‘My biggest regret is when my mum had Alzheimer’s and I wasn’t able to give up my job to care for her’
Television presenter Fiona Phillips tells Lisa Salmon of the tragic dilemma she faced when both her parents had dementia and discusses her daily diet, being kind and her work ethic.
She’s best known for being the bubbly anchorwoman on GMTV’s famous sofa, but life hasn’t always been easy for Fiona Phillips. The former queen of breakfast TV left her role on GMTV in 2008 to try to cope better with pressing family commitments; as well as having two young sons, her mother had recently died from Alzheimer’s disease and her father had been diagnosed with the same condition.
Now 57, the presenter has remained a familiar face on TV, appearing on a host of shows ranging from Panorama and Watchdog, to Loose Women and Strictly Come Dancing.
Here, she tells us about what motivates her, how she stays healthy and whether she has any regrets about the past ...
What’s your daily routine?
I haven’t got a routine, because I don’t do the same thing every day. If I’m filming, I might be up as early as 3.30am, which is the same as when I was doing breakfast television.
The days can be long — 12-14 hours sometimes — and I don’t eat very well (I usually get takeaways) so I feel clobbered by the end of it. I’ll have had at least four cups of coffee if I’m out on a shoot, and that completely disrupts me too.
It’s a really unhealthy lifestyle when I’m out on the road filming — especially if I’m on a train and I have to rely on train food, which is disgusting!
Do you try to eat a healthy diet when you’re not filming?
I’m vegetarian and have been for years and years. The thought of eating meat makes me feel ill.
I do try to eat healthily. I always say that if I have a plate of food, it can’t be beige; it has to have colour on it to make sure I get all of my vitamins.
My sons (Mackenzie, 15 and Nathaniel, 18) have disgusting eating habits, they think that takeaways are ‘proper food’ and that my food isn’t. Everything they want to eat looks beige: chips, a bun, white mayonnaise ...
I really worry about what they’re packing into their bodies. They certainly don’t get it at home; it’s the stuff they eat outside.
Do you have a motto?
My mum always used to say, ‘Treat others as you wish to be treated’. She definitely did that, so I do too. I smile at everyone — people think I’m strange in London. I can never cross a zebra crossing without saying ‘thank you’ to the car that’s stopped.
I think human interaction is so important. People smile back if you smile, so that’s two smiles lighting up the place. I say ‘hi’ to everyone.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
When I’m in the car on my own, on a long journey, a family-size bag of Revels is my guilty pleasure.
My favourites are the orange ones, but there aren’t enough of them. I like the coffee ones too but there are too many flat ones and raisins. Although, I feel bad afterwards! They’re only an occasional treat, but I do look forward to my car journeys, for the Revels and for being on my own — you need that for your sanity.
How do you keep fit?
Keeping fit and staying slim is a motivation. I was quite dumpy as a teenager — that’s when my family bag of Revels habit started — but I’m really small now. I’m a size six, and that’s how I’m meant to be. I walk everywhere because it makes me feel good — I walk up escalators, I walk about a mile from the Tube to my house, and I do stretches to keep myself supple. But I haven’t been to a gym for years. It’s all self-motivated.
What motivates you?
Work motivates me to get out of bed when the alarm goes at 3.30am. I’m good at motivating myself — I like doing things, so life motivates me!
My Fitbit really gets me going me, too. I’ve done 15,000 steps today and I aim to do at least 12,000 a day. It’s a great motivator.
What’s your biggest regret?
My biggest regret is when my mum had early-onset Alzheimer’s (the condition killed her mother Amy at the age of 74 in 2006, and her father Neville, six years later). She was getting lost and disappearing. It was terrible, and my dad had it at the same time, so it was an absolute nightmare.
I just wish I’d had her in my own house, and not in a care home. It was impossible — I was doing breakfast television and I couldn’t just give up my livelihood. I had two very small children, my dad was ill too. I remember ringing my aunt and she said, ‘You can’t (give up work), you’ll ruin your life, and you’ve two little boys’.
I still have nightmares about it. Thinking ‘I wish ...’, but I know you can’t be everywhere at once, and you can’t abandon two toddlers and just give up a career. My husband Martin was brilliant throughout it all, though.
Fiona Phillips is working with Specsavers to raise awareness about the availability of eye tests at home. Visit specsavers.co.uk