She found fame as the co-host of The One Show – but now Alex Jones is finding her feet as a new mum. In her first major interview since the birth of her son, she talks to Kerry Potter about fertility, turning 40 and keeping her place on the sofa.
It is Alex Jones exactly as you’d imagine her: perched on a sofa, chirpy, gregarious and girl-next-door pretty, with warm brown eyes and an easy smile. So far, so The One Show. But what is different is today’s special guest on that sofa: her baby boy Edward Alun Burrell Thomson (Teddy for short), who was born in January and is now quietly breastfeeding as we drink tea, eat M&Ms and chat. Alex’s mother Mary – a former bank manager who’s as effusive as her daughter – looks on, ready to pounce on her grandson for a cuddle.
Today’s photo shoot is 40-year-old Alex’s first since Teddy’s birth and she looks ridiculously good. Dressed in jeans and a cream blouse that she casually leaves billowing open after she’s finished feeding, she has a distinct lack of bags under her eyes and her skin is gleaming. It’s all make-up, she demurs, and besides, he’s a pretty good sleeper – so far. It helps that she’s eating well: Mary has come from Wales to stay with Alex and her insurance broker husband Charlie Thomson in Chiswick, armed with plastic tubs of home-cooked cawl, a hearty Welsh soup.
Many new mothers would recoil with horror at being photographed a few weeks after having a baby. ‘Weirdly, I feel a lot more relaxed than I normally would,’ she says, her Welsh lilt undiminished by seven years in London.
‘I don’t look the same as I did but I’m all right about that – life isn’t just about me any more. I don’t care if I’m a bit wobbly or look more tired, because it’s all part of the fun of being a parent; it’s a badge of honour. I haven’t felt the pressure yet [to get back into shape], but it’s early days. I wouldn’t say I don’t care if I never get back to how I was. But it took nine months to make him, so if it takes nine months to get back into my old jeans, then so be it.’
She’s trying not to think about the other sofa – the one she normally sits on every weekday at 7pm, next to co-host Matt Baker, to present the popular BBC One live magazine show. Her seat is being kept warm by Angela Scanlon (Robot Wars) and Michelle Ackerley (Watchdog).
Is she experiencing maternity-leave paranoia, as chillingly depicted in the BBC’s recent thriller The Replacement, in which a high-flying architect (played by Morven Christie) goes on maternity leave – only to discover her cover (Vicky McClure) has a sinister agenda? ‘Of course! I’d be lying to say I didn’t feel any paranoia when I first left the show, but then you get over it because you realise there’s nothing you can do about it,’ she says. ‘The best bit of advice was from [BBC newsreader] Sophie Raworth, who said: “Do NOT watch it!” And I didn’t. By the time I had the baby, I had no time to watch it anyway.
‘At the same time, you hope they’re doing a good job because you want a show to come back to – it’s a balance. But anyone who says there’s no paranoia is lying. It’s healthy, I think – it shows you respect the job and you care about it.’
Having spent ten years working on children’s programmes for Welsh TV channel S4C, she nabbed The One Show job in 2010 after Christine Bleakley left. Her on-air persona may be all ditsy, unthreatening charm, but in person she knows exactly what she wants from her career: ‘I think – especially in the early days – people thought, “There’s that Welsh girl who’s a bit clueless.” Sometimes I am a bit clueless, but there’s a steely determination that people don’t see very often. I’m more ambitious than I appear.
‘With TV the hardest thing is longevity – to stay relevant and keep your place on the sofa. The key is to still be there in 20 years; that’s what I want.’ She pauses to hand Teddy over to her mother. ‘If you love your job, you’re always worried that someone is going to take it away from you. There are a lot of good people around – some who are younger, some who are older, too – who’d love to do your role and you’d be an idiot not to be aware of that. I still kick myself at the end of some days when I feel the show hasn’t gone particularly well. TV can be more fickle than other industries but, regardless of what you do, you have to care and do your best on a daily basis. That has been instilled in me by my parents.’
