Anne Diamond interview
PUBLISHED: 12:39 06 April 2010 | UPDATED: 11:46 28 February 2013
Anne Diamond, the face of breakfast TV in the 80's and 90's, now has her own show on BBC Radio Berkshire and – what's more – she's about to become our very own columnist. She tells Tessa Harris about her new job
Moving to a new county can be a tough call, but for the former face of breakfast TV turned BBC Radio Berkshire presenter Anne Diamond, big decisions like where to buy a property are being made easier by her listeners.
People in Berkshire seem to be very proud of their area, says Anne as we sit in the glorious dining room at BBC Monitoring at Caversham, where Radio Berkshire is based. They want to tell me about it because they know I dont live in Berkshire, which is something I wondered if I ought to feel sensitive about, but frankly you cant live everywhere, can you?
Anne joined the team at Radio Berkshire nine months ago, first taking the Saturday morning slot, then moving to weekday mornings. She commutes from her home in Oxford every day. I find that nobody resents the fact that I dont live in Berkshire, she says. They actually just want to tell me about their bit. Because Ive also said Im looking at houses, a lot of people call up and say you ought to look here and you ought to look here. Were in a really nice place and wed be really good for you because were near the M4 but not the nasty bit of the M4.
Anne cant hide the fact that she doesnt enjoy the commute, although, she says it does have an upside. The South Oxfordshire villages I drive through, like Nettlebed and Oakley Wood, are so beautiful. Its my ambition to move down here because I think Berkshire has such wonderful villages and the commute gets me down, but its a bad time to get my hopes up because of the property market at the moment and I have to wait until my youngest son, whos 15, has finished his GCSEs.
Anne has four surviving sons by TV executive Mike Hollingsworth (the couple divorced in 1999), but it was the death of baby Sebastian in 1991 that led her to launch the most successful health campaign of all time in the UK. Since her Back to Sleep campaign to combat cot death syndrome, the number of infant deaths has been reduced from 2,500 a year to fewer than 300. Her achievement was so remarkable that she was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the only non-medic to ever receive such an award.She reflects: Its weird. Half of you feels pride and the other half feels grief. So you cant enjoy the feeling but it makes me very proud of Sebastian. I did that for him, with him.
I think its very noticeable how switched on Berkshire listeners are
Even now, nearly 20 years on, people still thank Anne for her extraordinary achievement. About four months ago she woke with excruciating pain and was rushed to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Unbeknown to her she was suffering with gall stones. She recalls: As soon as they wheeled me into the emergency unit the young doctor said to me: Before I even treat you can I say thank you for your cot death campaign? I just burst into tears. I was in terrible pain, but I still cant get over that. After all this time you would have thought the impact of the campaign would have faded, but it obviously hasnt.
Her campaign days are far from over, however, and her next challenge is supporting people who want to live healthier lifestyles. She is Patron of The National Obesity Forum and has set up her own website called buddypower.net, which receives a million visitors a year, to encourage those who want to lose weight.
Theres an obesity time bomb out there. It can lead to so many problems: heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and weve got to do something about it, she says.
Anne knows all about the problems being very overweight can cause. In 2005 she ballooned to nearly 16 stone and despite trying endless diets, she opted to have a gastric band fitted in Belgium. The tabloids had a field day when they found out, but the surgery was not a success and Anne had to undergo several more operations in England.
Looking back she says: Ive learnt its a very long and difficult road and I cant say that what was right for me will be right for everyone else. Once it happens, fat is a pig of a problem to do anything about. You cant fight on your own.
As well as the band I also had a long course of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which very much focuses on what might have made you overweight in the first place and your food behaviour. Ive just started to eat less, exercise more and am being busier again. It doesnt half feel good.
Now aged 55 and looking healthy and slim, shes back to her old bubbly self. Its obviously in part due to her new job working at the radio station that is apparently known throughout the BBC as the little gem. She goes on: Its a really dynamic place to work and the building is amazing.
Anne is also enjoying meeting her listeners. Theyre definitely people who probably grew up with me on TV. I was there on breakfast TV when they were bringing up their children, so they still look on me not so much as a font of advice, but as the person next door, to have a good moan at or to exchange ideas, she says.
As one of the first faces of TV-am and then continuing her famous partnership with Nick Owen for BBC Ones Good Morning With Anne and Nick, Annes high profile career spans more than 25 years. Shes also written regular columns for national newspapers, but shes clearly enjoying strengthening her audience ties and making new acquaintances.
I think its very noticeable about how switched on Berkshire listeners are. I am astonished by it in fact. If that sounds patronising I dont mean it to be. They are not prepared to be passive. Theyve got very strong opinions, particularly on things about the morality of raising a family and why they feel society is going frayed at the edges.
She cites as an example an item she ran about town centres at night. Many listeners felt that Maidenhead, Reading and Newbury places that used to be feel good and friendly are now places for rowdy kids at night. The atmosphere has changed.
Originally from the Great Malvern, Anne is also loving discovering all about Berkshires rich past. It has a staggering history, she says. Roman history is also something that Anne feels passionate about and shes looking forward to taking her sons to the dig at the Roman settlement of Silchester, near Aldermaston. Shes also done outside broadcasts from Reading Museum which she found utterly fascinating, adding: I had no idea how good it was and Ill be taking the boys there.
Another of her highlights in her new job so far has been discovering Highclere Castles connection with the discovery of Tutankhamens tomb.
I was talking to Fiona, Lady Carnarvon and we got on like a house on fire. Shes invited me to do a programme on their exhibition. Im an Egyptologist, a total amateur of course but Ive been to Egypt several times.
I just love the Carter Carnarvon story and I had no idea we had a part of that here in Berkshire as well, which is great. I shall be taking the boys, too.
Anne says: Thats one thing local radio can do so well it gets stuck into local history, what to see and whats to be proud of in this area. There is such a lot to Berkshire and were getting stuck in even though we live on the edges. She adds with a smile: Its been such a learning experience that I really do want to live here now.