Fern Britton is one of the nation’s best-loved broadcasters and novelists, fronting Ready Steady Cook and ITV’s This Morning. She currently hosts BBC1 antiques quiz show For What It’s Worth

…My first memory

I used to sit outside in a big old-fashioned pram while my mother tended her beloved garden; she was always digging, planting or mowing.

I was very cosy in that pram and there’s a lovely photo of me with Mr Holly, my teddy from that time. More than 40 years later I had a similar pram for my daughter Winnie, and I took a photo of her holding a rather older, tattier-looking Mr Holly. 

 

fern britton first memory

 

 

…Hardly anything of my father

On the rare occasions that he came to visit us, my mother would get dressed up and Cherry would be all ready to show him the latest piece she had learned on the piano, but I’d just stand and look.

He’d arrive in a different car every time and was tall and handsome. I wasn’t scared of him, just in awe. When I was 18 we started to have a closer relationship.

 

…Warm sand on my feet

Every year we went on holiday to Cornwall and it always seemed to be sunny. I felt secure and happy there, running up and down the beach.

There was a Punch and Judy man who walked around on stilts, calling all the kids to the puppet show. I’d queue up for a 99 ice cream and lick it off my fingers as it ran down the cone before I could get back to the spot where my mother, aunt and uncle sat.

My mother used secretly to put sixpences in the rock pools and encourage us to search for treasure. Magical times.

 

fern britoon
On a trip to Portugal in 1975

 

…Never feeling ambitious

I only applied to do stage management at the Central School of Speech and Drama because our school career-advice officer didn’t know what else to suggest for me. But I got a place and remember coming out of the tube station at Swiss Cottage and walking down Eton Avenue thinking, I can’t believe I’m at drama school!

Many of my contemporaries there are still close friends and have gone on to do amazing things.

 

…Suffering from depressive episodes

I didn’t really understand what was happening in the early days and thought I just wasn’t feeling well. I’d spend a lot of time crying and avoiding people, I wouldn’t answer the door or the phone. I could put my smiley Fern Britton face on to go to work, but when I got home I’d have nothing else to give.

I’m able to laugh at some of my behaviour now, like the time I felt so desperate for someone to look after me that I felt I had to do something drastic. I had one enormous armchair in my cottage and I picked it up, got it out of the lounge into the hall, wriggled it down the steps to the front garden and dragged it through the garden gate to the lane, where I plonked myself down on it.

 

"I felt so desperate for someone to look after me that I felt I had to do something drastic"

 

 

I sat there weeping, thinking someone will definitely come past and find me and care for me. But of course, nobody came by.

In the end, I had to get the chair all the way back into the lounge and, by then exhausted, I put the kettle on and had a cup of tea instead. 

Read more: What is depression? Causes and symptoms

 

…Seeing two dots on my ultrasound scan

My husband at the time Clive Jones and I were on our fourth attempt at IVF when I went for my first scan. The nurse said, “Congratulations, you’re pregnant with twins.” I had to tell Clive to sit down before I gave him the news—he already had three children from his first marriage.

That day in 1993 when Jack and Harry were born was blissful. I remember exactly how they looked and smelt, and they’ve been nothing but a joy ever since. And how blessed I was to experience that twice more when my daughter Grace was born in 1997 and Winnie (with second husband Phil Vickery) in 2001. 

 

fern britton
Fern at the start of her broadcasting career in the 1980s

 

…Knowing I had to leave my marriage

Soon after Grace was born, I knew I couldn’t be in a relationship that wasn’t working very well anymore. My friends and family all thought I was having another depressive episode, but in fact I had done my mourning for at least two years before I had the courage to start anew.

I remember the sheer liberty of being free, but it was a difficult time; you throw a pebble in a pond and the ripples go on a very long time. 

 

…The chefs on Ready, Steady Cook behaved like naughty little boys

They were all so competitive! One time Antony Worrall Thompson crept in before filming and turned the other chef’s gas and water off to prevent him cooking. But that show has a special place in my heart.

It was my salvation, kept me on the straight and narrow, and allowed me to be independent, both financially and personally. 

 

…Not noticing Phil Vickery

There were so many chefs on the show that I hadn’t paid him any attention. I was single and enjoying myself again; I wasn’t interested in having someone new in my life. But one of the girls who worked on the show came up and said, “Phil Vickery fancies you.” I said, “Which one is he?” and she said, “The one who rolls his sleeves up.” I knew who he was then as I always thought he looked like an osteopath!

The next time he came in I took a look at him and noticed he had lovely hands. A thought crossed my mind: Maybe one day I might hold those hands. We married in 2000 and Winnie was born the following year. 

 

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Fern catching husband Phil Vickery’s eye

 

…10 Years on This Morning

It’s a unique programme to British TV and I remember my very first day with Richard Madeley, when I filled in for Judy, to my last day ten years later, which fell on my 52nd birthday.

That morning in July, before I left for work, I remember Phil being very jumpy and taking all these phone calls—all before 6am. I said, “Are you all right, darling?” and he eventually admitted that there was supposed to be a helicopter landing in the football field opposite our house to whisk me to the studio, but a thick fog had prevented it from landing.

It was such a compliment that the last show was all about me, and was the only time in my career that I didn’t have a script or talk back in my ears.

 

…I’m as nervous as a kitten when my books are published

The new novel is my sixth and writing them is harder work than anything I’ve ever done. It can be lonely and frustrating, but I know I’m not Jane Austen; I say to myself, Just do the
best you can.

I’m so grateful that my readers enjoy them. Having four children to get through university does sharpen my wits, though!

 

…Watching my daughter running on the beach

We were in Cornwall recently and Winnie was in the water, with her long hair flowing. I was brought full circle back to my own childhood memories.

I do try to take time to notice the special moments in life. We’ve all got bad and good memories, but acknowledging the difficult and sad ones makes the real blessings all around us that much more precious.

 

Read the full article in the July edition of Reader's Digest

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Feature images via What's On TV and Just Add Mushrooms

 

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