She plans to return to The One Show later in the spring, once she and Charlie have found a nanny: ‘I’ll probably work part time in the beginning. I don’t want to miss Teddy’s milestones.’ For now, though, she’s enjoying rooting through the hundreds of hand-knitted hats, blankets and toys that viewers sent in for Teddy.
The past few weeks have been ‘lovely but tough’. While she’s emitting a blissed-out serenity from the sofa today, that is not always the case. ‘A typical day is feeding him for eight hours, trying to fill the washing machine, then filling the tumble dryer and stuffing some food down if there’s time. And then it’s dark and you wonder what you’ve done with your day – it’s a bit like being in the Twilight Zone. People underestimate how dramatic the transition can be.
‘And even going in to this in my late 30s, I don’t feel as though I was told exactly what it would be like. It’s a real change of gear. I’ve gone from running around at 100mph to being in the house alone; from a lot of noise to it being very quiet. It is hard but it’s an absolute honour to be a parent. There are times when you think, “I just don’t know what to do to make him stop crying”, but the joy outweighs anything else.’
Her tendency to be disorganised isn’t playing out well: ‘The first time I went out alone with him, I took him to hospital for a check-up and when I arrived I realised I had no nappies or wipes, just my sunglasses and wallet. But you soon learn.’
After making the documentary Alex Jones: Fertility & Me last year, which led to her addressing a conference at the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, Alex has become a poster girl for older first-time mothers. She previously dated TV presenters Steve Jones and Matt Johnson, before meeting New Zealander Charlie at a party aged 34. They married when she was 38 and she had Teddy at 39. They were, she says, ‘lucky that he happened quickly’ [she had fertility tests for the documentary but wouldn’t publicly discuss the results].
As for the best age to have a baby, she says: ‘I don’t know if there is one, but if you know you want to be a parent it’s worth thinking about your options when you hit your 30s – things like freezing eggs. That was something I didn’t know anything about. I think lots of GPs don’t have the right information or advice. If we were all better educated about fertility, maybe fewer people would find it as much of a struggle [to conceive].’
If she was still single, would she have had a baby on her own? ‘It’s a difficult question, because the past five weeks have been tough. It is doable but it’s a lot of work. Though if that were the situation I found myself in, then, yes, I would have considered it.’
One of the reasons she made the documentary was her mother’s revelation that she had experienced early menopause at 43, a condition that has a strong genetic link. Alex says they’d like a sibling for Teddy, but, as she just turned 40 last month, does that fast-track the issue? ‘Yes, my mum’s early menopause is something we are very aware of. It would be foolish of us to chance it and leave it too late next time,’ she says.
‘It’s very early days [after having Teddy] but if we did try to have another one and it wasn’t as easy as it was with Teddy, we might think, well, we’ve been lucky enough to have him so we’ll just have the one. Or we might think it’s been so wonderful having him that we’ll go down the IVF route. I don’t know.
‘I do want two children. You tend to mirror what you’ve grown up with and Charlie and I have one sister each. I wish we’d met sooner and that we’d cracked on with trying for a baby when I was 34, 35 [to allow more time to have another child], but that’s the way it was for us and you can’t change that.’
As for being an older mum, it has its advantages: ‘I have more patience than I did when I was younger, and more of an understanding of my body. And we’re just so grateful that we did manage to have him – when it starts getting tough we remember how lucky we are. It gives me perspective.’
Alex speaks Welsh to Teddy and wants him to be bilingual. I get the impression that, now she is a mother, she is hankering for her homeland, though matters are complicated by how much flexibility her live TV gig will offer and the fact that her husband is a Kiwi: ‘I’d love to say yes, we’d definitely move out of London to Wales, and have more space for Teddy to run around, but it has to be a two-way conversation,’ she says.
