‘ Women should do what makes them feel good’
And Kate Garraway certainly does. About to turn 50, the TV presenter is open-minded about facelifts, career changes… and 14-day sex marathons, as she tells India Sturgis
For someone who is two months away from her 50th birthday, Kate Garraway is doing a good impression of someone less than half that age. Heels kicked off, feet pulled up on a chair, she looks delighted when a huge mug of hot chocolate is brought into our London hotel room by a waiter. ‘That looks like one of those posh Spanish ones made from melted chocolate, I love those,’ she says. Seconds later, the Good Morning Britain presenter has dipped a biscuit into a saucer of cream and is enthusiastically tucking in.
It’s not hot chocolate, or her 25-year career interviewing everyone from David Cameron and John Major to Julia Roberts and Justin Timberlake, that we’re here to discuss – but her first book, The Joy of Big Knickers (Or Learning to Love the Rest of Your Life). In it, she tackles the mother of all subjects: midlife.
‘Midlife is a time of explosive change, particularly for women,’ Kate says. ‘It’s just like experiencing another puberty. The changes that take place in your body are enormous and, like puberty, you have to throw off the past.’
It would be prudent, at this juncture, to point out that Kate looks miles away from a midlife crisis. Dressed in a powder-blue minidress, she is preened and polished, and sports a head of thick, glossy hair. She speaks quickly and eloquently, and jokes frequently. To outsiders, her home life seems picture-perfect too, as she lives in London with her husband of 11 years, Derek Draper, the former Labour spin doctor turned psychotherapist, and their two children, Darcey, 10, and Billy, seven. Yet a dramatic episode at the end of last summer sparked an intense period of self-reflection. Kate had been packing boxes ahead of a house move when she felt crushing pains in her chest. They continued for days, spreading to her neck and restricting her breathing. ‘I genuinely thought I was having a heart attack,’ she recalls. The symptoms worsened. After taking advice from a GP, she rushed to A&E. Scans showed she had torn cartilage around her ribs, most likely through heavy lifting, but her consultant’s words inflicted the worst damage: ‘ You have to realise you’re not 25, or even 35. You’re at that age where if you don’t look after your body, it won’t look after you.’ ‘That was a stab to the heart,’ she says. ‘It brought all sorts of things into focus. It feels like there’s a big change coming. It’s a different stage of life and I have to get my head around it. You start by thinking, “Oh my God, no matter how much make-up I put on, I don’t look the same any more.” Then you notice your skin.’ She pinches her upper arm to demonstrate. ‘Then I started obsessing over having a facelift.’ So in an attempt to shore up the sands of time, Kate spent six months speaking to experts in plastic surgery, make-up, hair, relationship counselling, women’s health and finance to ‘overthrow
the doom and gloom of middle age and transform myself into a state of joy, vitality and wisdom’. The result is her book – partly a way of imparting that advice to others and partly a memoir that documents that personal journey.
One of the most illuminating stages of it has been a self-imposed 14-day sex marathon with Derek, where the couple pledged to have sex every day for two weeks in a bid to reconnect romantically. While she won’t divulge how frequently they made it to the bedroom before the trial, she blames the ‘ business of running a family’ and a dip in self-esteem on it not being enough.
‘Sex is often very bound up in confidence and how you feel about yourself and your body. You find yourself only having conversations like, “Are you picking up the children today?” and “Have you done this?” and “Darcey needs egg boxes to make a dragon in school tomorrow.” You are kind of content with each other. In the evenings you think, “Lovely, clean sheets! Shall we watch
Homeland?” It’s easy to go down schisms of self-doubt on both sides.’
They drew up a timetable and slotted in time alone together. Some days they had an hour, other days less because of a meeting or Billy having a nightmare. ‘I worked out that I like to be tickled on day five, and on day six that he really doesn’t,’ she laughs. But disaster struck on day eight when Derek fell over during a trip to the park with the children and broke four bones in his foot. He emerged from A&E in a wheelchair.
‘A friend said, “How’s the two-week sex experiment going?” I said, “He’s in plaster.” I had to tell her it wasn’t my doing.’ At this, Kate folds into hysterics. Did they continue? ‘I felt like it was a little bit of an imposition to insist on continuing when the guy couldn’t actually stand up!’
For the final six days they lay in bed chatting ‘with [Derek’s] foot up like in Carry
On Doctor’, but Kate is adamant that the experiment – break or no break – reinforced how important ‘romantic time’ is. ‘ We know we need to book it in now.’
Kate’s appeal has long been that she is as smart, forthright and bubbly on screen as she is in real life. Born in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, to Gordon, a civil servant, and Marilyn, a teacher, hers was an untroubled
childhood. From a young age, she enjoyed extracting people’s stories, and her parents have tapes of her, aged six, interviewing her grandmother and giving an imaginary grilling to Margaret Thatcher, then education secretary, over her decision to remove free school milk.
