Lorraine: The hurt behind my smiles
Breakfast TV's Lorraine Kelly is always in good form at a time when most of us are cranky and eating our cornflakes. But the straight-talking Scotswoman went through 'hell' after a TV talent show. Bairbre Power met her in Dublin
Published 23/08/2008 | 00:00
Lorraine Kelly bounces into the dressing room at RTE with a cheery hello and a strong handshake. Gone are the red-soled Louboutin shoes I spotted on her feet earlier on the set of The Afternoon Show.
She's changed out of her Tesco skirt, Karen Millen top and is comfy in tracksuit bottoms, a navy T-shirt and flat, utilitarian black 'croc' clogs, albeit with furry lining.
This is the first clue to the real Lorraine Kelly who runs a hundred miles from celebrity, a status she could easily have embraced - the 48-year-old mother-of-one is the longest-standing breakfast television host in Britain. A household name, she literally wakes up the nation with her daily show, LK Today on ITV.
The second clue to Kelly's no-nonsense attitude to life lies in her working class Irish roots. The Kellys originally came from Draperstown in Northern Ireland and went to Scotland in the 18th century looking for work, ending up in the slums of Glasgow.
On her mother's side, the McMahons were working class Catholics and when Kelly's parents wed as teenage lovers, they faced the uphill challenges of a mixed marriage and hard times in the notorious Gorbals tenements.
Robbed of all their presents on their wedding night, the couple's tenacity in bringing up their daughter in the Gorbals, considered one of the most deprived areas in Britain, if not the world, and later in a two room home in Glasgow's East End, clearly helped forge the personality of the independent-minded woman that Kelly is today.
"This is lovely," she announces, surveying the rather modest RTE changing room. "Me, Kate Garraway and Fiona Philips all share a small dressing room at GMTV. It's extremely basic and there is only one seat, the hot seat we call it," she giggles.
Kelly lives a quiet life commuting from work in London and the home in Dundee she shares with her husband of 26 years, freelance cameraman Steve Smith and their 14-year-old daughter Rosie.
"To best honest with you, if I want to go and see a movie, I really don't want to get all dressed up in an uncomfortable dress and run the gauntlet of photographers," she says, knowing too that the pics "will end up in Heat magazine in 'What Were They Thinking' or with your funny toes highlighted in the Circle of Shame."
That Gorbals feistiness, which saw her fight back when she got bullied at school for speaking 'posh' rather than use Glasgow slang, still courses through her blood and last year, when Kelly heard that someone planned an unauthorised book on her life, she decided to pen her own story to chronicle the highs and the lows, of which there have been quite a few.
There was the heartbreak of miscarriage in 2001 when she lost a much-wanted second baby.
"I think I went back to work a bit too early and I don't think I really grieved enough. I put on this front of being 'fine' and even managed to convince myself I was coping but for almost a year after it happened, the smallest things would make me cry. Of course, I had to keep telling myself that it could have been so much worse. I miscarried at just over two months, which was bad enough. It must be unbearable in latter stages."
But there was more anguish to come two years later when she was accused of sexual harassment, a claim which brought the normally cheery presenter to her knees and which she chronicles at length in her book, Lorraine: Between You and Me, published by Headline. "Over the years I have been asked to take part in lots of different TV programmes, but I never thought that one show would bring me to the brink of quitting TV altogether and see me accused of a heinous crime. That was what happened in 2004 when I was asked to take part in a strange current affairs/reality show hybrid."
Vote for Me included the usual collection of fruit-loops, show-offs and attention-seekers among genuine people who were sick and tired of no one listening to their viewpoint and "all human life was there." Kelly and fellow judges, ex-Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie and political journalist John Sergeant had to whittle down 60 finalists to eight.
A former porn star took off her bra and Kelly made contact with her boobs for "for about a nano-second". It was all captured on camera and she thought no more about it.
"I was horrified to be accused of something so utterly vile and outraged that someone could make such an accusation against me.
"It made me realise how vulnerable you are when you're in the public eye. There have been countless examples of celebrities or well-known people being accused of all sorts of heinous crimes, only later to be cleared of any wrong-doing," she says, pointing to Matthew Kelly, who was investigated for false allegations of child abuse in 2003 (he was cleared of all allegations within a matter of weeks).
