Kirsty Wark on stay­ing vis­i­ble

She may have reached a stage of life that used to be dis­cussed in hushed tones, but Kirsty Wark has no plans to fade into the back­ground. She talks to Vicky Al­lan about her Bafta-nom­i­nated film, her rules for jug­gling work and fam­ily ... and the sleaze cr

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS - The In­sid­ers’ Guide to The Menopause is nom­i­nated in the Cur­rent Af­fairs sec­tion of the Bri­tish Academy Scot­land Awards, which are pre­sented tonight (Novem­ber 5) at Glas­gow’s Radis­son Blu Ho­tel. The full cer­e­mony will be streamed via their Face­book page:

AT an age when it’s said women start to be­come in­vis­i­ble, vet­eran pre­sen­ter Kirsty Wark, grand dame of News­night, isn’t budg­ing from our screens. Dis­ap­pear­ing is some­thing that, at 62 years old, she is ab­so­lutely not go­ing to do, nor does she be­lieve that any wo­man her age has to do it. “Do you re­mem­ber when Ger­maine Greer said she felt in­vis­i­ble af­ter her 40s?” she says, dur­ing an in­ter­view she’s squeezed into her hec­tic sched­ule. “It’s just rub­bish. You can feel in­vis­i­ble if you want to be in­vis­i­ble. But you don’t need to be in­vis­i­ble. You’re vis­i­ble to the peo­ple you want to be vis­i­ble to.”

Wark has seen other women of her age dis­ap­pear. Peo­ple who have clearly given up and thought, “that’s it”. This, she says, is ex­tra­or­di­nary, given cur­rent life ex­pectancy, and she’s just not do­ing it. “Touch wood, I would like to be alive when I’m 90. I think we’ve just got to have a dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude to it. We are ma­jor bread­win­ners. We are ma­jor car­ers. And we’ve got a lot to con­trib­ute.”

Wark re­mains a key fig­ure in tele­vi­sion cur­rent af­fairs, one of the rel­a­tively few women on the BBC top earner list pub­lished ear­lier this year, bring­ing in be­tween £150,000 and £199,999 a year. “I feel as em­pow­ered as ever,” she observes. “There are key things that I want to do, and I’m very lucky I get to do them. You have to keep chang­ing and de­vel­op­ing. You can’t ex­pect some kind of golden ticket. You have to earn it all the time and you have to be on your game.”

And all this, de­spite the fact Wark is no longer in the flush of youth; she is, in fact, a menopausal wo­man. This puts her at a stage of life that has, un­til now, been rarely dis­cussed openly – a fact Wark is work­ing hard to change. Her ground­break­ing doc­u­men­tary on the menopause has been nom­i­nated for a Scot­tish Bafta award. And it says a great deal about its taboo-bust­ing im­pact that, af­ter four decades work­ing in tele­vi­sion, and de­spite hav­ing fa­mously skew­ered Mar­garet Thatcher dur­ing an in­ter­view, the film has gen­er­ated the most en­thu­si­as­tic re­sponse of any of her work. Ev­ery­where she has gone in re­cent times, she says, women have ap­proached her about it. “It was like peo­ple were sud­denly say­ing, ‘Oh my God we can talk about this thing.’ Women, from CEOs in banks to women work­ing in Marks and Spencer’s, were com­ing up to me and say­ing that the next day they went to their GPs and said, ‘Look I don’t want to stay on anti-de­pres­sants’. Or ask­ing, ‘Why did we not dis­cuss HRT [Hor­mone Re­place­ment Ther­apy]?’”

The In­sid­ers’ Guide To The Menopause, which Wark presents and in which she tells her per­sonal story, is a land­mark film. Made by BBC Scot­land, it’s the first ever full-length doc­u­men­tary to have been made by the BBC on the sub­ject, though it af­fects all women. It was the brain­child, not of Wark her­self, but of ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer May Miller, who had long wanted to make a film on the menopause. Know­ing that Wark had gone through what’s called a med­i­cal menopause fol­low­ing a hys­terec­tomy, Miller had thought the pre­sen­ter would be ideal to front it.

Its mes­sage is that the worst thing about the menopause is we do not talk about it. We ridicule it, and ap­proach it in fear. But, as Wark points out, it can be “a lib­er­a­tion”. Wark is talk­ing to me in a week that sees her head off to Perth to help host a Menopause Café at a fes­ti­val, dart down to London for a few days film­ing for News­night, and then head back up for the Scot­tish Bafta awards. Clearly, the menopause hasn’t slowed her down, or made her less vis­i­ble.

That word “lib­er­a­tion” may sur­prise many women, for whom the per­i­menopause – the pe­riod of hor­monal changes that leads up to the ces­sa­tion of men­stru­a­tion – is char­ac­terised by hot flushes, in­som­nia and low moods. What’s lib­er­at­ing about that?

“You don’t have to worry about go­ing to buy tam­pons,” de­clares Wark. “I mean, re­ally … As long as you’re happy to be there and you’ve had what you’ve needed from life be­fore­hand and by that I mean if your re­pro­duc­tive life has been what you wanted and de­sired, it’s a lib­er­a­tion.”

