Davina McCall on motherhood, misdemeanours and life after Big Brother


The unrelentingly upbeat Davina McCall may be the most successful TV presenter of her generation and, at 43, still well ahead of the (ever younger) competition, but, as she confesses to Liz Jones, boy, does she have to work at it

Davina McCall

'I'm a role model for facing adversity. I realise now that, however flawed I am, I'm OK,' says Davina

You think you know Davina McCall from having seen her on your TV screen for the past decade or so, but in the flesh? Well, there isn’t much flesh. She is trying on a tiny pair of skinny jeans, a size 10, and doing them up over her brown, muscular tummy. ‘You see, I’m fat! Huge!’ she says, faux struggling with the zipper. ‘My tummy, post babies, is crepy.’ 

I tell her she is being too harsh on herself. When she arrives for our photo shoot, she looks amazing, and I tell her so. ‘I’ve just had my make-up done professionally,’ she says, self-deprecating as ever.

In person, Davina is far less mannered than she is on screen, and much quieter. As well as being modest, she’s surprisingly ego free. When I mention there might be younger, blonder, slimmer, smilier women just waiting in the wings to take her place, she doesn’t respond with her plans for world domination,  à la Oprah; she merely says, ‘So I’ll do daytime telly. I think there’s always a place for work, you just have to rethink what job you’re going to do. I think daytime would be a natural progression, I’m sure that will happen at some point. I always think it could end tomorrow, but then nobody’s job is secure any more. So you have to be grateful and professional and good. And work your hardest.’

I ask if she ever paid off her mortgage, an early resolution made around the time she got her own show on MTV, in 1992. ‘I did,’ she says. ‘But then we bought a bigger house. Then I paid it off again, and we moved again.’

Davina McCall
Davina McCall

Davina with husband Matthew; with a contestant on Got to Dance

The reason I’m meeting Davina is she has a batch of new projects to promote, all of which seem to involve physical activity. Got to Dance, a sort of doppelgänger of Strictly Come Dancing, on Sky 1, and another fitness DVD. It surprised me to learn, boning up on the bony Davina, that her six fitness DVDs have sold 1.2 million copies so far.
The secret of her success? ‘Well, I’d grownup working out to Cindy Crawford videos, and she always looked perfect, she never seemed to sweat. I think people like watching me work out because I’m not perfect. I sweat like a trooper.’

She has had three children with her husband, former TV presenter Matthew Robinson – Holly, nine, Tilly, seven, and Chester, four – and is 43. How on earth did she find time to get a body like, well, the one she has? ‘I’m an energetic person, but just recently – in fact, after having children and breast-feeding them all – I was quite tired, and it turns out I was anaemic. I do eat red meat but not that much. So I take iron now, and I have so much more energy.’

Does she work out so much because she wants to look good on telly? ‘No, I like being fit. I like being able to run up the stairs. I want to be able to run after my kids and not be out of breath. I want to live for a long time. I want to see my grandchildren.’

She tells me that because of her insane schedule, she books her exercise sessions two weeks in advance. ‘So I know, this Sunday morning, I’ve asked my sister to look after the kids for an hour because Matthew’s away, and I’ve called up the next door neighbour who is pregnant and we’re going to go out for a power walk for 45 minutes.’

Is exercise like an obsession, an addiction? She battled addiction to heroin and cocaine as a teenager. ‘I feel, not tetchy, but sloth-like if I haven’t worked out for a couple of weeks.’ 

Davina McCall

She got into a bit of hot water a while ago when she mentioned in an interview with a woman’s magazine that she had told her children that taking heroin was enjoyable. ‘Nobody told me the truth about drugs,’ she says now. ‘You can’t tell a child all drugs are bad and all drugs taste horrible because when they try them and they find out that some drugs can make you feel very good they’re going to think, well, you’re lying.’

Which is worse, heroin or alcohol? ‘The problem with heroin is that once you have tried it once, I guarantee you will have it again. And nobody told me that. I tried it once and thought it was nice and a few months down the line I tried it again and it just got better and better until I became addicted. That is why you just mustn’t do heroin. I don’t think alcohol has the same draw to it, but it could destroy your liver.’

