Sunday Express

I thought about the Jungle... but I’ve a dodgy knee and must be realistic

- By Olivia Buxton

SHE turned down the chance to join this year’s I’m A Celebrity...get Me Out Of Here! but Gloria Hunniford insists that has nothing to do with her age.

Apart from a severe reaction to mosquito bites and an aversion to eating creepy crawlies, Gloria, 79, shunned the Jungle because she didn’t relish three weeks cooped up in the camp.

“I was asked to have a meeting with the producers and I said to my agent, ‘I don’t think I can do it but let’s talk anyway’,” she says. “The money is great and I love a challenge but, for once, I had to be realistic.

“I’m allergic to mosquitoes so I’d be a hospital case if I got a bad bite and I’ve got a dodgy knee, so I don’t think I would be all that good jumping out of planes and chopping wood.”

Husband Stephen would have gone with her to Oz and spent time “languishin­g” in the Versace hotel, but she is used to having him by her side – they have just celebrated their 21st wedding anniversar­y.

“Meeting Stephen changed my life and he really is my soul mate,” says Gloria. “You hear stories of people who have met in later years and that third part of your life can be very fulfilling and romantic. He is a year older than me but we both continue to live life to the fullest.”

They married at Hever Castle, Kent, in 1998, two years after the death of ex-husband Don Keating with whom she had children Caron, Paul and Michael. Stephen was hugely supportive when Caron, 41, died of breast cancer in 2004.

“Like anybody’s life there are ups and downs and the ups and downs during Caron’s illness were enormous but Stephen managed to ride all of those,” says Gloria. “Although Caron wasn’t his own daughter, he loved her like his own and would give up his successful business in Bond Street to stay with me in Australia two months at a time when Caron was having her treatment.”

Stephen has had his own health issues but Gloria has been by his side.

“He had a small stroke and a heart attack and that really does sharpen your senses,” she says. “However he does seem to recover well and doctors say he has a strong core.

“Does it make me realise how fragile life can be? I know that from living in Northern Ireland. You don’t live through decades of bombs, bullets and barricades without realising how life can be snatched away and you don’t suffer the grief of losing a child without knowing how fragile life can be.

“The main thing is that we are there for each other because we all have moments of stress.”

She was sympatheti­c towards I’m A Celebrity’s Jacqueline Jossa who has been missing her children while in the Jungle. When mine were young I was never away long periods,” she says. “But I worked hard keeping our family together. When Caron went to Australia for treatment it was the worst. We went nine times in two years. Until then I’d seen Caron nearly every day of my life.

“But in a weird way, the fact that she was 12,000 miles away taught me to be without her. The missing is terrible but part of my healing has been setting up a foundation in her name – the Caron Keating Foundation.

“It is very much a kitchen top organisati­on, all the family help. We support cancer charities all over the country by running events. I love it when Caron’s sons Charlie and Gabriel come and support them.”

Gloria is fronting a Red Letter Days campaign, encouragin­g families who are getting gifts for older loved ones to make memories rather than buy generic presents like slippers and soap. Backed by Action for Elders and Age Space, Gloria is proud to be part of it.

“As you get older it does get more difficult for others to buy you presents but I truly believe it’s about creating memories.

“Caron gave me a present which is one of my most treasured possession­s. When she was in hospital she liked mosaic work and I watched her make a beautiful mask.

“She gave it to me the Christmas before she died and now it sits in my bedroom and I treasure it more than anything.”

Gloria – 80 in April – is determined to be around to celebrate her 100th birthday with friend Sir Cliff Richard.

“I have promised to wheel Cliff, who is more or less the same age as me, on to the Royal Albert Hall stage. Wouldn’t that be marvellous?”

● redletterd­ nomoreslip­pers

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