Wark, who has two grown-up chil­dren with her hus­band, the STV Direc­tor of Con­tent Alan Cle­ments, is one of those blessed women. But many women – even those who’ve had the re­pro­duc­tive life they wanted – still ex­pe­ri­ence the menopause as a loss. “That’s be­cause they feel – there’s my sex­u­al­ity gone,” she sug­gests. “But we know that’s not true.”

The In­sid­ers’ Guide To The Menopause at­tempts to cut through some of the con­fu­sion around the health risks of hor­mone re­place­ment ther­apy (HRT), and there is plenty. For in 2003, re­search was pub­lished show­ing links be­tween the hor­mones and in­creased rate of breast can­cer. The im­pact was huge. Many women stopped tak­ing the drugs im­me­di­ately. And while those links have since been found to be over­stated, the me­dia re­mains lit­tered with dif­fer­ent mes­sages about how good or bad it is for you. “Of course, we now know that that whole orig­i­nal study was flawed,” says Wark. “You [can] have a pre­dis­po­si­tion to­wards breast can­cer. It may speed it up, but it will not give you breast can­cer.”

Run­ning through this film, there­fore, is a story of a gen­er­a­tion who ditched HRT, out of fear, and missed out on its ben­e­fits. Wark her­self was thrown into med­i­cal menopause at the age of 47, and went straight onto HRT. At the time she “felt fab”. But, years later, af­ter news emerged of the link with breast can­cer, she went cold turkey, ditched the hor­mones and was plunged straight into menopause.

“Hon­estly if you’d been on HRT and come off it, it’s like whooooff,” she re­calls, “there is a very big dif­fer­ence. The trou­ble was it was that to noth­ing. Be­cause I had had a hys­terec­tomy and my ovaries had been taken there was no oe­stro­gen at all there.”

The film is fre­quently funny as well as in­for­ma­tive. An in­ter­view with Jen­nifer Saun­ders – who talks about what it was like to be knocked into the menopause when she had treat­ment for breast can­cer – makes for sober­ing, but hi­lar­i­ous, view­ing. “When May came to me to do the doc­u­men­tary, I said, ‘I’ll only do it if it’s got hu­mour in it’,” says Wark. “There would be noth­ing worse than a turgid, ‘Oh my God it’s the menopause’ doc­u­men­tary. That’s why I got hold of Jen­nifer – to make it light-hearted. Women are very funny when they all get to­gether. And that lot were.”

For Wark, the big­gest symp­tom of com­ing off HRT was sleep­less­ness, though this has im­proved some­what since she re­turned to a low dose. Have there been times when her work was af­fected by what she was go­ing through phys­i­cally? “No, be­cause you sum­mon your en­ergy for your work. And you make sure you are on your game. You don’t want any free pass. Ab­so­lutely no free pass, thank you.”

In a life that has in­volved weekly trips be­tween Scot­land and London, Wark has al­ways given her en­ergy to her work, and also her fam­ily, even when ex­hausted. When her chil­dren were young she had a rule that she would not go away from home for more than three nights. On one oc­ca­sion she went to film in the Hi­malayan foothills and re­turned af­ter three nights. “I was back – tired and wrung out. But my chil­dren didn’t suf­fer. And I did the good work.” Nev­er­the­less, she ac­knowl­edges: “Some­thing has to give. No­body is a su­per­woman by the way. There’s no such thing.”

Has the menopause brought wor­ries about how she looks? Wark, who has pre­vi­ously dis­missed the idea of hav­ing plas­tic surgery, ap­pears un­con­cerned about age rav­aging her beauty. “Not re­ally. It’s more that you feel a bit more rick­ety in the old joints.” A scan car­ried out for the pur­pose of the doc­u­men­tary showed she had os­teope­nia (loss of bone den­sity). “I got freaked out by that,” she says, par­tic­u­larly since she was a per­son who al­ready ex­er­cised. “I play ten­nis a lot. I’d play ten­nis ev­ery day if I could. ” Re­cently she and her fam­ily were in Ar­ran, a hol­i­day lo­ca­tion she has vis­ited since child­hood, and, she re­calls, “It pished with rain the whole time, but there were the four of us, the fam­ily, and we played ten­nis in­doors ev­ery sin­gle day. Twice a day one day.”

ONE thing Wark makes clear is she does not feel old. The need to keep fit and look af­ter your­self is her mantra. Though her own par­ents are no longer liv­ing – her mother passed away in 2008 and her fa­ther died of can­cer in 1993 – she observes many women of her age are “pulled this way and that, by par­ents, by chil­dren and by grand­chil­dren”. “It’s great to be on hand. But be on hand, don’t be on tap. There’s a huge dif­fer­ence. You’ve got to keep fit, look af­ter your­self and carve out time for your­self.”