Instead of her diet of happy, breakfast TV stories, Lorraine found herself in the middle of a nightmare. Police and lawyers were called in. Torment grew waiting for the Crown Prosecution Service to look at the evidence which appeared on the first episode of Vote for Me, "a blink-and-you'll-miss-it completely innocent encounter." The story got banner headlines in The Daily Mirror.
"I didn't feel elated when I finally received the news that this ludicrous charge was not going to be pursued, just enormously relieved that I could put the whole thing behind me and angry for all the pointless tears and anguish. I had gone through hell and had made everyone around me really worried. I still don't know why the woman took such an extreme action against me, but I will never forgive her for putting me through such a hideous time," she writes in her book.
If Kelly was physically sick (throwing up in a plastic bag near Buckingham Palace when she saw The Daily Mirror headline coverage of her sexual charge) she also felt the media sting of being a household name when someone at the hospital leaked the news of her miscarriage to the press and a journalist contacted her mother Anne for her reaction -- before the couple even had time to tell her parents that they were expecting a second child.
The media have recently been on about weight gain after she lost a dress size earlier year. Patting her tummy, Kelly says her weight has always yo-yoed and rather than diets and gyms, her philosophy is to "get off your bottom, go for big walks and don't eat so much rubbish. It's that easy and that hard." She openly admits she hates shopping for clothes and confesses: "I've committed some horrible crimes against fashion. Looking back at photos, they were all my own fault because I buy my own clothes."
As for the fame factor, she feels "a bit of an eejit" carrying around cards with her picture on them to sign for people "but if I leave them at home I have to scrawl my name on the back of a fag packet which is even dafter".
After moving the family home from London back to Dundee a year ago, Kelly's working week involves flying down to London every Sunday evening, broadcasting live on Mondays and Tuesdays and recording two shows for transmission on Wednesday and Thursday.
She wishes they could broadcast what goes on in the makeup room, with Dr Hilary Jones conducting an impromptu medical service, everyone queuing up to tell him their aches and pains, while he and Penny Smith try to outdo each other with daft jokes .
Very close to her daughter Rosie, Kelly says: "I could not be away from her for anything longer than a couple of nights. She's a really good kid and we go for long walks together and talk. Steve is a fantastic cook and every Tuesday night when I go home, he'll have cooked something lovely like a Thai curry or a roast. My husband makes sure I don't take myself too seriously."
Kelly admits she has inherited her mother's manic tidiness and makes Monica from Friends look like a slattern. "I still can't go to bed unless the house is tidy, every dish is washed and in the cupboard, and the bins are put out."
Proud moments have included being elected the first woman Rector of Dundee University (others to hold that position include Peter Ustinov and Stephen Fry) and getting an honorary degree in law there last June.
Studying Russian at school, Kelly confesses she was an "idealistic red" and used to buy Soviet Weekly after her piano classes on a Saturday. The question of a future in politics was even raised when Gordon Brown, then chancellor of the exchequer, invited her family around for lunch at his home in Scotland.
"Gordon happened to wonder if I had ever thought about going into politics and we had a really interesting conversation." But she says in her book, her experience on BBC's Question Time convinced her that "I'm not a political animal and would never shine in that sort of environment."
In the past she has been threatened with legal action by Britney Spears and in her newspaper columns "has deeply offended many public figures who take themselves way too seriously". Always a worrier, even as a child, worrying about marks at school and not being good enough at her job, Kelly is not the first interviewee I've encountered to confess: "I still worry that one day I'm going to 'found out'.
Having worked on breakfast TV since 1985 and hosted Have I Got News For You, The Friday Night Project and The Paul O'Grady show, Kelly says: "I'm a veteran player in anyone's books. I truly never expected still to be going strong after all these years and to be enjoying what I do more than ever.
"It's certainly been a fantastic career for me, and after so many years at the coal-face, I'm told I've become something of a 'cult'. At least, I hope that's how you spell it," she laughs.
Lorraine: Between You and Me, by Lorraine Kelly is published in hardback by Headline priced £18.99