Life’s not perfect
She defied her critics to reach the finals of last year’s Strictly, mixing game-foranything determination with elegance and legs to die for. But behind the sequins and glamour, life isn’t all plain sailing for Katie Derham, who talks to GH about raising girls, working hard and those accusations of being Little Miss Perfect…
With her huge smile and charming manner, it’s hard to believe that TV presenter Katie Derham could fail to win fans wherever she goes. But her appearance on Strictly Come Dancing had the audience divided over whether they liked her or not. It seemed that the main criticism particularly in some parts of the media was that she was just too perfect to be likeable. Nevertheless, after a shaky start, she and partner Anton Du Beke ended up coming fourth in the final. So what is Katie like when she’s away from the TV cameras? At the GH photo shoot, she is friendly, chatty and very down to earth. Having made her name as a journalist and newscaster, Katie, 45, is now best known for her Radio 3 show and for presenting the BBC Proms. She and her husband, businessman John Vincent (co-founder of healthy fast food chain Leon) left London life behind to bring up daughters Natasha, 15, and Eleanor, 10, in Sussex. And while Katie’s the first to admit that she feels very lucky with her life, it has had its rocky moments. She talks to Good Housekeeping about working as a cleaner after university, gatecrashing a ball to meet her husband, and her mother’s struggle with dementia.
To an outsider, it looks like your life is a good balance do you really have it all?
Nobody ever has the perfect balance. We all strive for it, don’t we? My husband, John, and I both work very hard and like what we do. The most important thing is we’ve got two lovely girls who, touch wood, are happy and healthy and seem to enjoy life. Nothing is more important than family. Sometimes it’s a good thing not to be a perfectionist about stuf, because otherwise you’d drive yourself insane thinking, Oh, I ought to be doing something better at work or better at home.’ We don’t have the perfect everything, of course we don’t. But I’m very lucky, and I love what we’ve created together as a family.
Is it true you met your husband when you gatecrashed a ball at Cambridge University?
I’d gone back [after graduating] with a friend to a couple of parties, and we thought we’d try to get into this ball. And we succeeded, or so we thought. But John was there working at the ball and he pretended to be security, and sort of said, Oh all right then, I’ll let you stay.’ I only found out afterwards that he wasn’t security at all! So that’s how we met. We were just friends then, but we started going out a couple of years later.
Do you have date nights?
I don’t think we’ve ever called it that because that phrase makes me feel slightly sick. But it’s always lovely when we go out. Whenever we do, you think: Oh, we should do this more often.’ We talk and text a lot, and we always know what the other is up to.
Congratulations on your success in Strictly! You seemed to be having a great time
It was the most extraordinary experience. You feel completely caught up in this new, wonderful world. Can you imagine? I come from a news background and suddenly I am having glitter cannons fired at me and pyrotechnics going of and people screaming It is a whole new crazy world. It is fantastic, but it’s mad.
You looked very at home on the dance floor. How much dancing had you done before the show?
I only ever danced freestyle at weddings. I did ballet until I was about 11, so I knew how to move and I love watching dancing. When I was asked to do the show I thought it would be great to learn. I wasn’t in good nick when we started and the first dance was the jive, so I spent three weeks jumping up and down. I was exhausted, my knees were hurting and I thought, Oh God, I don’t know if I can do this.’ But you get fit fast. My clothes started feeling a bit loose and I went down a dress size overall. All the bits that used to wobble stopped wobbling!
The show is famous for dancing partners having afairs. Was your husband worried?
We’ve been married for 16 years and together for 20. When it came up, John said I should definitely do it. He was thrilled when I got paired with Anton Du Beke because we’d met him once and knew he was a nice guy. I’m sure some of John’s mates had one or two things to say about the whole business, but I knew there was nothing to worry about. He trusts me.
We saw John pictured in a cartoon suit at the end of the series what was that about?
John is quite an extravagant, extrovert character and during the show he became very friendly with Strictly’s warm-up man in the studio who wears a suit like that every week, although you never see it on TV. It became a standing joke that if I got to the final, John would wear the same suit, and that’s what happened. It came out again on New Year’s Eve, and I know it will appear again.
When you were on the show and saw the newspaper headline Little Miss Perfect, was it hurtful?
