An interview with Fern Britton
PUBLISHED: 10:00 07 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:39 20 February 2013
As she launches a new Chilterns cycle challenge, Fern Britton talks to Sandra Kessell about padded saddles, Strictly Christmas and THAT gastric band...
First things first.
Up close and personal, Fern Britton looks even better in the flesh than she does on the television.
She parks her modest little run-around, steps out into the rain and sashays into the Iain Rennie charity office, in Chalfont St Giles, close to her home, the epitome of a yummy mummy in her plain tube dress, waist-clincher belt, flat pixie boots and trendy leather jacket. Her only jewellery is a ruby-winged heart necklace and a discreet watch no rings, no bracelets not even earrings.
A different kind of person might have dashed into the loo before facing a camera and interviews not Fern. Clearly her decision to step down from This Morning the hugely popular daytime show she hosted for more than 10 years suits her. What hasnt changed is the megawatt smile familiar from a thousand TV sofa chat close-ups and not a few paparazzi snaps. She greets the fundraisers in the office like old friends and they, in turn, congratulate her on her appearance because despite the rained-on hair and todays gruelling schedule she looks sassy and shes glowing with vitality.
Its the make-up from Strictly Come Dancing, she says, without a trace of false modesty. Shes been rehearsing with her secret partner (theres speculation it might be fellow Buckinghamshire resident Brendan Cole, but shes tight-lipped because were meeting before the Christmas special show line-up has been announced) and has driven straight to this interview from the dance studio. Shes loving the whole experience, from the gorgeous dress (she rummages in her handbag to show me a swatch of the material, but cant find it to our mutual disappointment) and the high-heeled dancing shoes to strutting her stuff with some of entertainments finest. Shes never had the time to accept an invitation to join the show before though she did a solo number for Lets Dance for Comic Relief.
The extra eyeshadow and foundation, together with her shorter hairstyle, may add a certain glamour, but as Fern walks up the stairs in front of me I cant help but notice (women tend to) how very slender she is or rather, has become.
After weve talked about her extensive charity work I finally come out with the question Ive been itching to ask since hearing all those greetings in the office downstairs does she mind everyone commenting on her size these days?
Famously, or rather, notoriously, she had a gastric band fitted some four years ago and kept the operation a secret while crediting a better eating and exercise regime as first the pounds, then the stones, fell off her then voluptuous plus-size frame.
She draws herself up in her chair and looks me straight in the eye as she replies: These things dont work by themselves. You have to work hard to lose weight I wish people would acknowledge how hard it is to get fit or get fitter.
Notably, though, there are mini mince pies and biscuits on offer as we chat, Fern doesnt touch them. But far from getting annoyed, shes flattered by those kind remarks about her looks. She says her age, (shes 53), has given her an understanding of who she is. She decided to lose weight to improve her health, which was beginning to cause concern, not for anyone elses benefit.
I could either continue as I was and take the consequences, or think - hang on a minute,
I dont want my knees to be replaced
Gastric band or not, she stresses her sustained weight loss has been achieved over several years.
She feels as good as she did in her twenties,
but adds: Ive got wrinkles, Ive got this and that, but since were talking about the Iain Rennie Hospice we are also in an era where we must look after ourselves and do something to prevent those illnesses we can.
Not that every illness is preventable, but with the National Health Service under scrutiny a population that takes more responsibility for its fitness takes pressure off the system, she feels.
Becoming involved with the Iain Rennie Hospice at Home charity wasnt a sudden epiphany, but as she grew up and still lives nearby she was aware of its work and its shops in Chilterns town centres.
Im all for local. The big national and global charities like Oxfam and Save The Children do amazing things but you mustnt forget local charities which may be helping the person right next door to you. Its particularly in this financial climate you have to think neighbourly charity begins at home.
Its a phrase that might be used to describe her new fitness philosophy which ties in perfectly with the IRHHs latest fundraising venture.
The charity is launching its first Chilterns Cycle Challenge, in March, featuring three different routes. The longest of these, at 75 miles, follows the boundary of the current Iain Rennie nursing catchment in the Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire Chilterns. The other two routes, at 10 miles and 35 miles, take in the areas glorious countryside and who better to launch their new fundraiser than a Buckinghamshire resident with a known penchant for pedal power?
Ive always cycled I cycled around the Chalfonts in my youth. Then you reach an age when youre excited with your car then when I was about 45 or 46 I picked up a bike again. Id bought one for my husband (celebrity chef Phil Vickery) for Christmas, but hes much more of a runner, she says. She borrowed his bike to ride the roads around their home in Holmer Green and became hooked.
I started off doing a mile or two and when I got to four miles I thought I was doing very well then I got to eight, then I did a ride for the British Heart Foundation that was 15 miles and that went well.
Professor Lord Robert Winston,
the fertility expert, involved her in Women for Women charity cycle rides and she has continued to clock up some impressive mileage by cycling through Egypt, India, Cuba, Jordan and most recently, China.
Before you know it youre doing 30 miles, or 60 miles, she says, revealing shes progressed from a padded gel saddle to a sliver of a thing. Shes not competitive, though and doesnt tear around at Tour de France speeds. What she does do is train, 10 to 15 miles three times a week plus up to 40 miles at weekends and its this regime that has kept the weight loss continuing.
Ive got a very understanding husband, she says, when I ask how she fits all that cycling into her already busy schedule. She has a new series of Fern Britton Meets interview shows coming up soon with the Rev Jesse Jackson, Clarissa Dickson-Wright, June Brown (Eastenders Dot Cotton) and Cliff Richard in the hot seat that got Tony Blair talking candidly about the Iraq War. Then theres the novel writing and being a mum to four children.
She urges prospective cyclists to take advantage of the training advice being offered by Reactivate Bucks in the lead-up to the event and she will be there on the day, probably lagging at the back of the pack, chatting.
If we can get 500 cyclists and they manage to raise 150 each 500 times 150 thats a lot of money! she says, as we give up on the maths (its 75,000 I work out later).
If Ferns experience is anything to go by, taking a cycle challenge could be the start of something amazing.
More details about the Chilterns Cycle Challenge on March 27 can be found at www.irhh.org