Monday 23 October 2017

Jackie Brambles talks about juggling work and family

Jackie Brambles Photo: PA
Jackie Brambles Photo: PA

Former Loose Women presenter Jackie Brambles talks about juggling work and family, and reveals how pregnancy affected her eyesight.

Jackie Brambles is beaming as she watches her two lively children race around the kitchen at dizzying speed.

"There's rarely a dull moment in this house," she says.

"I can't believe how much my life has changed in such a relatively short space of time."

In the past six years, Brambles, 44, has married after a whirlwind romance, had her son, Stanley, five, and daughter, Florence, four, been an anchor woman on ITV's chat show Loose Women, and is now running her own business.

"I was an older first-time mum at 39 when I got pregnant with Stanley and then I had Florence 11 months later. So I really plunged into parenting at the deep end," she says as she sits chatting in the sunlit kitchen of her home, near Glasgow, where she lives with her second husband, David Tod.

"Luckily I've always been someone who's thrived on being flexible and 'flying by the seat of my pants'.

"Motherhood's wonderful and I expected all that lack of sleep and never having a minute to yourself to be pretty tough, especially with two kids so close together in age."

But deteriorating eyesight - partly caused by her pregnancies - was an unpleasant shock that Brambles wasn't expecting.

She'd been short-sighted since her teens and worn contact lenses from her early twenties, but as soon as she was pregnant with her son, her eyes became sore and inflamed.

By the time she'd had her daughter her eyesight had deteriorated.

"I could barely wear my contacts and when I was working on Loose Women I had to get them to enlarge the print on the autocue otherwise I'd be squinting to read it," she explains.

Changes to the eye are quite common during pregnancy, according to specialists, as hormones can make the cornea, the clear dome-shaped front of the eye, swell.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding, and lack of sleep, can also reduce lubrication in the eye, and in some cases the natural lens inside the eye may lose some of its elasticity and ability to change focus.

For the majority of women, any problems disappear when hormones return to normal but Brambles was in the unlucky 10% for whom that doesn't happen.

She only discovered what had happened when she decided to follow the same path as This Morning presenter Phillip Schofield, who had laser surgery to correct his vision at the London Vision Clinic.

"I went only because I'd just got fed up with having to wear glasses all the time, but was really taken aback when the specialist took lots of tests and explained what had actually happened to me," she says.

"I'd never heard of pregnancy affecting eyesight. But he said my problems with my eyesight before the babies and two pregnancies relatively late in life made my eyes particularly vulnerable.

"Also, at 40 I was nearing the age when my eyes would normally lose a certain ability to focus and I'd have needed reading glasses."

Brambles, who became Radio 1's first female prime-time DJ aged 21, had the surgery last year and is delighted that her vision is corrected and she no longer has to wear glasses, particularly as she has an active lifestyle looking after two children.

She also keeps fit by running and swimming which helps ease her neck and back problems, originally triggered by a car accident when she was 18 and living in Ayr on the west coast of Scotland.

"I'd just passed my test and the car skidded on some oil and was a total write-off. I was lucky to get out alive, as it rolled and folded like a concertina," she recalls.

"The accident left me with a slightly misaligned vertebrae, which went unnoticed at the time, but which now makes my neck and shoulders stiff. And since I've had the children I've had a couple of bouts of sciatica, pain that starts in the lower back and travels down the leg, which is very painful. Regular massages help the stiffness and keep me flexible."

But the vivacious blonde, who spent six years as GMTV's LA correspondent, makes a point of concentrating on the positives to be gained from life's challenges rather than negatives.

Her first marriage to manager Jim Sherry ended after nine years in 1999.

"I learned a lot going through the pain of a divorce, and from all the other ups and downs in the course of my life.

"I realise that you have to live in the present, look for what you can learn from difficulties, and not to agonise too much about what might happen in the future," she says.

In 2005 she met Tod, a financial services consultant seven years her junior, and they married within a month.

"I feel so lucky that David and I are together. I first met him when he was 21 and he was just the 'boy next door' living near my parents farm on the Isle of Arran.

"Then by chance I bumped into him again when I was up there on a visit. I'd never expected to marry again but we just fell madly in love, got married and then because I was older we tried for babies straight away.

"Sometimes, we both think, 'Wow, it's been a bit of a whirlwind', but being a family is wonderful."

And although she says she enjoyed her time sharing the anchor spot with fellow presenter Andrea McLean on Loose Women from 2007 to 2009, she says she has no regrets about leaving.

"It meant staying in London for two days a week. It might not sound like a lot, but my children are still very young. I didn't want to miss out on big chunks of their life and they were getting upset when I went away," says Brambles who runs her own digital media company.

"Now, I enjoy having more control over my life and destiny and being able to fit my work around my home life. I may flag a bit energy-wise sometimes coping with it all but inside I'm glowing - I can honestly say I've never been happier."

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