I have been around quite a long time and I’m a journalist myself, so I know how these things work. You also can’t be on a show with 11 million viewers and expect everybody to like you you can’t. My skin is pretty thick. Did I like it? No. Can I cope with it? Yes. I would say, speaking as the mother of two teenage girls, the one thing that I think is a great shame is that those articles the one or two that were not particularly nice were written by women.
Some people seem to think you’ve had a fairly easy career path.
Listen, I have worked very hard. I was unemployed for ages when I left university. For a while I worked cleaning the flat I was living in I wasn’t doing anything else during the day and my flatmates said, We will pay you.’ I did all sorts of stuf telesales and the whole nine yards. I was very keen to get into media, so I did work experience at BBC North, which is where I grew up, and saw an advert for a job at the old Radio Five (before Five Live). I got that, and that is how I started. I worked my way up.
Are you quite a determined person, then?
I suppose so. I was brought up to work hard, to have a good work ethic and not to rely on other people or assume anything is going to be handed to you.
What advice do you give your two daughters?
I tell them to work hard but to do what they enjoy. My real motto is be kind, be brave, be polite’. In the end, it is character that is going to make you a happy person and hopefully fulfilled in what you do it is not whether you get 17 A* GCSE grades.
Your mum, Margaret, died of early onset dementia. How did you deal with that?
By the time Mum was diagnosed I was living 200 miles away from home in London, so it was my dad and younger brother and sister who bore the brunt of it. They had to deal with the everyday horror of seeing Mum change being aggressive, trying to run away, not knowing them. All that horrible stuf that comes with the disease. My dad, bless him, always said to us, There’s no way Mum would want you to put your life on hold.’ He had to take early retirement to help her. That’s why I am so keen to support charities that support carers, because actually they are having a hellish time. Mum was 61 when she died, and I was 33.
That’s young to lose your mother.
I’m very angry about the whole thing. I thought it was desperately unfair and a pretty rotten deck of cards for her to have been dealt. And it was horrible for the rest of us but, as I say, at least I’d had her fully compos mentis when I was living at home. She was still okay when I started working as a reporter. She saw me do stuf and was really proud. She was very ill by the time I had Natasha, but those maternal instincts are always the last to go, so she was always lovely with her. She never met Eleanor, and that made me very sad.
How do you remember your mum now?
I talk to my girls about her as much as I can, and show them photos of her looking good and full of beans and being clever and all the things that she was. And I tell them as many stories as I can about what she did because they don’t have any sense of her at all, really.
What makes you happy?
I’m always happy as long as I know that we’re going sailing at some point! We have a boat on The Solent. John grew up sailing it was something he absolutely adored. I had never been on a sailing holiday until I met him, and, luckily, I love it too. I love the freedom of saying, Where shall we go today?’ There really is a sense of achievement when you arrive somewhere.
Embracing her age, pink wine by the bucket-load (and other reasons we’re keen on Katie!)
Suggesting I have an exercise routine may be a bit optimistic! I go through fads Probably the one I’ve liked most is yoga, which I do regularly. Strictly was amazing because it didn’t feel like you were forcing yourself to exercise, and I’d like to keep it up in some way. John has offered to take dance lessons, so I should hold him to that.
I’m quite busy and my metabolism is quite fast, but I just have lucky genes. I don’t weigh myself regularly it fluctuates a bit between nine and 10 stone. I have to be careful because I have two girls. I don’t want them to hear me saying I’m feeling really fat today’.
I make a lot of casseroles, spaghetti Bolognese and stir fries, and roast chicken dinners on Sundays. I love steak and chips and pink wine! I could drink that by the bucket-load. And I do!
I don’t wear a lot of make-up at home. I normally cover my bags when I go out and put a bit of lipstick on. I’ve recently been introduced to Charlotte Tilbury’s Wonderglow you pop it on top of your foundation and it makes you look dewy skinned and about 25. I try to go for a facial every six weeks I love that sort of indulgence.
I’m not at all judgemental about people who have cosmetic work done, because I really understand how depressing it can be when you look at yourself in the mirror and think, Ouf!’ I suppose the great aim is to age gracefully, isn’t it? Looking your age is fine, and looking good for your age is the best any of us can really hope for. BBC presenter Katie Derham has joined the Strictly Come Dancing … Bestcelebritystyle
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