Britain’s best-loved TV presenter Lorraine Kelly tells Judith Woods why she just gets better with age.
Whenever I think of Lorraine Kelly in all her smiley, likable normality I am reminded of Dolly Parton’s quip: ‘It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.’ Because, make no mistake, it takes an extraordinary woman to stay at the top of her game by appearing so… ordinary. That’s not meant to be an insult; it’s more that Lorraine’s authenticity and approachability qualify as superpowers in an industry populated by overinflated egos.
She’s a first-name-only star who has been on our screens for more than 30 years, yet is as unstarry as they come. No airs, a multitude of graces and an unflinching instinct for a topical story have seen her crowned queen of daytime television. At 58, the Glasgow-born presenter is more popular than ever. How does it feel to be a one-woman rebuke to ageism? I ask, and she bursts into a fit of giggles. ‘Ooh, I love it!’ she twinkles. ‘I’ll take that, thank you. There’s a title to reckon with. All I can say is that I consider myself hugely fortunate to have my daytime slot because my viewers know what they want and they are fiercely loyal.
‘They think of us as pals and don’t take kindly to producers tinkering about with formats or presenters. Generally in television there’s a constant impetus to freshen things up and search for novelty, but daytime is driven by viewers who want familiarity. I’ve been on so long that people have grown up with me. When the rapper Naughty Boy came on the show he stayed up the night before baking a pie for me.’ How sweet, how random. But that variety is very much the joy of daytime TV. I doubt, however, that Lorraine’s familiarity is the only reason her career shows no sign of flagging.
But before I drill down a little deeper, let me state how flippin’ fabulous Lorraine looks. Glowing and petite, she has successfully kept off the two stone she shed eight years ago (and showed off, baring her bikini body live on air age 55). When I say that she seemed more mumsy and middle-aged in her 30s than she does now, she shrieks in agreement.
‘Yes! You are right. I was a very late bloomer. I have my mother to thank for my skin and cheekbones, but the rest of it is down to the fact that in my 50s I have confidence, plus I’m more styled so I appear put-together. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen old photos and had to apologise for my hideous hairdo and the fact I look like I dressed from the washing basket.’
It seems ironic that a woman who looks ageless should be running Youthful You, a month-long segment on Lorraine in which she and some famous faces will explore the latest anti-ageing techniques and products, putting gadgets and non-invasive procedures to the test live on air.
‘I respond to what viewers want and there’s huge demand for information,’ she says. ‘We’re living longer and we want to look good as well as live more healthily. I’m fitter than I was 20 years ago and loving it.
‘One of the few consolations of growing older is that you have far more self-confidence than when you were young. There’s something liberating about not caring what the world thinks of you; these days there are so many people waiting to take offence that it could drive you crazy. I would hate to be a young woman these days with the pressures of social media and the distortions of filters and airbrushing. It’s so superficial.’
It is this honesty that strikes a chord with viewers. But can she possibly be as nicey-nice as she seems when welcoming Dame Helen Mirren or Ricky Gervais into the studio? Yes and no. Lorraine is open, upfront and, having grown up in the Gorbals, is very much in touch with reality. When she looks shocked during a fashion slot that a high-street frock costs north of £150, she means it. Her tears, when she wells up while talking about the Manchester bombing or the Dunblane massacre, are real.
But she also has grit, intelligence and is a grafter who doesn’t suffer fools gladly; Piers Morgan has described her as an iron fist in a fluffy glove. ‘I don’t take myself seriously but I take what I do very seriously,’ she says. ‘When guests come into the studio it’s my job to make them feel welcome and relaxed. But if they are a politician or business figure who has committed some kind of misdemeanour then they need to be called to account, and that’s what I do, too.’
Lorraine was born to unmarried teenage parents who, despite family pressure to have the baby put up for adoption, got married. Money was short but love and care were plentiful; six years later Lorraine’s brother Graham was born. She was an academic child and considered studying Russian at university until a job came up at her local newspaper and her fate was sealed. She progressed to television where she became Scotland correspondent for TV-am, haring across the country with cameraman Steve Smith, whom she subsequently married. It was her exhaustive yet sensitive coverage of the Lockerbie bombing in December 1988 that brought her to the attention of TV-am bosses in London, who summoned her to do holiday cover in the studio the following year.
‘After that, another temporary position cropped up and somehow I never went home again. It wasn’t at all planned; I never had any ambition to be the woman on the sofa with the big hair and the pink jacket,’ she says. ‘But I really enjoyed the pace and diversity of a morning show.’ Then came GMTV, followed by fronting various programmes, including her own show, originally called LK Today, now Lorraine.
She has never experienced a #MeToo moment of harassment or discrimination, even when covering football in the 80s, but says, ‘My heart goes out to women – and men – who have been exposed to unacceptable behaviour. It’s good that that sort of thing is being called out and I hope we can move forward to a better place.’
Steve initially moved to London to be with Lorraine, but when their daughter Rosie, now 23, was 11, they moved the family base back to Scotland while Lorraine maintained a small flat in London and commuted. Now that Rosie is in Singapore working in the charity sector, Lorraine and Steve have sold up in Scotland and live in Berkshire with their border terrier Angus. ‘Steve is wonderfully laidback and always puts things in perspective when I’m getting my knickers in a twist. We managed a long-distance relationship quite well but it’s so much better now we are together all the time.’
