Debilitating menopause symptoms left LISA SNOWDON feeling anxious and exhausted. She tells Julia Llewellyn Smith how speaking out about her struggle to get ‘strong again’ has turned her into a champion for women like herself. PHOTOGRAPHS: MATTHEW EADES
Lisa Snowdon has always come across as a woman’s woman. Whether she’s advising viewers on what to wear on This Morning or sharing tips with her 400,000 Instagram followers on how to cope with menopause, the former model is someone you sense would have your back.
So it’s no surprise that although Lisa, 50, first came to public attention after dating George Clooney, the relationship’s legacy has been two of her closest girlfriends. ‘George was charming, a really nice man, good fun and we had a great time on-and-off for about five years. It was quite wild. But the best thing about that time was I met my best friend, Michele,’ says Lisa. ‘She was George’s mate’s wife and as soon as we met, we just clicked. She split up with her ex and I split up with George, but we kept in touch; she’s like my sister. We’ve got a lot of history and memories. I get the interest in George – he was one of the most famous men in the world. I don’t see him any more but if I did, it would be all like, “Hi! How are you doing?” But for me, it’s all about Michele.’
Another dear friend from that period is Matt Damon’s wife Luciana Barroso – Lucy, as Lisa calls her. The Damons attended Lisa’s 40th birthday party in London and Lisa stayed with them in the US last year. ‘They’re really close friends. Matt’s wicked; he’s brilliant.’
She and Clooney got together in 2000 when they filmed a Martini advert. ‘I had to open the door to him and say, “George!” and then, “No Martini? No party!” and slam it in his face. I’d never watched ER, which he was best known for then, so I really didn’t know who he was. But my mum was so excited.’ Lisa turns slightly pink, fearful she’ll be accused of name-dropping. ‘I just don’t want people thinking, “Oh God, she’s banging on about [Clooney] again,”’ she says. ‘It was a long time ago.’
Since then Lisa has proved herself to be more than a movie star’s ex. She’s gone on to present a host of television shows including Britain’s Next Top Model, foxtrotted her way to third place in 2008’s Strictly Come Dancing and spent seven years hosting Capital FM’s breakfast show with Johnny Vaughan.
Now she uses her social media platforms to educate women about the menopause and the perimenopause that precedes it. Lisa initially experienced devastating symptoms at the relatively young age of 42. ‘At its worst, I was three stone heavier than I wanted to be. I was having horrible palpitations before going to sleep, when it felt like someone was grabbing my heart and squeezing. I had night sweats and was waking up soaking, so I’d be shivering. Then the next day I was sleep-deprived and having hot flushes. I felt quite lost.’
Having eventually found help for these symptoms, two years ago Lisa launched her popular Midweek Menopause Madness Instagram videos with Dr Naomi Potter.
When she appeared on This Morning in January to launch its menopause campaign, 7,000 women called in, compared to the 200 calls an item normally attracts. Around another 7,000 women messaged Lisa privately. ‘Now, they contact me daily; they say, “Dr Snowdon, can you help?” which is hilarious because obviously I don’t have a qualification. But I have learnt a lot and it’s so empowering to have this information. Menopause is a minefield and can be really lonely and confusing. So many relationships break down because women and men just don’t know what’s going on.’
Discussing the subject, Lisa becomes animated. ‘This has really given me purpose. I’m passionate about wanting women to reclaim their lives. I think back to generations before when we didn’t have this information and feel so angry. Women have suffered in silence for years in this horrible place. It’s unacceptable. They have pelvic-floor issues, they can’t leave the house because they’re bleeding so much, they have weight gain, no get-up-and-go, headaches. Women in their 40s and 50s who have worked really hard and got to great positions in their jobs suddenly feel they have to quit because they can’t cope any more, they’re suicidal. It breaks my heart.’
READ MORE: ‘The menopause nearly destroyed me’
Things improved hugely for Lisa when, after a spell on antidepressants, she was prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT), something many women still avoid after it was wrongly linked to breast cancer in 2002. ‘HRT was demonised; it’s still got a bad reputation. But it’s been really helpful for me once I got the right balance.’ Now, a year into full menopause, she uses a daily oestrogen spray and progesterone pill – but also applies the less well-known testosterone gel. ‘Testosterone helps your muscle tone, energy levels and libido. Often doctors don’t like to give it out, but it’s worth persevering. If men lose their libido, they just get a pill over the counter. But for us it’s like, “Oh no, you’re just old and knackered, you don’t need to have sex any more.” It’s just not fair.’
Yet, Lisa warns, HRT is ‘not a silver bullet’, with menopausal women still having to be vigilant about all aspects of their health. A couple of weeks ago, she broke down during an Instagram Live video, revealing that weekend she’d been an ‘absolute cow’ to her fiancé George Smart. ‘I’d been swamped with work and hadn’t done all the things I need to do like exercise and get good sleep and it all got on top of me. It’s hard getting older, that’s just life. But all I ever want to do is be transparent about what’s going on.’
