NONE OF US IS SUPERWOMAN
GOOD READS says GH cover star Kirsty Wark
AsNewsnight’s longest-running anchor, Kirsty Wark can appear somewhat stern. But in real life? She’s chatty and funny and refuses to take herself too seriously. The BBC journalist and presenter adores fashion and loves shopping with her daughter, Caitlin, 27, and catching up with her son, James, 26, who lives in New York. Married to TV executive Alan Clements for 29 years, home and family are hugely important to Kirsty, who has chosen to stay based in Scotland throughout her almost 25 years on Newsnight. At 63, she has no intention of slowing down, juggling TV work with writing her second novel, and keeping alive her passion for cooking. She spoke to us about the joy of being a mum, the importance of talking about the menopause and churning her own butter...
How do you feel at this stage in your life?
I feel good, I do more exercise now than I did 10 years ago. I play tennis, I have a personal trainer, I go to the odd Pilates class and I try to walk quite a lot. However, it is never enough. I know I should be healthier. I probably drink my [alcohol] units every week. I had a bone density scan that showed I had osteopenia in my hip: it means you don’t have osteoporosis but you are on the cusp. That means more load-bearing exercise, which I try to do, but also watch your alcohol intake. I try, but I’m no saint!
How do you decide what to wear on screen?
On Newsnight what you are trying to do is feel modern. Gone are the days when you used to wear Armani shoulders. It was like a kind of shield of armour, but I don’t have to do that any more. It’s partly because life is no longer like that and also because I think women are more comfortable and I am more comfortable. It is always difficult when you are starting out and finding out where you are and what you are. If I am not slightly aware of who I am now, it’s a bit late!
In last year’s documentary The Menopause And
Me you were honest about your own experience… It can be easy, it can be hard, it can be hellish. I had an abrupt one but what I found so distressing was how many women are fobbed off by their GPS with antidepressants or, ‘You’ll get through it,’ when there is all manner of help. Also, women weren’t talking to each other about it, or to their mothers or daughters.
How do you think we should be talking about it?
Women should be taught it’s a natural part of your life, it takes you into another age. The truth of the matter is that the menopause is more often than not at the height of women’s powers and potential nowadays because it is 45 to 55, so it is not as if you are retreating into some kind of debilitated circumstance, either mentally or physically.
Why has it been important to you to stay based in Scotland?
My family is in Scotland and a lot of my friends are in Scotland. Why would I not stay in Scotland? I’m very glad I did.
How did you manage when your children were growing up?
Nobody gets it right entirely, but my children remind me I was home so much of the time. When they were young, I was on Newsnight three nights, so I would be at home for two days a week to pick them up from school. A lot of stuff I wasn’t there for, but their dad was. It is always a bargain and I think this idea of superwoman has long gone, we all do the best we can.
What are your children doing now?
Caitlin is back at home, as her first job is in Glasgow. She left home at 17, so it is great to have her back. We all get on very well. James lives and works in New York. I speak to him every day on Facetime. It’s just to catch up for a few seconds in the day, to find out what he’s up to and keep in touch with his life. We all go on holidays together every year.
Being a mother is obviously very important to you. It is the most important thing, it just absolutely is! I was 36 when I had Caitlin and 38 when I had James, so I was late having kids, but I always knew I wanted children. My husband jokes that I have the longest umbilical cord in the world! There is a saying: ‘You are only as happy as your unhappiest child,’ which is true. If anything happens to them I’m on the phone or I am happy to see them, wherever they are.
You always seem quite serious on TV, but what are you like off screen?
You are blessed if you have a good job and family and friends. There are always trials and tribulations – my mum died 10 years ago and my father has been dead a lot longer. I miss them terribly. Anniversaries mean nothing, it is every day you miss them. I miss the conversations, I miss their knowledge.
How do you keep your marriage vibrant?
We have a diary, for a start, or we would never see one
another. We often see each other two nights a week, which is good because I think, ‘Oh, I’m going to see Alan tonight.’ You have to keep going out and doing things together.
Well I say that, but I would have to be wanted to be on TV into my 70s. I’m coming up to 25 years on Newsnight, so I will be the longest-running presenter.
What are your ambitions, can you imagine yourself chairing Question Time? I think there will be many people when David Dimbleby decides he doesn’t want to do it any longer. I think I will be one of them, but I’m sure lots of people will throw their hats in the ring for that.
We’re looking forward to your second novel, what can you tell us about it?
I’m finishing it off now, as it’s due out next spring. It’s an intergenerational family story set in southwest Scotland. Early on there is a tragedy, which unravels as the book goes on. Writing is a real passion for me. I am used to working in teams, but when I’m working on the book, it’s like going into another space and I don’t want to come out of it. I enjoy that solitude.
Has your lifestyle changed as you have got older?
What I do more now is lie on the sofa and read. I think so much of life is lived fast and you forget about what you have just done. You want to savour things, and remember them. I’ve tried adult ballet, which I want to take up when I have more time. What I love about it is you come out and walk differently, hold yourself differently – it is about core strength.
So it’s about getting the right work-life balance?
I’m doing a TED talk in June about how we should change our working lives. I think we are in a situation where we should not be thinking of a five-day working week as the norm, but a four-day week or less. You can be just as productive and also that extra day is about keeping yourself fit and healthy, doing whatever you want to do.
You showed off your cooking skills on Celebrity
I was a kitchen cook before I went on Masterchef and then I became a bit more refined and now I’m back to being a kitchen cook. I love cooking. It’s how I relax – cooking and reading and listening to music.
With a glass of wine?
Yes, when I am cooking! My mother loved a gin and tonic and now Caitlin and I are enjoying our gins, too.
Is it true that you churn your own butter?
Yes, although it is mostly just for dinner parties. It is very easy to do and it tastes delicious!
Kirsty: ‘My husband jokes I have the longest umbilical cord in the world!’
Kirsty with her daughter, Caitlin