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Gloria Hunniford's second husband Stephen proposed 'when I was at my most vulnerable ... and why I'd never ask a psychic to put me in touch with Caron

 

It wasn't the most conventionally romantic scenario for a marriage proposal. And Gloria - half-drowned and trembling - didn't look her most glamorous. But the debonair Stephen Way, a wealthy London businessman who had brought her on holiday to Barbados and enticed her into the pool at their villa, was enchanted.

"I'd never learned to swim - there were no facilities in Portadown when I was growing up at the time," she explains. "All we had to swim in was some filthy pond with scum on it, near Tandragee. If you got a day trip to Newcastle or Bangor, you had to get a nice new dress and you thought you were in heaven.

"I remember larking about when I was six or seven and falling into the water fully clothed and coming up for the third time and thinking I was going to die. Then, when Stephen and I were in Barbados, we had a pool to ourselves and it was very hot, and Stephen was bantering me to get in.

"I managed a few strokes then went plop, straight down. Stephen said no-one had ever clung to him so tightly! It was the first time he saw me looking vulnerable, so he proposed."

Gloria and Stephen had hit it off immediately when they met at an event in London, talking and laughing for hours. They got married in Kent in 1998, a year after the death of Gloria's ex-husband Don Keating. She had fallen "deeply in love" with Don, an Irish-born Mancunian, while they were working together at UTV, after an inauspicious start. "I thought he was arrogant as he spoke with an English accent," as she writes in her soon-to-be published autobiography My Life.

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Gloria Hunniford

But when the skilled cameraman took up with the UTV make-up girl, Gloria didn't like it. They began socialising in a group of colleagues and eventually realised their feelings for each other. Although their marriage, which produced their three children, Caron, Paul and Michael, didn't survive their diverging careers, they'd stayed on good terms for the children's sake.

So, it was "huge shock" for Gloria when Don was found dead, by a friend, at his kitchen table in Hillsborough in 1997, his dinner and a glass of wine in front of him.

"I was in Belfast doing a chat show - Caprice and David Soul were on it - and when I came off air, there was a silence," she recalls "It was eerie; I knew immediately something was wrong.

"It was terrible for Caron - she was very close to Don and she was heavily pregnant at the time. She didn't experience the full sadness of his death, nor the full joy of the baby's birth, because of the timing."

Although she can never be sure, Gloria doesn't discount the theory that stress could have been a factor in Caron's breast cancer, which was to end her life at only 41. She remarks that she still finds her daughter's angelic "calling card", a large white feather, at troubled times in her life, and isn't bothered by cynics.

"I don't care if people don't believe me - I have a deep faith, although I don't go to church every Sunday," she says. "Not long after Caron died, the boys were splashing about in an indoor pool - the whole place was soaked but there on the tiles afterwards was a big white feather, perfectly dry. There's no other explanation for it."

However, she does draw the line at psychics, currently the in-thing in the trendy circles of London and Hollywood.

"Lots of people got in touch after Caron died, offering these readings, but I felt I never needed someone to act as an intermediary with Caron for me," she says, emphatically. "I didn't want to go down that road, nor counselling. I've enough people around me to talk to.

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Gloria Hunniford and her late daughter Caron Keating, who died from breast cancer

"I do believe I'll see Caron again," she says. "I remember, when I was younger, a technician in the BBC - he was psychic, apparently - telling me I had a spirit following me about. I didn't believe him but I met him again a few years later and he described this spirit and it was my paternal grandmother to a tee.

"He described the exact way her mouth was - she'd had a stroke. I never felt afraid of her presence; I felt it was protective."

Gloria and her youngest son, Michael, found their lives gravely in need of protection in London in the run-up to Christmas in 1983. Gloria had taken Michael, then 13, to Harrods, and let him explore the toy room while she went to the china department. The IRA had warned that there would be a pre-Christmas bombing campaign but Harrods ignored a coded warning to evacuate the store. At 1.30pm, a car bomb exploded in a nearby side street, killing three officers on their way to investigate it, three civilians and injuring 90 more.

The store shook and the customers were instructed to file out through a safe exit.

"I was hysterical not knowing where Michael was but had no choice to comply; I just had to hope that he was doing the same and that he was alright," Gloria writes. "Outside, the scene was chaotic: some of the injured were staggering around, with rumours rife that there was another bomb elsewhere and this was a decoy to send us into its path, but all I could do was struggle back to my car and pray that Michael would come and find me there.

