Fern Britton: 'I'm sprouting whiskers out of my chin and a big moustache, but I don't worry about how I look'
The menopause was no walk in a park, but Fern Britton is feeling good about approaching 60. The presenter and novelist tells Hannah Stephenson why she refuses to worry about the years slipping by.
Bubbly Fern Britton arrives at our interview looking crisp and casual in floral cropped trousers, a cotton shirt and denim jacket. She's wearing well for a woman who's turning 60 next year.
We're here to discuss her sixth novel, The Postcard, a gentle holiday read featuring a TV producer mother suffering from post-natal depression, who wants to get back to her job. It explores her troubled childhood, difficult family relationships and her reluctance to delegate childcare.
Britton (58) laughs at my summing up of the synopsis, insisting that it isn't autobiographical, but acknowledging her experience of life has helped make the novel more authentic.
Indeed, she has experienced some of the things she writes about: depression, a fractured family - her father, the actor Tony Britton, left when she was a baby - high-profile TV jobs and juggling family and work.
"You can't help but put bits of yourself in the book," she agrees, pointing out that in her own life, family always comes first, and jobs have always come along rather than her actively seeking them out.
"You can't have everything all the time. I always wanted to be at home because I felt no one would be able to do it better than me, but then I got flattered into a job. In lots of ways, work is a salvation and gives you focus again. And I had a fantastic nanny."
She has long banged the drum to raise awareness of depression, having suffered with it since she was 18. She's been off anti-depressants for about three years now, but expects to have to go back on them at some point.
"Weirdly, I'm feeling better and better," she says. "You just have to have that insurance and think, 'I may not feel like this always'. But as soon as I get any indication that I'm going downhill and starting to get depressed, then I shall start taking the tablets again. For me, it worked."
Now happily post-menopausal - HRT has worked wonders, she says - she is enjoying this decade more than some of her earlier ones.
"My 50s have been really good. In my 20s, I was starting in television and was having a lot of fun, learning a lot, but had patches of depression. I got married when I was 31. Unfortunately post-natal depression got me.
"My 40s was a decade of hard work and I probably wasn't quite so well and was taking anti-depressants. So, yeah, 50s? Post-menopausal. Lovely."
The menopause was no walk in the park, however.
"I hated the menopause and am still on HRT. You get fog brain, confusion in terms of, 'What was I doing in here?' You can't think of words, get into a muddle and are not able to absorb what you need to absorb.
"Fatigue really sets in - and the hot flushes. A menopausal woman is never cold."
Did she suffer mood swings?
"Well, my husband would say, 'Yes', but I'd say, 'With perfectly good reason'."
She's not fazed by the prospect of turning 60.
"I've done a bit of processing over the last couple of years. Getting to 30, 40 and 50 was quite nice. This one is a bit like going to the dentist. You know you're going to have something big done but the next day it will be fine. I think it will be all right."
She doubts she'll be trying to hold back the years with cosmetic surgery. "I quite like my face. It's got wrinkles, it's got scars and I'm sprouting whiskers out of my chin and a big moustache, but apart from that, I'm fine."
"I don't worry about how I look," she adds. "I know there are times when I look awful, but then again, in half an hour you can put a bit of make-up on, wash your hair and you'll look all right again.
"I'm not worried about getting older and the years slipping by. I've never lied about my age. This is how you're supposed to look. You want to look the best you can."
She may be best known for her decade as ITV's This Morning co-presenter with Phillip Schofield, her Ready, Steady, Cook years - when she met her husband, chef Phil Vickery - and her current BBC One daytime antiques game show For What It's Worth, but behind that smiling persona is one clever cookie.
She's a member of Mensa, cut her teeth as a news presenter in the tough newsroom environment at Westward Television and in her more recent BBC interview series Fern Britton Meets... coaxed Tony Blair into admitting that he would have invaded Iraq even without evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
I wonder whether she gets peeved that the focus of interviews is so often on her weight and looks (it's now eight years since she lost five stone, in part thanks to having a gastric band fitted), but Britton is tough - and she is much happier now in her home life, leads a healthier lifestyle, and isn't pursued by paparazzi on a regular basis.
She is careful to pace herself now, however, yet age shouldn't be a barrier to work, she says.
"Angela Rippon, Mary Berry, Gloria Hunniford are all working, proud of their age and their experience. I admire that," Britton notes.
She has been an exercise hound for a few years now, going to the gym, lifting weights, spinning classes, boxing, employing a personal trainer and embarking on epic cycle rides to raise money for Dr Robert Winston's Genesis Research Trust, which funds research into conditions affecting women and babies.
"I'm not addicted to exercise, but I'm addicted to the result," she says.
"It's given me so much more zest and stamina. I can keep going for longer but at a steadier pace.
"Emotionally, getting on a bike is utterly brain-cleansing."
She's just celebrated her 16th anniversary with Vickery, with whom she has 14-year-old daughter, Winnie.
She also has three other children - twins Jack and Harry (22) and daughter Grace (19) - from her previous marriage to TV executive Clive Jones.
She says she's sure that being happy at home - they have houses in Buckinghamshire and Cornwall - helps keep the depression at bay.
"I know that when I'm very tired, that's when I feel the depression starting to come in, so I ward against tiredness. And for the last seven years, I haven't had the routine of getting up very early and going into the studio, which I loved, but I'm not tired any more," says Britton.
"Sometimes in the afternoon I'll say to Phil, 'I'm going to sit down and watch Countdown', and he says, 'Yeah, good idea'.
"That's the thrill of getting to pensionable age."
- The Postcard by Fern Britton is published by HarperCollins, priced £12.99