Linda Barker: I’m the fittest I’ve ever been in my life
Interior designer and presenter Linda Barker tells Gabrielle Fagan how Changing Rooms transformed her life, what motherhood means to her, and her hopes for the future.
Linda Barker doesn't appear to be a person who would have time for introspection, instead she comes across as a ‘get on with it' personality.
Viewers who saw her on BBC's Changing Rooms, where she first found fame, will be familiar with her practical resourcefulness and Yorkshire stoicism, and those qualities combined with her creativity and gritty determination have undoubtedly played a part in her enduring success since in business and design.
But Barker admits that, in common with many women, she found it unsettling when her 19-year-old daughter, Jessica, her only child, left home to go to university, especially as it coincided with her celebrating her milestone 50th birthday last year.
“Jessica and I are close and although I was so proud of seeing her setting off on this new stage on her life, there's a big hole in my life now she's not here,” Barker says as she sits chatting at her home in Battersea, south London.
“Fortunately, it's not that massive sort of emptiness that I feared it would be, but I am missing her terribly. So I'm doing all sorts of things that I wouldn't have taken on while she was at home.”
Barker's already run this year's London Marathon and is contemplating a cycle ride through China or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
“It's a kind of ‘spread my wings' time,” she says. “I'm also thinking about a period of voluntary service overseas working for a charity. I want to do something which perhaps combines a bit of soul-searching as well as physical endurance.
“But I don't want to slow down in any way, in fact I'm hoping to do more in all areas of my life.”
Undoubtedly, there are adventures ahead that will be in addition to continuing her flourishing career.
She has her online interiors company, Really Linda Barker, which is run by her husband, Chris Short, whom she met when they were both art school students.
Barker also produces signature design ranges for various companies and works as an interior designer for private clients.
She's recalled happy times with her daughter for her latest project — devising a downloadable Fanta Fun Pack of craft and cookery ideas for teenagers and mums to enjoy together.
“I know how hard it can be persuading teenagers to leave the laptop or TV to do things with a parent,” she says.
“But it's fun to spend time together and that's probably more important than the end result, although it can be really rewarding to be able to say at the end of a project, ‘We made that'.”
Her own creativity was nurtured by her mother, who taught her craft skills and following art college and a brief stint as a member of an airline cabin crew, she moved into working both as a magazine stylist and decorating party venues.
“I remember hiring huge Corinthian columns for a party for Madonna. It was stressful but exciting,” she says.
After her own home, which she'd decorated, featured in a magazine, she was offered the role in 1996 on the first series of Changing Rooms.
She stayed for six years on the show renowned for its speedy living room makeovers and use of MDF, with fellow presenters including Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Anna Ryder Richardson.
“I was incredibly lucky to be chosen for that,” she says.
“It became a show everyone watched and talked about and it pushed me right to the front of my chosen field, which was amazing.
“At the end of the day, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was like having a golden ticket and I really took advantage of it. I was determined to make it last.”
She presented a host of other programmes, including House Invaders and ITV's Building The Dream, and raised her profile further by taking part in I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! in 2002.
“The jungle wasn't a physical hardship for me because I absolutely love being outdoors, it's what makes me happy and inspires me.
“In fact, for my 50th birthday I chose to go ‘glamping' with my family and my friends in the Norfolk countryside, so it was camp fires, tents and wellies for my big night.”
She's philosophical about the ageing process and says currently she'd rather rely on facials than Botox.
“I'm not into that celebrity thing and I don't go to premieres and parties, so I don't feel I have that pressure on me not to appear to age.
“Although I don't like my deep lines, I do quite like my laughter and expression lines because they're part of me.
“I find women who are 50 but look like 20-year-olds are a bit scary. So it's not for me at the moment.”
Instead she relies on a healthy regime to keep the years at bay. She runs, practises yoga, and regularly visits a Buddhist centre in Yorkshire where she meditates and chants.
“I'm probably the fittest I've ever been in my life,” she says.
“And going to the centre is good for my wellbeing because meditation helps you look at life from another perspective and make sense of the journey you're on.
“I realise how incredibly fortunate I am because I can look back on my life and say I have no regrets.
“I'm still with Chris, the partner I've been with all my life, I have a wonderful daughter, and love my work.
“While I always thought I'd have more children, I'm one of five and love being part of a big family, that wasn't to be. But I'm just grateful I could have one who's such a joy.”