She studied English and history at Bath University before starting at BBC Radio Oxford, then switched to television, working for Central News, Meridian Tonight, BBC
News 24 and Sky News. In 2000 she joined GMTV and worked through its various incarnations as Daybreak and, now, Good
Morning Britain, via appearances on the sofa for Lorraine, where, as well as authenticity with guests, her tendency for mishaps gained her notoriety.
Most recently, this included flashing her flesh-coloured underwear to the nation as co-host Ben Shephard spun her around on camera. It’s a Bridget Jones move that Renée Zellweger herself would have been proud of. In fact, in the book, Kate divulges that the actress used her as a muse for the first Bridget Jones’s Diary film, studying tapes of her on GMTV. On meeting Zellweger before the third film, the actress welcomed Kate as ‘ the real Bridget Jones’. Now Kate’s day starts at 2.15am for Good
Morning Britain and ends after presenting a mid-morning weekday slot for Smooth Radio at 1pm. If it’s a schlep, she won’t admit it. ‘There’s something magical about breakfast TV. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.’ And despite the slew of headlines about ageism in her industry, it’s not something she’s witnessed. ‘In every
‘Sex is bound up in how you feel about yourself, your body. It’s easy to go down schisms of self-doubt’
conversation I’ve had in decisions over jobs, I’ve never had the impression that age has been a factor.’
Yet as she approaches 50, despite never even having Botox, she has found herself confronting her personal desire for a facelift. ‘I’ve got a neck like a dinosaur’s testicle,’ she deadpans. ‘Even when I was 16, in school photos, I have lines across my neck. Now my face has caught up.’
She started lifting her face up to try to look younger, and searching other people’s faces for evidence of surgery. ‘I was becoming obsessed,’ she says. ‘I don’t want to be one of those people who say, “No, no, no, I never would, it’s betraying women.” I don’t feel that. Women should do what makes them feel good. But these are massive operations. I don’t know, talk to me in 10 years’ time… maybe four years’ time. I would never say never.’
For now, the cost and the recovery time puts her off – and the fact she has improved her diet and exercise regime enough to notice her skin is ‘loads better’. Plus, she has other anti-ageing tactics up her sleeve, including a course of Computer Aided Cosmetology Instrument (CACI) treatments, where an electrical current is passed through the facial muscles to lift and tighten them. She decided against Botox after a surgeon advised that it would make her low-set forehead ‘even worse’.
Years of having her make-up done professionally have armed her with a few less-invasive tricks of the trade, too. She has a few rules: spend money on foundation and let a tinted moisturiser dry slightly on the hand for a few minutes before applying to give better coverage. Another tip was passed on by the actress Salma Hayek, who told her that if you’ve cleansed, toned and moisturised correctly the night before, you should only splash your face with cold water in the morning. ‘I whack on night creams and don’t mind going to bed slimy.’
Today, she says, she feels ‘more empowered’. She adds, ‘Sure my breasts will never be as perky as they were when I was 18, but there are other things that can be stronger. It’s a new era. We always think women are invisible in midlife even though we are everywhere, [but] that’s because we don’t celebrate ourselves.’
Given Kate’s philosophically adept grip on life, it’s a surprise when she admits she isn’t as self-assured as her on-screen self suggests: ‘I’m not sure I’m very confident at all. There was a lot of my life when I thought I was fundamentally unlovable. A lot of people relentlessly have finished with me. I’d go out on dates and they’d not go anywhere. That can gnaw away at you and make you a little bit of a desperate people-pleaser, but hopefully I’ve changed that.’
It’s testament to her strength of character that she did it so effectively following a divorce from her first husband, Ian Rumsey, a former TV colleague and Daybreak editor. Derek, who she met a couple of years later through a mutual friend, has never let her get away with people-pleasing behaviour.
So, after her six-month journey, how does she feel about turning 50? ‘Now I feel the thing we really loved about our youth was the excitement about the future. You had a sense that good, new things were going to happen. It was the energy you had then, the sense of discovery and excitement. It is about bringing that back into your life, even though you’re frazzled. It’s that feeling you want to hang on to, rather than necessarily a face that doesn’t have crow’s feet.’
With that in mind, Kate and Derek have booked a romantic holiday to Rome in May – when his foot has recovered – to celebrate her 50th birthday, and finish what they started.
‘The Joy of Big Knickers’ by Kate Garraway is published by Blink Publishing (£14.99). To order your copy for £12.99 plus p&p call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk
‘I used to think I was unlovable, which made me a people-pleaser. Hopefully, I’ve changed that’
Clockwise from top left Being lifted by Ben Shephard, which resulted in that knickerflashing moment; with Renée Zellweger, who has christened her ‘the real Bridget Jones’; with Julia Roberts in 2009. Below With fellow GMB presenter Susanna Reid
Far left As a fledgling presenter on ITV’s Central News South, 1994. Left Kate in a school photo.
Below With husband Derek Draper and their children