Lisa says that entrepreneur George, 42, with whom she lives in Loughton, Essex, has been ‘a really positive force in my life’. The couple originally met 20 years ago when they both worked at MTV – Lisa as a presenter and George as head of events.
‘We had a little fling, but he’s seven years younger than me and back then the age gap was really evident.’ When she temporarily moved to Los Angeles for work, they split amicably. ‘But then seven years ago a mutual friend reintroduced us and it was like no time had passed at all. We went on a date and as we walked towards each other our smiles just got bigger and bigger. It all felt so familiar and we fell back into it easily. I respect and adore him.’
One testing moment came early on when Lisa – knowing her perimenopause meant it was highly unlikely she’d conceive naturally – broached the subject of parenthood. ‘There were a few years where I’d been devastated that I wasn’t going to be a mother,’ she says. ‘But by then I’d come to terms with it. I told him, “If you want to have kids, we probably need to start thinking about that now” and George said, “Could it not just be you and me for ever?” The right answer! If he’d wanted to pursue it then we could have explored avenues like IVF or egg donation, but I know a lot of people who’ve gone through these – and oh, my gosh, the heartache of it all! It takes its toll on the relationship and the body. I was lucky we were both on the same page and just put all that to bed.’
She spends plenty of time with both her own, and George’s, nieces and nephews (there are five in total). ‘I don’t feel childless. I couldn’t be prouder and more in love with the kids than if they were my own. I still get the cuddles and the cuteness and obviously a bit of the drama as well, but I also get to give them back. I think if I was to trying to be a parent in my 40s, with all the juggling and mental stresses and going through the menopause at the same time…’ She shakes her head. ‘No, it’s all worked out for the best.’
Despite the stack of rings on her engagement finger, the couple have no plans to marry. ‘We might just do it someday if we find a perfect moment somewhere in the world or for our close friends and family, but it’s not at the top of our list. In my mind we are married. I don’t need the big dress and loads of flowers. I’ve never imagined walking down the aisle or what would be our first dance. And there’s so much you can do with the money you’d spend on a wedding – great holidays for a couple of years, or renovations. I’m just a bit practical like that.’
Before reuniting with George, Lisa says she was always a commitment-phobe. ‘Perhaps it’s because my parents split up when I was 17; maybe it’s because I didn’t have a very strong sense of self-worth for a long time. I didn’t believe I deserved to be happy. But I have a lot more self-acceptance now.’
Lisa grew up in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, where her dad sold insurance and mum stayed at home with Lisa and her two younger sisters. Lisa wasn’t academic, but with dreams of becoming a dancer, she went on to attend the Italia Conti stage school in London. Having been spotted, aged 19, dancing in a nightclub by a scout she began modelling, appearing on the cover of magazines such as Marie Claire and becoming the face of Gucci. But her curvy figure made her unsuitable for high fashion. ‘I was teased at school for being skinny, so I was happy when I got boobs. I remember lying in the bath and they were like tiny little gnat bites and I thought, “Please grow.” Overnight they grew and I thought, “Wow, you get what you wish for!” But on the catwalks of Milan and Paris, the look was androgynous and waif-like and they told me: “You need to lose weight.” I said, “This isn’t the scene for me.” I came home and the next day I was booked for a Special K advert.’
It marked a turning point, with Lisa earning around £100,000 per commercial shoot as the face of brands such as Triumph underwear and Mercedes-Benz. Women started writing to her, saying how much they loved her for not being Kate Moss skinny. ‘They said, “You’re so relatable!” I’d been doing lads’ mags covers and, let’s be honest, when that’s your bag it’s quite easy to win men over. But women are a little bit harder, and I realised it made me happier to connect with them. That buzz has just grown and grown.’
Which takes us back to Lisa’s adored best friend, Michele Merkin, a former model now married to US billionaire Ted Waitt. The buddies had hoped to celebrate Lisa’s 50th birthday in January in Los Angeles where Michele lives, but work got in the way, so instead they’re planning to get together in the fashionable coastal town of Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia, where Michele’s known to hang out with Hollywood’s hottest (Australian-born) acting brothers Chris, Liam and Luke Hemsworth.
‘The Hemsworths might be there,’ Lisa shrugs. ‘I don’t know who’s in town.’ After all, for her, this has nothing to do with celebrity– it’s about two friends celebrating a milestone birthday together. ‘Sometimes I think life’s going too fast, and that makes me sad. But I’m in a great place. I feel I’ve regained my sense of self. I feel strong again.’
Catch Lisa weekly on This Morning from 10am on ITV and ITV Hub. To find out more about the This Morning Takes On The Menopause campaign visit itv.com/thismorning
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