"It was as if time stood still, except my heart was racing with panic. Thank God he turned up minutes later, although to me if felt like hours. I thought that I was pretty battle hardy after all those years in Belfast, but nothing can prepare you for the terror of waiting for your child to reappear in a situation like that. It is one thing worrying about yourself but, as I came to learn in later years, it is a far worse torture when you are in fear for your child."

Gloria's strong maternal instincts are obvious from reading her nicely paced autobiography and even more from talking to her in person. She is doubtful, for example, that she would have allowed a teenage Caron go to stay in Canada, as her parents let her, at 17.

"I still tell my children daily that I love them," she says. "I always knew I was loved - that's so important. We didn't have much spare cash but we always felt secure."

Her motherly affections have extended to her two "gorgeous" King Charles spaniels, Polly and Gemma.

"They are like your own child, aren't they?" she muses. "We had one, Roxie, who died in her sleep, earlier this year.

"She followed Stephen around all day. We've had a long line of cherished dogs. You can't replace a dog, of course, but we've a new one now, Polly - she's seven months - to keep the other one company. Gemma's 10 years old now."

Gloria is also very feminine and likes fashion - but you won't find her dripping in jewels.

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Gloria Hunniford with her husband Stephen Way celebrating with family on their wedding day

"I don't crave diamonds, or a bigger car or house," she asserts. "I've a friend who just can't get enough diamonds and always wants more; the only jewellery I have is what I wear.

"I'm not in the really wealthy bracket but I make enough and I don't want any more. These ones ordering those Birkin bags, or whatever you call them, at £60,000 a pop - that's obscene. I wouldn't want to be seen carrying one."

That no-nonsense attitude is attributed to her parents, who instilled in Gloria a good work ethic and a strong moral code. Before she took up her first proper job as a production assistant in UTV, she was selling Rhode Island hens at a chicken factory, to make money for Christmas.

To this day, she remains industrious.

"I've always been a busy person - if we were sitting reading or something, Mum would say: 'You've years in front of you to sit in an armchair - go and do something'.

"Even now, I only go to bed because I have to. When Michael was going to school, I'd get six or seven hours. When I was finishing Caron's book, it would be four or five.

"I try to get a wee kip now during the day and, as I write in the book, I fall asleep on the train. I ended up at the end of the line from London one night and this woman was standing over me, shaking me to wake up. Then she was: 'Oh, it's you! It's YOU!," she laughs.

"I nod off watching television in the evening and sleep for an hour, too."

The icing on the cake this year for Gloria was the announcement of her OBE.

She was nominated for the honour by the cancer charities benefiting from her Caron Keating Foundation, "my healing", as she refers to her work with the organisation, which includes promoting Action Cancer's Big Bus, a scanning service on wheels which has helped save thousands of lives.

On camera, she is a popular member of the Loose Women panel, and a presenter on the highly rated Rip Off Britain consumer show, which has just been recommissioned for 2018-19.

"Stephen said: 'Good God, how old will you be then?' she laughs. "I do love a challenge and love to be busy, and I hope I always will be," she says.

"I believe in fate, too. I've been in the right place at the right time in my career. And I'm happy to fail - as long as I've tried."

My Life by Gloria Hunniford, Blake Publishing, is out on October 19

Superstar names who've been interviewed by Gloria

Gloria has conducted some memorable interviews throughout her illustrious career, beginning back in the 1960s when she cornered Cliff Richard - who became a close friend - in a prayer mission tent in Lisburn.

Here she is on some of the big names she has encountered:

Neil Diamond

"He was quite shy when I first met him but as time went on, he relaxed. He knew he could trust me and we became good friends. I've been to his home and he has performed for Caron's foundation."

David Bowie

"I'd never seen anything like him before. He was very charismatic and remained so, throughout his life. I really liked the music he had out a few years ago (The Next Day album)."

Audrey Hepburn

"She was quite ill when I interviewed her but you wouldn't have known. She was lovely in every way."

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Gloria with Audrey Hepburn

Freddie Starr

"The first time I interviewed him, he kept inching closer until he was on my lap, kissing me! He was always great fun."

Salman Rushdie

"I paid a producer with my own money to help me with the research for my interview with Rushdie, so I knew my stuff. I gave him quite a grilling and it caused a lot of controversy."

Julio Iglesias

"Julio has actually become a great friend of mine. He invited us out to his homes in Miami and in the Dominican Republic. Every conceivable luxury was on offer: eggs were flown in from Julio's place in Spain and the whole complex is so vast you have to go around in a golf cart."

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