Growing up in Ammanford (a former mining town in Carmarthenshire), the daughter of Mary and sales executive Alun (hence Teddy’s middle name), Alex attended a Welsh-speaking primary school. She was painfully introverted until her later teens, when she went to Aberystwyth University to study theatre, film and TV.
‘It took me until the sixth form to find any sort of confidence, and I was still pretty shy going to uni. TV wasn’t the obvious job for me – I don’t know where that interest came from as no one else in my family does anything similar. But I wanted to give it a go – I wanted to be a producer or researcher, something behind the scenes.’
Her early 20s was a period which she drily dubs ‘my unfortunate time as a runner’. She worked for a TV production company and wasn’t exactly employee of the month – lowlights included losing Julian Lloyd Webber’s priceless cello and, having been asked to take Michael Crawford out for lunch, plumping for McDonald’s.
She smiles: ‘I think you can take your career too seriously too quickly because you’re going to be working for a very long time. Now I worry myself sick about the slightest thing at work, but back then I had two to three years of just enjoying it before I knuckled down. It got to the point where my bosses said, “You’re not great behind the camera, so let’s try you on camera.”’
Alex can be cheery to a fault: ‘I’m not a moper. Nothing catastrophic has happened in my life and we always had a get-on-with-it mentality in my house,’ she says. Last year, fan Shane Goldsmith was given a restraining order after hounding her for 17 months. Today she simply says it was ‘blown out of proportion’.
How does she feel about her recent milestone birthday? ‘I’m not over-thinking it,’ she says. ‘Some of my friends who’ve turned 40 struggled with it. But because the baby has come the same year, I haven’t had much time to think about it. I reckon you should probably celebrate getting older. If you’re happy where you are in your life, it’s just a birthday, isn’t it?’
And with that, she straps Teddy into his car seat, sweeps the detritus around us – breast pads, dummies and muslins – into her bag, grabs a final handful of M&Ms and heads home to not watch The One Show. The sofa seems strangely empty without her.
Styling: Pip Hamilton at A&R. Make-up: Afton Radojicic at Stella Creative Artists. Hair: Fabio Nogueira at Frank Agency using Batiste Stylist
Dream dinner-party guests. My family and friends. Why on earth would you want people you don’t know in your house?
Breakfast. Porridge with berries.
Last book you read. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. It’s written by a surgeon who was diagnosed with incurable cancer aged 36 and finds himself in the same boat as his patients. I read it when I was pregnant and it really sums up what’s important in life and gives you clarity.
Favourite TV show. Catastrophe – it depicts a relationship so well; it’s spot on. It definitely rings some bells, like the arguments you have when you’re tired and saying ridiculous things. Charlie and I both sit there watching it, not saying anything but thinking, ‘Oh my God, we say things like that.’
Listening to. The La La Land soundtrack.
Essential baby product. A SnüzPod crib that you bolt on to the side of your bed. It means you’re not co-sleeping but the baby is within touching distance.
Tipple of choice. Wine and more wine. Any colour will do.
Most treasured possession. Teddy. Is he a possession?
Describe yourself in three words… Loyal, robust, determined.
Top beauty product. Marc Jacobs mascara. You can put on one coat and it’s amazing or five coats and it looks like you’ve got the best false eyelashes ever.
Wardrobe picks. Zara is my high-street favourite, and I like Sandro and Maje for something a bit more expensive.
Can’t leave home without… An apple. I can’t go anywhere without a snack.
Secret ambition. To be an interior designer.
Perfect day off. Breakfast in a new place, antique furniture shopping and then a boozy lunch, which can extend into the evening. Well, that’s what we did last time I had a day off, but now things are different!
Your motto. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
Fitness regime. I’m not a gym person – I feel like a hamster on a wheel at the gym – but I enjoy Barrecore and hot yoga.
Guilty pleasure. Trashy telly. I like Dinner Date, which Charlie despises.
How would you like to be remembered? As a good wife, daughter and mother. And someone who did her absolute best.