Good Housekeeping (UK)
‘WALKING & NATURE HAVE SAVED ME’
As Julia Bradbury returns with a new TV show on the joys of walking, she talks to Anna Bonet about family, coping with failure and the power of getting outside
Julia Bradbury on why she loves putting on her hiking boots
If Julia Bradbury were the UK’S Chief Medical Officer, she would be prescribing a daily dose of nature to everybody. ‘I genuinely believe we all need it in our lives,’ she says. ‘If you can spend half an hour in nature every day, your oxytocin levels go up, your cortisol levels go down, you can reduce anxiety, you can elevate your mood. It’s powerful. I think we’ve all come to appreciate that over the past year.’ Julia is a familiar face on our TV screens. In a career spanning more than 20 years, she has presented everything from Countryfile to Britain’s Best Walks and, in the process, has become synonymous with shows that inspire the public to get outdoors. For her new series Cornwall And Devon Walks With Julia Bradbury, she explores the rugged landscape of south-west England on foot.
The show was filmed in a series of two-week chunks between lockdowns last year, and Julia says that getting back to work was an incredible feeling. ‘It was like being free,’ she smiles. The eight-part series showcases the undiscovered corners of woodland and coast that Devon and Cornwall have to offer. ‘It’s lovely to be able to do coastal walks and get a bit of that blue energy,’ she adds. ‘They call it the “blue gym” effect, which is the therapeutic impact that the ocean has on human health.
To be able to take that in, and lots of woodland walks, too… it’s wonderful.
‘We have some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world,’ she continues. ‘I’ve never lost sight of that, but this series has reinforced my absolute love affair with the great British countryside.’
Her love of the outdoors started in childhood. Born in Ireland, she spent her early years in Rutland, East Midlands, before moving, aged 12, to Sheffield with her parents (Julia’s sister, Gina, is 10 years older and had already left home). Their father, Michael, was a keen walker, and would take Julia to the Peak District on weekends and after school. ‘We’d explore the areas he used to go to as a lad,’ says Julia. ‘As I’ve become older, I’ve realised how precious those moments were, and how special it was to share those times with him.’
While her Greek mother, Chrissi, is ‘less outdoorsy’, she has always been an enthusiastic gardener and has passed her expertise on to Julia. ‘We’d potter together in our garden for hours,’ says Julia. ‘She would get me to help move logs, and we’d pot plants and harvest apples from our apple tree.’
Julia’s first job was in advertising, followed by a stint working for her mum’s fashion business. ‘I knew I hadn’t found what I wanted to do yet,’ she says. ‘But I was always fascinated by television and how programmes are made. Dame Joan Bakewell was one of my heroes. So I decided to set off and try to get a job in TV.’
After a series of ‘lucky breaks’, she joined Janet Street-porter’s newly launched L!VE TV as a reporter in 1995. She went on to present top consumer shows including Watchdog and Are We Being Served?, but when she was offered the job of presenting BBC Four series Wainwright Walks in 2007, everything fell into place. ‘I jumped at that opportunity,’ she recalls, ‘thinking “I’d love to make a programme about that, because I remember those times with my dad.”’ At the time, these kind of ‘outdoorsy’ shows were all presented by men, so being the first woman was also a big part of the appeal.
Julia has worked on more than 15 shows, including as co-presenter of Countryfile alongside Matt Baker. Inspired by her love of walking, she also founded The Outdoor Guide (theoutdoorguide.co.uk) five years ago, a website dedicated to
We’ve all appreciated the power of nature over the past year
exploring the countryside on foot, which is run by her sister Gina.
‘I’ve got to this stage in my life where I genuinely have autonomy,’ Julia says of her career. ‘I wouldn’t say I have total control, but I do have that bit more influence over what I do.’ She says she always has ‘five or six ideas for a show bubbling away’ at any one time, but admits that does mean putting herself out there. ‘I feel exposed every single time I’ve pitched an idea, because you’re exposing yourself to failure,’ she explains. ‘Nobody has a 100% strike rate. But I’ve learned how to cope with the failure; I’ve learned how to cope with the rejection.’
Julia, 50, puts that down to the resilience that comes with age: ‘When you’re a bit older, you’ve had a few knocks. What I think I have managed to do is develop a skin that is accepting of the failure that’s going to come, and I don’t let it absolutely demoralise me.’
She admits, though, that her last series, The Greek Islands With Julia Bradbury, was particularly nail-biting as it was one of her own ideas, and her mum was a part of it: ‘It was lovely on a personal level, because I was exploring my roots and I got to film with my mum and trace our heritage a little.’ Julia’s dad had already appeared in many of her series. ‘It has been lovely to be able to show my parents off, because I think they’re pretty special,’ says Julia.
Mum to son Zephyr, nine, and twin girls Xanthe and Zena, five, Julia is familiar with the juggle between career and family. ‘When I go away to film, I feel horrible. As they become older, the children like it less and less, because they know what’s coming,’ she says. ‘It’s painful, but it’s a part of life. I’m a working mother, and I’m proud of that. I want them, especially my girls, to be empowered.’ She adds that she’s fortunate her partner, Gerard, who runs his own property business, ‘is an equal partner. He’s a very good and hands-on dad.’
Julia describes motherhood as ‘one of the most engaging and magical experiences’. She was diagnosed with endometriosis in her 30s, and her ‘miracle twins’ arrived after five rounds of IVF. ‘Having children for me was a landmark moment at exactly the right time in my life, because it just cemented the importance of life, and of family bonds and love,’ she says now.
‘It has given me a purpose, because I genuinely feel that my children are an extension of me, because you’re shaping them, informing them, loving them.’
Naturally, the biggest lesson Julia wants to instil in her children is the power of the outdoors. ‘Nature teaches you so much about life,’ she explains. ‘It helps children understand where food comes from, how things grow, how things die, how to care and how to nurture.’
Based in London, the family may not have the Peak District on their doorstep, but they do get out to parks as much as possible: ‘The kids love being outside. It’s so important to me that I share those outdoor moments with them, just as I did with my dad.’ Like most families, going for walks throughout lockdown has helped keep their spirits up. Homeschooling the children has allowed the family to get into a routine of going out to the local park after breakfast every morning.
Julia is still very close to her parents, who are now in their 80s and living in Rutland. She has found it difficult not seeing them this past year. ‘We met up for a few socially distanced walks in Wakerley Woods, which I used to call Wiggly Woods as a child,’ she laughs. ‘The kids found it so difficult not to hug their grandparents, which was heartbreaking.’
When it comes to her own wellbeing, nature is crucial. ‘There have been many moments of upset and discomfort, when walking and natural landscapes have saved me,’ says Julia. ‘I was unhappy in my 30s. I had endometriosis and was having issues at work. You find a way of dealing with those things, and walking and getting outside was my way.’ She smiles and adds: ‘Although, I truly believe that nature is a medicine that can help absolutely everyone.’
Cornwall and Devon Walks With Julia Bradbury is on ITV and ITV Hub now.