Gabrielle Fagan: ‘We cracked the glass ceiling and paved the way for women’
The 73-year-old TV presenter explains to Gabrielle Fagan how she’s defied ageist bosses and plans on ageing ‘dis-gra cefully’.
Funny, feisty and fearless, Angela Rippon is one of British television’s most familiar faces. At the age of 31, she became the first female news anchor on the BBC, and has hosted shows including Top Gear, Children In Need and the original Come Dancing.
Bosses at the BBC famously told Rippon that, at the age of 50, her career on TV was over and that she should move aside for ‘younger women’. But now, at the age of 73, Rippon is arguably in her peak; she’s glamorous, vivacious and still working on new projects.
Currently filming the 10th series of Rip Off Britain, as well working on several TV health documentaries, we discover her secrets for defying age, being a successful woman in television and what’s got her through the tough times ...
How do you look after your health?
“My job requires me to be as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the beginning of the day as the end, so I try to take care of myself. I have to be careful with my diet after I suffered serious food poisoning 30 years ago, and I’m lactose intolerant.
“I took part in a documentary called How To Stay Young and it was surprising to discover that — while I didn’t have any external fat — I had a high level of visceral fat around my liver, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Because of this, I’m on complex carbohydrate, high-fibre Inulin, which has reduced and controlled it.”
What does your exercise routine look like?
“I play tennis at least once a week, even though a severe riding accident years ago (where I broke both wrists) means that my right hand is slightly out of alignment to my wrist — so I can’t actually hit the ball straight! I love dancing. When I was young, I even considered making it my career — it’s great for tone and balance. I’m an ambassador for the Royal Academy of Dance Silver Swans ballet classes for the over-55s, and I regularly go to their classes.
“I stretch for 10 minutes every morning, which has been my routine for all of my life, and I don’t smoke or drink.”
How do you feel about ageing?
“There used to be a view that people should grow old gracefully, retire from public life and sit in a rocking chair and crochet blankets for their knees; I was never going to do that. Age isn’t important to me, because in my head, I feel in my 30s.
“I have the unique privilege that people still ask me to work and I travel to places and meet people that most would give their right arm to do. It’s never occurred to me to retire.
I’m not conventional and I still love trying new things. That’s what I mean by ‘ageing dis-gracefully’.”
What keeps you motivated?
“Being busy and working on programmes that inform people, as well as helping charities and people in other ways. I’m fronting a TalkTalk campaign aimed at rooting out nuisance and scam calls. They can seriously frighten and upset elderly people particularly, making them reluctant to answer the phone, not to mention swindling them.”
What’s your guilty pleasure?
“I’m a shoe fetishist! I can’t pass a shoe shop without going in. I’ve got everything from flats to trainers and stilettos, to what I call, ‘silly bits of nonsense’. I see a pair I like and I say, ‘Come to mummy’. I’m also a fan of leather and suede trousers, because they’re stylish, comfortable and warm in cold weather. I always dress to please myself and give the fashion police — who try to dictate what you can and cannot wear — short shrift.”
What’s got you through the tough times?
“I’m a pragmatist who tries to accept that there are really tough times you can’t do anything about, so you just have to learn from them and not make the same mistakes again. I really relate to poet Lemn Sissay, who said in a recent episode of Radio Four’s Desert Island Discs, ‘I’m not defined by my scars, but by the incredible ability to heal’. That’s a fabulous attitude to have in life. It’s probably what I’ve always tried to follow.”
What’s been your biggest achievement?
“Surviving 51 years in television ... and still being in it! People like myself, Gloria Hunniford, Sue Lawley, Anna Ford, Joan Bakewell and Sue MacGregor certainly cracked the glass ceiling and paved the way for women to come through. Now, so many younger women are doing a brilliant job working in front of the camera and behind it. What’s great is that there’s also room for women like me, who’ve been around for a few years and have a certain amount of credibility too.”
Angela Rippon is working with TalkTalk for the launch of CallSafe; a simple and free service to combat nuisance, sales, scam and silent calls. For more information visit: TalkTalk.co.uk/aboutcallsafe