What would Lorraine say was her USP? ‘Curiosity. I have a curious mind. I prepare and research before every interview but I am also ready to listen, and if we end up disappearing down an unexpected rabbit-hole that’s fine, too. If you are interested – and interesting – things will go well. Viewers aren’t stupid and they can always spot a fake. That’s why so many reality starscrash and burn; they’re so high on fame and attention that they think they can waltz into television and it will be easy. It’s not; an awful lot of hard work goes into making it seem that way.’
A major part of Lorraine’s appeal is that she never shies away from disclosure. She flies the flag enthusiastically for HRT and when she suffered a miscarriage she spoke about it on air, receiving support from viewers that helped her through a very difficult time. ‘We hoped we might have more children but it never happened and we didn’t feel strongly enough to pursue IVF. Am I sad not to have had more kids? Yes. But I feel so lucky to have such a lovely daughter. At the moment it just so happens that her lunch break coincides with when I’m in make-up and hair so two or three times a week we talk or Skype before the show.’
There have been other tough times; in 2012 Lorraine fell from a horse during a charity event and badly injured her leg, which was trampled on. She needed four hours of surgery, a blood transfusion and hundreds of stitches. Again, the outpouring of concern from her fans was touching. Having previously received an OBE for charity work after completing four fundraising marathons over the years and a gruelling 100-kilometre desert trek in aid of Comic Relief, it was Lorraine’s turn to receive a little TLC.
‘I think people are tired of snarkiness,’ she says. ‘I believe they want a little bit of kindness. Maybe that sounds wishy-washy, but breakfast and daytime telly are kinder places than elsewhere.’ At this point I yell out: Piers Morgan? Kind?
Lorraine grins with mischief at the mention of the Marmite Good Morning Britain maverick, whose show goes out just before her own. ‘Susanna Reid is a saint,’ she says. ‘She is bloody brilliant at steering things back when Piers has gone off on one. I couldn’t do it, I don’t have the patience, but together they are sparky and energising. I know Piers will hate me for saying this – which is why I’m going to say it, obviously – but beneath it all he has a very good heart. I’ve got a real soft spot for him.’
Although she is a vocal supporter of equal pay, she has no idea about Piers’s salary and rolls her eyes at tabloid claims that she is on a £2.1 million contract. ‘I always have to phone up my mum and tell her it’s not true because she’s of a generation that still believes everything they read,’ she says. ‘Don’t get me wrong, television pays really well and I feel hugely privileged to be doing what I love; I’ve found my niche and I never take it for granted.’ Over the years she has built up quite a cottage industry; there have been spin-off shows and documentaries – most notably when she travelled to Antarctica in the footsteps of her hero Sir Ernest Shackleton – although her Wedding Day Winners game-show on BBC primetime earlier this year proved to be a rare dud. She has newspaper columns on both sides of the border, recipe books, an autobiography, a fitness DVD, clothing ranges and is the face of homeware website Wayfair.
Is the little dance at the end of the advert her pitch to do Strictly Come Dancing? She squeals in horror. ‘No! I’d be awful – and not endearing awful or comical awful or national-treasure awful. Just awful awful. When I had Anton du Beke in the studio we stood up and he took me in his arms and said, ‘It’s like holding a tree.’ I went all Scottish and stiff. I wouldn’t ever do I’m a Celebrity… either; I have no desire to eat kangaroo’s arse and it would be very boring without a book to read.’
It’s fortunate, then, that she loves her day job and, beneath the smiles and chitchat, is prepared for all-comers. ‘In my experience, the larger the star’s entourage the bigger the pain in the bum they will be. If I’m doing an interview in a hotel I can tell as soon as the lift doors open how things will go. Hugh Jackman? Everyone’s having a laugh. Bruce Willis? They act like they’re at a funeral because he hates being there,’ she says. ‘The worst was Kevin Spacey who was rude and dismissive not just to me, but to everybody in the room. He was entitled and I was disappointed in him. When he later appeared to deflect sexual misconduct accusations by coming out as gay, that was cringeworthy and wrong.’
It’s a shame she probably won’t ever get the chance to tell him face to face – that really would be TV gold. Yes, Lorraine is nice, but she’s most definitely not nicey-nice; underestimate her at your peril.
DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN THREE WORDS Curious, loyal, trustworthy.
WHO MAKES YOU LAUGH? My husband – and Billy Connolly, but not as much.
FAVOURITE SONG ‘Club Tropicana’ by Wham!.
STYLE ICON Helen Mirren for her elegance. RuPaul for sheer magnificence.
LAST BOOK YOU READ I just re-read South by Ernest Shackleton.
LAST FILM YOU WATCHED A Wrinkle in Time.
BEAUTY ESSENTIALS Tinted moisturiser and Touche Eclat.
IN YOUR HANDBAG A book or a Kindle.
ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE Alarm clock, phone, books and lavender spray.
MOTTO Don’t leave everything for ‘best’.
Youthful You starts tomorrow on Lorraine, which airs weekdays on ITV at 8.30am