Life, love, Lorraine!
Yes, it really has been 35 years since Lorraine Kelly’s TV debut. Here she shares the highs and lows of her remarkable career – from the horror of Lockerbie to the emotive issues she tackles on her show.
Lorraine Kelly, surely television’s sweetest breakfast star, has no hesitation in describing what she’d do to her ITV colleague Piers Morgan if she were ever forced to present with him. ‘If I had to sit next to him on the sofa every day I’d strangle him with my bare hands,’ she giggles.
‘It would be justifiable homicide. Susanna Reid – who does have to sit next to him – is a saint in my eyes. She should have a halo above her head. You never know what the b **** r is going to say next. But I like to think there’s a mutual respect there. You can only say the sort of things we say to each other if, deep down, you respect each other. I do think he’s interesting to watch, even if he’s a pain in the bum.’
Lorraine, breakfast television’s longest-serving continuous presenter, this year celebrating 35 years on the box, remains the official queen of morning telly.
Yet she’s the most modest celebrity you’re ever likely to meet. After being primped and prodded for our sensational photoshoot on a cold and wet afternoon, you’d think she’d be a bit tired and grumpy. But there’s none of that. Before she sits down, after changing into her more usual look of jeans and a jumper, she offers to get me a cup of tea and admits to being thrilled by her few hours as a supermodel. ‘Oooooh, I love doing this sort of stuff, I feel very glamorous – very far removed from my usual look,’ she laughs. ‘When else do you get a chance to do stuff like this?’
And that is the secret of Lorraine’s success. She’s so open and friendly, with a cheery laugh that comes straight from the heart, that it’s impossible not to warm to her. Tom Hanks and Hugh Jackman adore her. Ryan Reynolds and Ruth Wilson are always happy to be on her sofa. Singers from Cliff Richard to Olly Murs call and ask to be on the show. One of the very few people she didn’t get on with was Kevin Spacey – ‘He was horrible’ – and his recent downfall came as no surprise to her. ‘He was just rude to everybody. By the time he’d gone I thought, “Oh boy, you’re really not very nice.”’
Recently she had to get one terrified A-lister – known the world over as one of cinema’s biggest baddies, Voldemort – to relax on the sofa. ‘Sometimes I forget how terrifying live television can be for people who aren’t used to it,’ she says. ‘I always go and meet the people I’m going to interview before we go on air and Ralph Fiennes was literally rocking backwards and forwards in terror. He whispered, “I’m really nervous.” He commands the stage doing Shakespeare, but he was terrified. We ended up talking in the interview about how he gets scared having to talk about himself.’
Born in the working-class Gorbals area of Glasgow to a TV repairman father, Lorraine grew up in a house with an outside toilet and no hot water, but she was bright and ambitious. She turned down a university place to start working on her local newspaper, The East Kilbride News, and then got a job as a researcher for the BBC.
When she heard about plans for a new-fangled thing called a ‘breakfast show’, she applied to TV-am to be part of their line-up. She was made the show’s Scotland Correspondent in 1984. She became a regular on television, but she also fell in love with cameraman Steve Smith and they married in 1992. It was Lorraine’s heartfelt reporting on the Lockerbie tragedy 30 years ago that brought her to the attention of TV-am’s bigwigs. She was the first TV reporter on the scene in December 1988 when a Pan-Am transatlantic flight from Frankfurt to Detroit was destroyed by a bomb in mid-air and landed on the small Scottish town, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 people on the ground.
She reveals she still gets flashbacks of the utter devastation that greeted her. ‘I knew the police because every morning I would phone them to see what was happening,’ she recalls. ‘It was in the early hours of the morning and I got a call from a local policeman who said, “Something’s happened, we think an aircraft has come down, we’re not sure.”’ She was already with Steve and they grabbed their stuff and got in the car. ‘It took us a couple of hours to get there from Glasgow – we had three tyres blow out because of the debris in the road.
‘We got right up to the nose of the plane in the field. We were there before the police had put barriers up. It was terrible. I’ve kind of blanked a lot of it out because it was so bad. There were lots of bodies, some of them were still in their seats. It was awful, so awful. There was like a crater and some houses still standing, others were just gone. Just moments before, families had been sitting there watching the telly. And then hell came down from the sky.’
It was in the days before news organisations offered journalists counselling, so she just had to get on with it. ‘I do sometimes get flashbacks,’ she admits. ‘I still see the bodies. My dad came to pick me up from there on Christmas Day to take me home for dinner. Being a typical working-class Scottish man, he said, “You’ll not be wanting to talk about it.” But I ignored that. I just talked and cried. It was a two-hour journey and I talked and he listened. He didn’t say very much but it helped me. And obviously I was able to talk about it with Steve too as he was going through the same thing.’
After Lockerbie Lorraine was asked to do more and more. In 1990 she became a main presenter of
‘Spacey was horrible, he was rude to everyone’
Good Morning Britain and in 1993 she helped launch GMTV. A year later, Lorraine took time off to have her daughter Rosie. When she was ready to return to work she discovered her job was gone – Anthea Turner was now doing it. ‘When I went off on maternity they replaced me, basically because telly is brutal and that’s just what happens,’ she shrugs. ‘But then I was given a programme to do about motherhood and it did really well and I ended up with my own show. It was good in the end – when I was doing GMTV I had to get up at 3am, but my own show was on later.’
It must have hurt when she was replaced so easily, but Lorraine is open about the brutal nature of television. ‘I’ve seen many regime changes,’ she says. ‘The only thing that’s constant about TV is that it moves all the time and you have to move with it. That’s just how things happen. I’m still there. It will stop one day. Telly is brutal; the only reason I’m still doing this is because people are still watching.’
Lorraine clearly adores the cut and thrust of live TV, but it hasn’t all been plain sailing. A few weeks ago she had to run off because of a coughing fit, and a few years ago she tripped up while going to interview Jane Asher and had to carry on doing the chat with blood running down her knees. But she loves the fact that you never quite know what’s going to happen next. Her longevity is testament not only to her genuine talent, but also to her hard work.
Although her day job is in London, the family moved to Dundee as Steve wanted Rosie to go to school there. So for many years Lorraine would shuttle between Dundee and London, with Steve doing the day-to-day parenting.
Rosie is currently working in public relations in Singapore and Lorraine misses her madly, although the two are still in touch all the time. Before our chat Lorraine was online helping her daughter pick out a dress for a function.
The last few years have been a time of great change for Lorraine. She lost weight, with her dress size dropping from a 14 to a ten after getting into exercise. And she and Steve got a dog. While he isn’t exactly a replacement for her daughter in the Far East, Lorraine now has ‘a son’ in her adorable border terrier Angus. ‘It’s another heart beating in the house,’ she says. ‘You can be away from home for two minutes or two hours and you get the same enthusiastic welcome from him every time.’
It’s no surprise that viewers continue to switch on to watch the much-loved Lorraine. ‘We’re there to make you feel better,’ she says. ‘I think that’s important, especially right now when it feels like the world is a bit dark. We cover all sorts of issues but I like to think we do it all with a bit of hope, and also with a sense of humour. I like to think of our show as being a safe place. There’s always something amazing on it because the human spirit is simply extraordinary.’
Lorraine, weekdays, 8.30am, UTV.
‘I went on maternity and GMTV replaced me’
Lorraine got glammed up for our photo shoot; hitting a cushion of Piers Morgan’s face (below left); and (above) with fellow TV-am host Mike Morris in 1990