Interview: Carol Smillie
TV presenter, Carol Smillie, talks to No.1 about slowly closing the door on
After presenting some of TV’S most well-known shows, 53-year-old Carol Smillie has established herself as one of television’s favourite faces. Now, Carol has moved on from Changing Rooms and decided to change the business world with her new venture, Diary Doll. No.1 chatted to Carol to find out exactly why she launched her new product, what it’s like to be a business woman and how she feels television has changed over the years.
What is Diary Doll and why did you decide to launch it?
Diary Doll are protective pants for periods, pelvic floor and post maternity. I knew my TV career was definitely quieter than it had been and it wasn’t going to be getting busier any time soon. I didn’t want to wait around for telly to throw me a few scraps, so this became my back up plan and it’s worked out very well!
What’s the story behind bringing out this product?
It started with myself and Annabel Croft. We were on holiday together and discussing the fact that our teenage daughters weren’t managing their monthly cycle very well. Annabel confessed that she had always suffered with this as a young girl and at 15, had left home to do the international tennis circuit. She said it was worrying playing tennis in a short white skirt and she also revealed you only get two toilet breaks in a three-hour match. She told me it’s a huge problem and we came to the conclusion that we didn’t know why there was nothing out there for people who needed it. There are knickers out there that can make you thinner, gel for your bras, but there was nothing out there for the most regular problem that females have.
What does your husband think of your new venture?
My husband actually works with me. Having been in the restaurant business for 20 years, he’s been by my side helping me with the commercial and business side of things. Annabel and I focus on marketing and sales.
How are you finding the business world so far?
It’s a bit of a roller-coaster. I find it exciting and terrifying in equal measure – I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights! It’s been a quick process, but there have been a lot of highs and lows in the lead up to this point. Our product has been in John Lewis for a year now and they’ve sold out four times. Now it’s going into 45 Debenhams stores, 475 pharmacies and all five of JD Williams’ catalogues. It’s all moving very quickly, but I’m hanging on!
What’s been the biggest hurdle in launching your product?
People’s attitudes to the whole subject matter – especially the media. Had I been selling knickers that were sexy, it would have been easy. Once John Lewis came on board, that opened a lot of doors and respect for us.
Do you think women are treated differently to men in business?
Not particularly because this is a women’s business world that I’m working in. I’m making a product for women and selling it to women, very rarely do you get a man buying our product for a store – the buyers are generally female.
her days in television and focusing on her new business venture with tennis ace, Annabel Croft.
Are you still working in TV at the moment?
I’ve got another series of Heroes coming up for STV, but that’s the only thing just now. I’m not actually looking for TV work – if my agent turns up with voice-overs and things like that, that’s fine because it’s easy to do. But, as they say in Dragon’s Den, ‘I’m out!’
Do you think it’s difficult for women to have a long career in television?
The world won’t change overnight and in television terms, there will always be younger women and older men presenting. Take Bruce Forsyth for example, he presented Strictly until he was over 80. Would you ever see an 80-year-old woman presenting a Saturday night TV show? It would never ever happen! Having said that, I’m very careful about this because I didn’t give any consideration to older women when I was making money in TV. I’m in no position to complain about it now.
Do you ever miss working solely in television?
Funnily enough, no! Isn’t that weird? I thoroughly enjoyed working in TV at the time – I had a really great run at it, but I’ve never made television my whole life. I didn’t put pregnancies to one side because I know what TV can be like; it’s really shallow. You can be in work one week and not the next. I didn’t want to be in that position, I’ve always wanted to be the one calling the shots in my own career, not somebody else.
Is there anything you were particularly happy to leave behind?
I don’t miss the uncertainty of it and the uncertainty of where your next job is coming from. While you’re sailing high and the work is flowing in TV, that’s not an issue. When it’s quieter your sort of sit back and think, ‘Oh so I’ve got all these bills to pay. What if I don’t get a phone call?’you always need to have a back up plan.
Has television changed over the past few years?
The role of a TV presenter has changed materially. There used to be a lot of TV presenters around, but now it’s people that are considered as experts – they’re presenting a particular show because they have an interest in that subject. They now prefer you to have a vested interest in the subject matter.
Do you think reality shows such as Made in Chelsea and TOWIE have encouraged this change?
These shows are very popular, but unfortunately they celebrate the banal, which I find quite sad. Don’t get me wrong I’ve watched them as well and thought, ‘Oh my God, stupidity is king sometimes.’ It’s kind of celebrating that some people can’t tell the time and I think that’s quite sad. It’s a slight freak show and that’s the part I find a little bit sad.
What has been the highlight of your television career so far?
I would maybe say Changing Rooms because it was so ground-breaking at the time, it was kind of the birth of that sort of car crash TV where you’re watching from behind a cushion because people’s houses weren’t exactly what they wanted them to be. In the early days, we all thought it was just a bit of fun and it ended up with a BAFTA nomination and an invitation to Downing Street.
Has your style changed since your early days on television?
I hope so, I wouldn’t like to think I’m stuck in a rut! I hope I don’t look too frumpy or too middle- aged and that I dress to flatter my good bits and hide my bad bits. My daughters still want to borrow my clothes, which is a good sign – they would be the first to tell me if something looked bad!
You always look fantastic! What is your beauty regime?
It’s ridiculously minimal to be honest! I don’t exercise, I don’t really eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, but I don’t drink a lot of alcohol and I’ve never smoked. My advice is to always take your makeup off before bed and don’t wear it if you don’t need to!
Do you think that the current generation of celebrities feel as though they have to sexualise their image?
It worries me when it’s younger girls. They’re very keen to have all the nails, hair, lashes and they’re still on children, they seem in such a rush. It sends out quite a scary message when they’re all dressed up.
Do you think things are different to when you were first in the public eye?
We live in a world of social media and every waking hour is documented and put out there. If you’re going to enter into that then you have to be very careful because it’ll be out there forever and it’ll bite you. I think in some ways social media is a brilliant tool, but in other ways it’s too much – I don’t allow phones at the dinner table! If you want to have dinner with me, then do that – don’t sit on your phone.