Her own mother helped out with her grand­chil­dren, but al­ways pri­ori­tised her own ac­tiv­i­ties. “Some­times I’d be pissed off. I’d say, ‘Can you look af­ter the kids?’ And she’d say, ‘Well I’ve got my bridge to­day, and I’m vol­un­teer­ing at the hos­pi­tal. In the end I said, ‘Thank God for that be­cause bridge kept her as sharp as a tack.’ These things mat­ter.”

What Wark wants is for moth­ers and daugh­ters to talk about this sub­ject. Wark’s mother de­scribed to her how she had been through an ear­ly­ish menopause in her mid-40s. Wark’s own daugh­ter, Caitlin, at 26, is fol­low­ing in her mother’s foot­steps, in her first job in jour­nal­ism at Homes And In­te­ri­ors Scot­land. “She just knows this stuff and she knows to keep fit. That is a key thing, fit­ness. And to eat well.”

Not ev­ery­one, of course, can have a menopause, or a life, like Wark’s. One can’t help but feel that she has been not only tal­ented and driven, but also lucky – the daugh­ter of a lawyer and a school­teacher, who went to Welling­ton in­de­pen­dent girls’ school, whose ca­reer as a pre­sen­ter was kicked off when she was spot­ted sit­ting in a pre­sen­ter’s chair as a stand-in dur­ing a light­ing check, and who ended up as one half of Scot­land’s most sig­nif­i­cant tele­vi­sion power cou­ple.

To her credit, though, this good for­tune is some­thing she ac­knowl­edges. “I’ve been very priv­i­leged in the ca­reer I have had. Not ev­ery­body gets the op­por­tu­nity. I think I have great op­por­tu­ni­ties. I feel lib­er­ated about what I can do at work so I feel very lucky. Lots of peo­ple do not have that lux­ury.”

Of­ten she seems im­mune to some of the prob­lems that af­flict women’s ca­reers. For in­stance, she can’t re­call ex­pe­ri­enc­ing much in the way of sex­ism or sex­ual ha­rass­ment. Never has she had the hor­ror of the kind of en­counter of which we have heard too many in re­cent weeks – but she is em­phat­i­cally sup­port­ive of those who have told their

own #metoo sto­ries fol­low­ing the Har­vey We­in­stein al­le­ga­tions.

“I would say I was very lucky that I was never sex­u­ally ha­rassed,” she says. “There was an in­ci­dent in which I was in a car go­ing north from London and the driver said I’m a bit tired maybe we should stop for the night. I just said, no, no, I can take over the driv­ing. But that was it, and it didn’t oc­cur to me that it was sig­nif­i­cant, be­cause I wasn’t in that mind­set. And I’ve never had any­thing like that with some­one in a power po­si­tion – which is aw­ful for women when their next job may de­pend on it. So We­in­stein be­ing called out was a huge thing in terms of un­lock­ing the gates.”

“As a fem­i­nist,” she adds, “I thought we were get­ting away from all this in the 1970s and 1980s, and my God, I’m not say­ing it’s en­demic but it’s ter­ri­ble. And also peo­ple are still re­luc­tant to name and shame. I might be able to han­dle it now but what if you’re a 22-year-old re­searcher in your first three-month con­tract, hav­ing got a flat in London that you paid a six-month de­posit. Re­ally?”

This past week­end when she was in Perth at the Women of the World (WOW) fes­ti­val, for the third of a se­ries of Menopause Cafes, in­spired by her doc­u­men­tary, she talked about what it means to be 60. “Sixty to me means spend­ing as much time as pos­si­ble with fam­ily and friends,” she says. “Travel, travel. I have lots of places I want to see and go. Sixty means maybe get­ting a lit­tle bit more wis­dom as I go, read­ing books I haven’t had a chance to read. Fin­ish­ing ta­pes­tries. All that kind of cr*p ... I’ve got a bucket list. I want to join a choir, get an­other cou­ple of books writ­ten, travel to South Amer­ica.”

When it comes to the menopause, Wark is not the only one to have talked openly about it. Since Ger­maine Greer pub­lished her 1991 book, The Change, there has been a build­ing wave of writ­ing on the sub­ject. It’s been said that so-called baby boomers, like Wark – those in the 1950s and early 1960s – have been the gen­er­a­tion that have owned ev­ery­thing, who have bro­ken all the taboos. Here they are do­ing it again with the menopause. Is there any taboo-bust­ing con­ver­sa­tion she feels her gen­er­a­tion have not had? “I think death is a re­ally dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion. Fewer of us are re­li­gious. Also peo­ple want to think they’re go­ing to live a long life.”

When it comes to break­ing the cul­ture of si­lence over the menopause, how­ever, she be­lieves there is still a long way to go. “There’s one very high-pro­file tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter,” she rails, “who four weeks ago went to her doc­tor and he just im­me­di­ately of­fered her anti-de­pres­sants. It was like, have you not seen this doc­u­men­tary? Don’t you know that we know now?

“We will not be fobbed off.”

It speaks vol­umes that Wark’s work on The In­sider’s Guide To The Menopause has gen­er­ated the most en­thu­si­as­tic re­sponse of any­thing she has done through­out her ca­reer

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