you."

Hunniford, who shows her mettle in fighting consumer battles on Rip Off Britain, adds: "I'm very much for equality of pay".

Gloria Hunniford revisited her singing career with her knock-out performance as 'Snow Leopard' on the ITV singing contest, The Masked Singer.
Gloria Hunniford revisited her singing career with her knock-out performance as 'Snow Leopard' on the ITV singing contest, The Masked Singer.

In terms of how far working women have come, she waxes lyrical.

"What I really like is the way a woman can be a career person and proud of that choice or stay at home and look after her children," she says - and be proud of that.

Hunniford reveals that she and her late daughter, TV broadcaster Caron Keating, used to discuss the juggling act working women perform.

"Caron used to say to me, 'When should I have my second baby?' I'd say, 'Just go ahead and have it.'"

When Gloria Hunniford had her children, she reveals that she didn't employ young people as nannies.

"I used to employ older people in their sixties and seventies as my babysitters," she says.

"They were great, and my first husband Don (Keating) looked after the children too."

When her schedule permitted it, Hunniford could take her children to school. "But when I became pregnant with my third child, Michael, I found wonderful babysitters who would mind the two children.

"He was a retired bank manager and they had good standards. I'd arrive and there was a trolley all done for a lovely tea."

The Hunniford philosophy is positive and disciplined: "As you get older, life sits better. But there's nothing worse than older people in bad clothes. I think you have to continue to look after yourself."

She adds that being on TV involves looking good. "I don't think I am any beauty, I don't think I'm ugly. But have I got a job just because of my looks? No."

Once described as a 'meditator', Hunniford says that isn't the case, "although I do take 15 to 20 minutes sometimes to be on my own."

Her faith is strong, partly because of her Church of Ireland upbringing. "I believe that I will see Caron again. I have always had a strong faith from my days in Northern Ireland."

When her daughter developed breast cancer, then died in 2004 aged 41, Hunniford says she reached out: "I prayed a lot at the time and though these prayers did not come true, they helped." Her grandsons, Caron's children, are great, she says.

The fond grandmother adds: "When Caron died, Charlie and Gabriel were only 10 and seven and they spent three months with us with their father Russ. I saw them being born. They're grown up now, 25 and 28, work on the creative side of advertising, and are amazing.

"They have their own lives but were the first to get on the train and see me after my fall. The time I do get to spend with them is very precious, and we talk on the phone and sometimes go to the theatre."

Stephen Way, Hunniford's second husband, also has family and between them they have 10 grandchildren, "four on my blood side".

Earlier this year Hunniford revisited her love of music in The Masked Singer. It was quite daunting.

"This is a big, big production on a big stage. One of my sons said to me, 'Are you sure you want to do it?'"

Of course she did... "It was lovely to rehearse music, the high and low notes. I think everybody likes to sing, maybe after a couple of glasses of wine. But was I nervous? No, because I was almost singing to myself inside the mask." Snow Leopard was spotted fairly early on but had a ball.

In recognition of her trailblazing broadcasting career, Gloria Hunniford won the RTS NI Brian Waddell Award for Outstanding Contribution at a ceremony in Belfast in May. She is pictured with her friend Eamonn Holmes, who presented her with the award. Picture by Darren Kidd/Presseye.
In recognition of her trailblazing broadcasting career, Gloria Hunniford won the RTS NI Brian Waddell Award for Outstanding Contribution at a ceremony in Belfast in May. She is pictured with her friend Eamonn Holmes, who presented her with the award. Picture by Darren Kidd/Presseye.

She is keen to start filming the new series of Rip Off Britain. "It's now got a prime time slot at 7pm on BBC One which is great. The programme has never been more relevant. Our mailbag is full of letters from people saying they can't feed their children or pay their energy bills. I don't think three 21-year-olds could do the same job, our public trust us."

Hunniford is a third of the presenting team with Angela Rippon ("We sometimes have lunch together") and Julia Somerville, but they film the show separately.

Hunniford often visits the place she still calls home. Recently over for the Royal Television Society NI Awards, she was given the Brian Waddell award for her outstanding contribution to broadcasting, prefaced by plaudits from long-time friend Eamonn Holmes.

She says at one point: "What drives me is my love of the business." This winter Hunniford will get the Freedom of the Borough of the City of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon: "I love coming back... The quality of life here is amazing."

Asked what was the best advice she had ever received, Hunniford pauses briefly then says: "Remember I was given a job in broadcasting. Once you're given your luck, work hard to make that luck work for you."