She is, in fact, a strict mum. ‘I’m very big on manners. The children don’t watch too much TV.’ She once said she worked so hard early in her career so that when she became a mum she would only have to work three days a week. Does she? ‘I’m about to do a six-dayer, but I’ve got time off next week. I always think it’s swings and roundabouts. I’ve done the morning  school run three times this week, and I’ve put the kids to bed in the evening, and tomorrow I’ll see them in the morning but not in the evening.’

‘People talk about reality TV like it’s the enfant terrible of television, but it’s just fabulous entertainment’

Davina was abandoned by her French-born mother Florence, an alcoholic, when she was just three years old. Raised by grandparents, at 13 she moved in with her father, an events organiser, and his second wife Gabby, whom she calls mum. She is still close to them both. She attended Godolphin and Latymer School in London, then worked at a model agency for a bit, before landing a job on TV.

‘I always had a feeling in my heart that my mum had not been as big a part of my childhood as I’d wanted her to be, and I thought that getting this job at MTV was going to prove to her that, you know, I was somebody. I’d actually been working at MTV for a few years when they finally they gave me my own show, and afterwards I went back to my bedroom and I cried on my own because I realised that it didn’t validate me, it didn’t. Having my own show was the thing I thought would make my mum go, “Yeah, well done,” but it didn’t make me feel like that inside, and I thought, “God, I’ve got to fill that hole, somehow.” I’ve had to come to terms with myself and realise that, however flawed I am, I’m OK.’

Does she feel validated now? ‘I’m just a calmer person. Meeting Matthew, being grounded by him, growing roots of my own and having a family to look after and cherish and be needed by has filled that hole.’ 

Davina McCall

I tell her Matthew must be a special type of man to put up with her celebrity. ‘We had a really lovely talk the other day about how his business – he’s got an adventure travel company, it’s five years old now, he does kayaking and so on – is really taking off and it’s been really lovely for him. I had a wobble a while ago when he was in New York and I was like, “Oh my God, you’re going off on a business trip. What happens if you run off with some sexy New Yorker?” He looked at me and he said, “Imagine how I felt for the first few years after I met you. That’s just not going to happen.”

‘And it’s so interesting, but I never thought of him as being insecure. He never showed
it to me. He said he just put it out of his head because he knew it was silly. And I thought, that’s actually quite a good lesson to learn. Don’t give it credence. Don’t give it the space. We’re very solid.’

She says she never goes to premieres or parties because ‘taking Matthew is not always very nice for him. He doesn’t want to feel like a spare part; he’s worth more than that.’ I ask how she feels now Big Brother, which she presented from the start, ten years ago, has ended. ‘I had a whole year to grieve and to let it go, and people always thought it took up more of my time than it did. In a way, that door shutting has meant other doors have opened.’

I ask if she still has any friends who were contestants on the show. I tell her I still talk to Melanie Hill, from the first series. We met when I put her on the cover of Marie Claire, the magazine I was then editing. ‘Oh yes, I do. Anna Nolan, also from the first series.’ Did Davina go to Jade Goody’s funeral? ‘I did. I kept thinking, Jade, if you’re watching, you would love the fact so many people are here to commemorate your life. If only she could have seen that. All the people who lined the streets to salute her and her life. It was really amazing. It was the opposite of trashy.’

Does Davina consider herself a role model? ‘I hope I’m a role model for facing adversity.’

We finish our talk, and Davina crosses the studio to continue trying on clothes for our
photo shoot. She had arrived wearing black trousers (‘Slimming!’) and a military pea coat (‘Warehouse!’). I find it hard to imagine Davina ever being a diva, although she deserves to put on the occasional strop: she has worked very hard, done it all on her own, and taken a lot of flak for being the queen bee of reality TV (‘People talk about reality TV like it’s the enfant terrible of television, but it’s just fabulous entertainment’). I take my leave and I tell her PR that Davina is looking incredible. ‘Yes, she works hard at it though,’ he says.

As I kiss her goodbye, she is still talking. ‘I know where my forte is and that’s with real
people. That’s what I love. I love people. When I go to America, where I’m not famous, I just talk to everybody. When we go to the buffet in the breakfast bar, I’m talking to the waitress. I talk to people in the bookshop. That’s what I like, naturally. I love a chitchat.’

Got to Dance is on Sky 1 on Sundays at 6pm; The Biggest Loser is on ITV1 from 13 January, and Davina’s Body Buff DVD is on sale now


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