Emma Willis on new show working in maternity ward - 'I ended up crying every time a baby arrived... it's emotional'
Emma Willis seemed to have effortlessly conquered the world of TV - before her new documentary thrust her in a completely different direction. Training full-time as a maternity care assistant for the six-part series Emma Willis: Delivering Babies, the 42-year-old is thrown in at the deep end.
Having developed a stellar reputation for showbiz, the brave foray into the maternity ward has certainly raised a few eyebrows, but the ambitious star hasn't even batted an eyelid.
"It's probably random to people who don't know me," says Willis. "But anybody that does know me knows just how long I have wanted and waited to do this."
The matriarch of Channel 5's Big Brother since 2013 and a mother to three children with Busted's Matt Willis, the proud Brummie has more than a just a maternal streak.
"I love everything to do with hospitals and always thought that would be my life," Willis adds. "I grew up around the NHS, with both of my parents working in a hospital. I worked in a care home when I was 14 and all my work experience at school was in a hospital, so that was the plan for me.
"But then my life took a very, very different turn - one that I never expected."
This "turn" saw Willis pick up modelling at 17, going on to work for some of the biggest names in the business, including Marie Claire, Vogue and Chanel. She's now the face of Next.
Her breakthrough in broadcasting, meanwhile, came on MTV in 2002, before she established herself as a familiar face on TV and radio, presenting for the likes of BBC, ITV, Channel 5 and Heart FM.
But, despite all this success, moving from one interview with David Beckham to the next with Kylie Minogue, Willis has always felt there was a crucial part missing in her career.
With a distinct sense of purpose, she says: "I've always wanted to do a programme around hospitals, because that's my real passion. But over the years, no one's ever wanted to do it.
"Then, luckily, I met the amazing production team at Firecracker and this documentary is what they came back with.
"It's honestly been the most amazing experience and I could literally kiss them every day for the rest of my life."
It was by no means an easy ride, though. Working four shifts per week for three months - day and night - Willis didn't take the role lightly.
"To do that show justice, we had to do it properly, which meant doing the same hours as all other maternity care assistants in the hospital. So, I completely cleared my diary for those 12 weeks and solely dedicated my time to the show."
Despite this level of sheer commitment, Willis was acutely aware of her detractors.
"I was nervous, because I felt like a huge impostor," she recalls. "I was scared of being judged - that was my biggest fear.
"I remember walking into the unit on my first day and, in the back of my head, going, 'They think I'm just about to rock up for a couple of hours and go home. They think I'm playing.'
"But I couldn't have been more wrong. They were all so wonderful and welcoming - they supported me the whole way."
Willis' immersion into a completely new world reflects not just her sense of duty to her own job, but also her desire to raise awareness for the profession - and the unique rigours of the role.
"It's an incredibly time-consuming job. They put in so many hours and so much hard graft - mentally and physically.
"They do such an amazing job supporting pregnant women and I was just there to help in any way I could, even if it was just getting the mum a cup of tea. Or if they were emotional, to let them cry.
"I'm so emotional though, I ended up crying with them - I cried at every birth."
Did the sight of so many babies make Willis want more of her own, then?
"I was really broody at the beginning. It's such an emotional, overwhelming and beautiful experience, and you think, 'Oh my God, I remember that. I want to do it again'," she says.
"Fast-forward to a day later: your nipples are cracked and falling off, you haven't slept, your milk hasn't come in and the baby's crying all the time.
"Then you're like, 'You know what, I've done it three times - let's not push my luck.'"
Okay, so no more babies. But the crazy pace of Willis' life shows no signs of slowing just yet.
"The documentary was such a crazy, emotional, but unbelievable, experience. Now, I'm there hosting Big Brother and I'm suddenly thinking, 'What? Well, this is different.' So, it's an odd life, but it's a good one."
Emma Willis: Delivering Babies, W, Monday, 10pm