As she launches her rather surprisingly good first novel, TV star Ulrika Jonsson talks to Hannah Stephenson about having four children by four different fathers
Fans of Ulrika Jonsson might expect her debut novel, The Importance Of Being Myrtle, to be a steamy ‘bonkbuster', featuring at least one lurid affair, a string of failed marriages and a handful of celebrity misdemeanours.
But then, as Jonsson explains at a hotel in Henley, Oxon, near her country home, she didn't want her first book to be an extension of her own life.
“People would be expecting me to write about the world of television or showbiz with lots of sex, drugs and rock ‘n' roll. That would be too predictable. I wanted to stretch myself.”
Today, looking painfully thin, which she puts down to her depression due to a four-year battle with a chronic back condition, Jonsson insists she's close to the weight she's supposed to be.
“There was talk thatI had anorexia, which I have never had and will never have because I love food too much. I've had a debilitating problem and the past year was particularly bad, when I became depressed and didn't eat.
“My condition won't be cured but it's better than it was. I've started swimming, that strengthens the muscles.”
She can't run or sit down for long periods but epidural and cortisone injections have given her some respite.
“I just have to live with it, as much as possible. The days when I was immobile have made me more determined to enjoy the days I'm mobile.”
One consequence of her degenerative disc is that she has had to write some of her novel standing up but it doesn't seem to have affected the result.
Unlike so many celeb books, The Importance Of Being Myrtle is notghost-written and is a surprisingly good read about a drab, dowdy 58-year-old woman whose life is thrown into turmoil when her husband dies suddenly. Hardly autobiographical, then, from the ex-weathergirl who was once cruelly nicknamed ‘4X4' (four children by four different men). She was tabloid fodder for years because of her roller -coaster private life, including a string of ill-fated marriages, a beating from one-time boyfriend Stan Collymore, an affair with Sven-Goran Eriksson and a 2002 autobiography in which she alleged she had been raped by an unnamed TV presenter (whom she has never identified).
The debut novel is less headline-grabbing. As the story unfolds, it emerges that for 40 years Myrtle, the put-upon heroine, was trapped in a loveless marriage by a control freak. There's no physical violence but the emotional abuse is palpable.
“I'm very passionate about human relationships, having experienced quite a few myself,” Jonsson (44) says with a smile. “I've been in relationships where someone's trying to control you and suppress your colourful character. For some men, I guess having a loud, outspoken partner is not for them.”
Jonsson and her third husband, advertising executive Brian Monet, and her four children aged between 16 and three, have recently moved into the five-bedroom home they have spent the last 18 months building and, while she's currently starring in the new Shooting Stars series, her focus is on her home life, rather than TV.
“Everybody has this weird view of what my family must be like, that there are four fathers standing at the
door and the kids are colour-coded to go with each one. But I live with one of the fathers, another is completely absent, we see my older son's dad every day and daughter Martha's dad every second weekend. We are a family. I don't think my children think it's weird, odd or disjointed. There is no feeling of animosity. I've not even had a great deal of issue in organising the family. We work hard at compromising, giving and taking.”
She's dispensed with her nanny, preferring to split the childcare with Monet who takes over when she has TV commitments.
Reuniting with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer was like slipping back into a pair of comfortable shoes. “I've known the boys for 18 years now and nothing much has changed. We all look a bit older. It's such an honour to sit there and get paid to laugh.”
However, she seems disillusioned with the world of TV which, she says, is now run by accountants who just want to make shows which make money. Jonsson wants to do more serious TV, such as documentaries, rather than what her pal Claudia Winkleman calls ‘shiny floor TV'.
“Shiny floor TV is the stuff that pays. I wanted to make a documentary about old people, not a game show where everyone gets their t*ts out. Everything's so commercial. I did Big Brother because it was big money. Yes, I’ve regrets not being able to do more serious stuff.”
Born in Sweden, Jonsson was eight when her mother left her to go and live with her new boyfriend. Jonsson was put in the care of her father but in reality she looked after him. At 12, she was reunited with her mother who had moved to the UK but it left Jonsson with deep feelings of anxiety. “I've always had a fear of being left. Then my father died when I was 27 and it made it hard for me to relax, as I was always anticipating the worst.”
While she doesn't resent her mother's desertion, she still can’t understand how she could have left her child. “As a mother, there’s no way in the world that a man would ever mean more to me than my child. I've tried to talk to my mother about it, but she won't discuss it.”
And she bristles slightly at the suggestion her taste in men hasn't always been the best: “Why is it about my choice? If a man lets me down, how is that my choice? A breakdown of any relationship has got to involve responsibility from both sides.
“I don't think my experiences are so different to those of other men and women. Mine have been grossly exaggerated because they've been in the public eye. I've been a tabloid dream for the past 23 years, less so nowadays and I have to say that's really quite lovely.”
Jonsson is one of a string of celebrities taking legal action against the News Of The World over alleged phone hacking. She says: “Whether you think people in showbiz or politicians are fair game, everybody is entitled to some aspect of private life.”
Jonsson recently told of her distress when she was contacted by police about being allegedly monitored.
“It's shocking but not surprising. Over the years the tabloids have done worse things, whether they're following you, turning up at your father's funeral, dressing up as doctors at the special care baby unit when your daughter’s fighting for her life ... there's not a level to which they won't stoop.”
Today, she doesn't have many showbiz friends, just a close circle of people she can trust. She hopes to write more books..
“I think I'd rather be out of the spotlight,” she says.
A novel career may be just the ticket.
The Importance Of Being Myrtle, Ulrika Jonsson, Michael Joseph, £6.99
Media, marriages and being a mum
- After a brief stint as a secretary, she began her TV career on TV-am in 1989 where she worked as a weather presenter. Her name was linked to Prince Andrew.
- In the Nineties, she moved to Saturday night TV with hit show Gladiators. She also became a team captain on Shooting Stars
- In 2009, Ulrika won Celebrity Big Brother, despite having been repeatedly nominated for eviction by her fellow celebs
- She has a son Cameron from her first marriage to a TV cameraman, a daughter Bo from her relationship with Markus Kempen, a daughter Martha from her marriage to Lance Gerrard-Wright and son Malcolm from her current marriage to Brian Monet.