My very eventful life on the box
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 ITV 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 was 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.’
For the first time in years, ITV’s morning output is in the ascendancy. Piers might like to believe it’s all down to him and his frequent outrageous outburst s. Hol ly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield might similarly attribute it to their undeniable chemistry. But it’s Lorraine, breakfast television’s longest-serving continuous presenter, this year celebrating 35 years on the box, who 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 Weekend’s 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 terri- fied 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.’
It was Piers who first described Lorraine, 59, as having an ‘iron fist in a fluffy glove’ and she sees herself first and foremost as a journalist, rather than a presenter. ‘A lot of people see my show as fluffy. We’re unashamedly entertainment, but we’re often the first to talk about difficult topics such as female genital mutilation or transitioning. Breakfast television breaks taboos and tackles big issues in a way that news can’t. I never really had a hankering to sit on TV with a pink jacket and big hair – I was always happy doing my job as a reporter. But here we are…’
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 national television, but she also fell in love with her cameraman, Steve Smith, and they married in 1992.
It was Lor raine’s heartfelt reporting on the Lockerbie tragedy 30 years ago that brought her to the attention of TVam’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 flash-
‘I still see the bodies at Lockerbie in flashbacks’
backs of the utter devastation that greeted her. ‘ I knew the police because every morning I would phone them to see what was hap- pening,’ 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 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
‘I went on maternity and GMTV replaced me’
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 Lor raine would shut tle between Dundee and London, with Steve left to do much of the day-today parenting. ‘He and Rosie have a brilliant relationship; he was the one driving her to school, getting her to brush her teeth and eat her Brussels sprouts,’ she says. ‘But Rosie and I have a great relationship as well. We talk about everything under the sun. I’m her mum, though, I’d never say I was her best friend because she’s got her friends already. I’d love to think she tells me everything but she doesn’t.’
Rosie is presently working in public relations in Singapore and Lorraine misses her madly, although the two are still in touch all the time. Before our chat started Lorraine was online helping her daughter pick out a dress for a function.
Lorraine’s viewers get to know a
lot about her. When she had a miscarriage after having Rosie she talked about her devastation on screen. When she had problems with the menopause, she talked about that too. ‘I just felt odd,’ she admits. ‘It really hit home for me when I went away for a weekend with Steve to Spain. We were sitting there, the sun was shining, we were eating beautiful tapas and I felt really glum. Steve said, “What’s wrong with you?” and I said, “I don’t know. This is crazy. There’s no reason for me to be feeling like this at all.” It gave me a wee tiny taste of what it’s like for people who have depression.’
She talked to ITV doctor Hilary Jones and within days she was on HRT and starting to feel better. ‘I know it doesn’t work for everybody but it’s really helped me – almost overnight.’
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 also moved from Dundee to a small house overlooking the Thames in Buckinghamshire when her regular flight from London City airport was cancelled and the commute finally became too much for the presenter. 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. Viewers love him coming onto the show because obviously he doesn’t obey me at all.’
We may be living in a world of choice with hundreds of television channels to turn to, but it’s no surprise that viewers continue to switch on to watch the muchloved Lorraine. ‘We’re there to make you feel better,’ she says. ‘I think that’s really important, especially right now when it feels like the world is a bit dark. We cover all sorts of human issues but I like to think that we’re doing it all with a bit of hope, and also with a sense of humour or purpose. 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 and (below left) hitting a cushion of Piers Morgan’s face
Lorraine with her fellow TV-am presenter Mike Morris in 1990