Julia Bradbury on surgery, switching off and keeping the balance
'I'm having to take it gently, I can't lift my kids in case the hernias come back'
TV presenter and mum-of-three Julia Bradbury may seem unstoppable, but she's been forced to slow down following a triple hernia operation earlier this year. The former Countryfile star (49) admits she unwisely ignored the symptoms for nearly a year, which she eventually discovered could have had life-threatening consequences.
"To be honest, I suspected the nagging ache and bulge in my groin could be a hernia but I just kept putting off going to the doctor," she says.
"I'm conscientious about the kids' health but I'd keep delaying on my own. In the end, the pain in my groin was impossible to live with, which made me seek the treatment and it turned out surgery was essential.
"I certainly wouldn't advise anyone delaying as I did, it was wrong and I didn't appreciate until I got the diagnosis that it could have been dangerous. I just find it very hard to stop rushing around to take time out for myself," she says ruefully.
Investigations revealed she also had two umbilical hernias, as well as the inguinal hernia that'd been troubling her.
Bradbury, who lives in West London with property developer Gerard Cunningham and their children - Zephyr (7), and four-year-old twins Xanthe and Zena - says the worst part of recovery is being unable to lift her kids. "I've had to explain to them I'm having to take things gently... I've been warned unless I do, the hernias can come back, so I've really heeded that advice."
She's uncertain what caused them but believes it could have been a combination of her pregnancy with twins, lifting her children, carrying filming kit and constant travelling.
Despite the setback, Bradbury looks much younger than her 49 years, and exudes her trademark seemingly boundless energy. "I'm a naturally energetic, passionate person who gets excited very easily, so slowing down and being calm doesn't come easily to me," she acknowledges with a smile.
Indeed - she's rarely off screen and work often revolves around her love of the great outdoors and travel, so it can be physically demanding.
Bradbury presented Countryfile for 10 years until 2014, and has also fronted Britain's Favourite Walks: Top 100. She spent time in Australia for ITV's Australia With Julia Bradbury shown in February, and most recently co-presented Britain's Greatest National Treasures alongside Sir Trevor McDonald, celebrating iconic buildings and feats of engineering.
"I couldn't not work because I have three children and want to provide for them, and I also wouldn't want to stop because it's part of who I am," she declares happily.
"It's such a rewarding career and allows me to draw attention to things I'm passionate about.
"In Australia I got to highlight deforestation, coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, and of course plastic pollution," she adds.
The only downside, she confesses, is absences from the family. "It's really tough being away. I explain to the kids I have to go and we count the number of 'breakfasts' I'm away for. I do call but more often send them messages that can be played to them, rather than randomly ringing when they might be busy or tired.
"Zena's more introverted and shy and I think she feels it a bit more when I'm away. When I call, she sometimes gives me the silent treatment. It's really hard but when I've been away, I usually get a break with them afterwards."
While work may sometimes be unpredictable, she recognises the importance of routine. "Both my partner and I have quite intense schedules - I'm away for work a lot and so is he - so routine's really important in our house, and whoever's in charge follows the routine."
Included in that is dental care, and Bradbury is an ambassador for Simplyhealth's Big Family Brush-Up campaign, highlighting the importance of a proper brushing routine.
"Proper brushing is so important, as you've only got one set of adult teeth! The kids are pretty good at their two minutes every night, but we're not quite as good in the mornings in the week. They only manage that about 50% of the time because like most households, you're more stressed trying to get out of the door in time for school and work," she admits honestly.
Having children later in life - she had her son when she was 42 - has its advantages, she notes. "I'm much more sorted as a person now than when I was younger, and I certainly don't have any yearning to go out partying 'til late. I did all that years ago, also I'm mindful that around 7am, my kids will be up and breakfast needs to be in cereal bowls. It's far better to be awake and fresh to face that," she says, laughing.
"I adore being a mum and hope it's made me a better person, because you want to be the best person you can be if you're raising children for the next 20 years."
Fitness is key to keeping up with three active youngsters, but since the surgery Bradbury has stopped exercising on the pole she had installed at home, so she could pole dance for fitness.
"I'm too scared to go back to the pole at the moment as it's too demanding, so I've taken up tennis and continue going to the gym and yoga.
"I've realised that with such a busy life, switching off is important for my mental health and wellbeing, so nowadays I read a lot and I've taken up meditation.
"I'm trying to work on relaxing - something I find difficult - and taking time out so I have periods of calm and can recharge."
Enjoying the outdoors is also key to her contentment.
"Connecting with nature's vital and particularly important for children. Research has shown that three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. That's awful and so sad," says Bradbury.
"I see the difference in my own children when they've been outside playing - they're happier and more relaxed. I'm pretty tough about insisting on it, no matter the weather.
"I'm at my happiest when we're outside all together. A memory I'll treasure is from recently when, in the pouring rain, we went out in waterproofs to roll down a hill, have a leaf fight and look for slugs. It was magical."
Turning 50 next year holds no fears. "Ageing doesn't bother me at all. I've had such a wonderful, brilliant time in my 40s, with great work and having my children - the greatest gift," she says.
"The only reason I'm conscious of time and age is because we mark all their milestones - first tooth, first day at school - and it all seems to be whizzing by so fast.
"Being with children keeps you vibrant, sharp and active - because you have to be to keep up with them!"
Bradbury - who's been open about "struggling" when she was in her 30s, and seeking therapy as she dealt with career issues and endometriosis - adds: "My focus is giving my children a solid foundation, so eventually they go out into the world as independent, self-sufficient, well-adjusted people.
"I'm very aware of the mental health problems young people face nowadays, and realise you have to try to equip children to deal with life's challenges.
"It's not about being happy all the time - it's about helping them to understand how to deal with the knocks, the losses and the down moments too."
Julia Bradbury is an ambassador for Simplyhealth's Big Family Brush-Up campaign, raising awareness of the importance of a proper tooth-brushing routine. For tips and advice, visit bigfamilybrushup.co.uk