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What I've learned: TV personality Carol Vorderman

The TV personality talks about her mother, living her dream and Jenga

Carol Vorderman (55) is best known for co-hosting the Channel 4 game show Countdown for 26 years. Born in Bedford, England - to Dutch father Anton 'Tony' Vorderman and Edwina Jean - her parents separated three weeks after her birth.

Edwina took the family back to her home town of Prestatyn, Wales, where Vorderman and her siblings, Anton and Trixie, grew up in a one-parent household. Vorderman did not see her father again until she was 42. Despite a humble upbringing, she went to Cambridge University to study engineering, and then got a job in television. Her first marriage to Royal Navy officer Christopher Mather, at the age of 24, lasted just 12 months and four years later she married management consultant Patrick King and had two children, Katie (24) and Cameron (26). They separated in 2000 after 10 years of marriage. She now lives in Bristol with her mother and children, and has recently taken up flying.

My mother was very ladylike but very feisty and strong willed. I adore her, we've always lived together. She instilled in her children that you should be what you want to be and to dream big - we were very poor, we all shared one room and one bath a week, but I always thought I could do what I wanted. I didn't understand 'no'.

I was lucky I was bright and I had good teachers so I got to Cambridge. For someone from a state school in the north of England, someone on free meals, that was something.

I always wanted to be a pilot and at Cambridge I sat next to all these lads who went to the Royal Air Force where they learnt to fly. I went and knocked on the door and told them that I was there to sign up, to learn how to fly, and they said I couldn't because I was a girl. That was in 1978.

I went to the world's biggest military air show when I was 50 and I met a woman in her late-60s and told her that I wanted to fly but I was probably too old now. She told me not to be ridiculous, that she'd learned when she was 50 and she had flown around the world twice since. So I learned to fly - I got my private pilot's licence two-and-a-half years ago. Next year I'm planning to fly solo around the world, I would be the ninth woman to do it.

Women today are redefining what we want in our 50s and 60s - why should we be dictated to? Why should we do what society says we should be doing? We have a lust for life. We might not look like we did in our 20s and 30s but so what? We have freedom. I see life as chapters, and we're in another chapter and it's an exciting chapter. Today women my age are more likely to be climbing mountains and running marathons than planning a quiet week in France. It's great.

When your children are older, you have time to think, "What is it that I want to do?" You become aware that friends are passing away or not well, after doing everything I should do, now it's 'me time'.

I'm not the type to wear an apron and make cupcakes, that might be someone else's dream but it's not mine. I've always been free-spirited and made it up as I go along. When I was 39 I wore a mini-dress to the BAFTAs and it was like the sky was falling in. I was the front page of the papers for weeks. There were even TV programmes about it - now we wouldn't think twice about it, we've moved on.

I didn't set out to be in television, my mother wrote the application for me and forged my signature. There was a lot of sexism then. I went to a meeting at the BBC when I was 26. The head of programming had his feet up on the desk. He told me to stand up and turn around. "No, don't think your t*** are big enough," he said. That's how it was.

As I go into my 50s, I care less about my size and more about my health. I look all right and that's enough. You don't look like you do in your 20s but since I've got to my 50s I've won 'rear of the year' twice. It's like suddenly everyone has discovered I've got a big arse. I find it funny.

I like people who buck the trend, particularly like Susan Sarandon. She went through her own controversy a month or two ago when she actually showed some cleavage - at her age! For goodness sake! It was magnificent, I thought.

I am living my dream now - genuinely. Before I had what was on the face of it a very glamorous life but it didn't complete me. I did my first solo flight three years ago and the first time I took off on my own and I did a circuit and land… it felt amazing, I just love it. Flying somewhere completes me. Sitting in a little café, having a tea and a bacon buttie with one of my buddies, I feel at peace, I feel contented. I have semi retired from television now, I just want to fly more.

I've always been independent, whoever I've been with it's their biggest complaint about me. But I am what I am, it's how I am programmed. Sometimes I wish that routine and simplicity was enough for me - it doesn't mean that I'm superior, I'm just not programmed like that.

I've decided that life is like a Jenga set. You don't want any wobbly pieces, so anything that's not working in my life has gone. Instead, I just keep what's solid - my family, my friends, my flying, travelling.

I'm genuinely very happy. I'd say that four to five days a week I literally skip down the street or swing around a lamp-post and that says to me that I'm happy. I might look like a nutter but who cares?

  • Carol is an ambassador for, a new online community for today's 50+ women

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