A firm favourite on the Loose Women panel, Gloria Hunniford explains exactly how she’s had such as long-standing career, and why she loves bloopers.
Gloria, you started working in TV production in Belfast in the 1970s and you’re now in your fifth decade of television. Why do you think you’ve had such a long and successful career?
Gloria Hunniford: I think it’s because I have a great enthusiasm and passion for TV. I’m not afraid to branch sideways and I don’t always expect to be the main tree trunk. Early-ish on in your career, you realise you’re not always going to be in a seven o’clock Saturday night slot.
At a time when daytime television wasn’t particularly popular a few years back, I did branch out and I went to Channel 5 – which was very new at the time. I presented a programme called Open House, which became very successful for five years, which was a risk to take at the time, but I like to take a chance.
At the moment I’m also doing Rip off Britain – which is all to do with consumerism and we film about 50 programmes a year. If the programme was presented by three 21 year olds, it wouldn’t have the same gravitas and trust. So, because we’ve been around the block a bit, lived a bit, suddenly to be older is an advantage. I’ve done a lot of daily radio, daily TV mostly – and the viewers trust you.
We were surprised to read that you started as a singer covering Lulu’s song that was a smash hit in Northern Ireland. Why did you change the direction of your career towards television and radio?
Gloria Hunniford: I actually began singing from the age of eight. Homespun entertainment was really popular at that time, particularly in Northern Ireland. My dad was a newspaper man by day, but a magician by night, so from when I was about four, I was always going along to see the concerts and shows. I got sucked up into it, it was such a big business then.
When I was 17, I went to live in Canada and found out quickly that if you could sing an Irish song in tune at all, they put you on television. Living in Kingston, Ontario, they only had about six television stations and ten radio stations. So, I ended up getting a little radio programme of my own singing Irish songs, which is what lead me to broadcasting.
Fast forward a few years and I came back home to Ireland and started to work in Ulster Television as a production assistant behind the scenes. I progressed and made this record, which Lulu had in the original song contest, and it became number seven in the Ulster charts, which meant nothing really. Even so, I was brought in to be interviewed on the equivalent of the Today programme, where they asked me about being a housewife and mother, whilst being in the charts.
At that time, there were hardly any women in television or radio. The producer just asked if I’d ever thought about broadcasting, and offered me a job. So, how lucky was I? It started the next day, literally.
I did broadcasting and singing in parallel and when I came to work Radio 2 in 1982, I was still singing a bit. I went on programmes like the Des O’Connor Show and Val Doonican’s Show, all these people I’d interviewed back in Ireland on my own programme!
You first appear on the panel of Loose Women in 2003 . . . what was it that tempted you to join the panel full time?
Gloria Hunniford: I’ve always enjoyed going on Loose Women as a guest and a few years in, I happened to be talking with one of the heads of the programme, who asked, “What do you think about Loose Women?” I explained that I’d always enjoyed it and they asked if I’d be interested in doing it! I was so shocked, because I was only having a social chat with her, not a work chat. I said if you’re ever short one day, I’d love to step in, but then she came back and offered me a job permanently!
What would you say is the biggest challenge for a Loose Women presenter?
Gloria Hunniford: Everything you talk about on the show is in the papers. So as soon as I get into the car at half-past six on a Monday morning, I’ve got to be ready to slam through those papers and know the topic. I suppose if you’ve been in the business a long time you know instinctively what’s going to make a good debate, and what’s going to be a bit of a fun item. You have to identify those and that can be a challenge.
What’s been your biggest TV blooper? Have you had one?
Gloria Hunniford: Firstly, I love live performances better than anything else. I really, really love it when things go wrong, and the idea of just being able to laugh at it and carry on. I think that the viewers love it when things go wrong.
During my first week on Loose Women, we were talking about this cheeky calendar with Mr. Bricklayer and Mr. Dustbin Man and we all had to pick one. I innocently said: “Well, I’m going to choose the hedge cutter because I’ve got a bush that needs cutting”. Of course the audience all dissolved into laugher, and then I realised what I’d said but couldn’t get out of it!
The following week, we had Ariana Grande on the programme. I was asking her, “As a young performer, and with lots of other young performers around, do you feel the pressure of trying to do something different, like quirking.”
Everybody started laughing and I asked: “What did I say?”. Well, of course it’s twerking. She loved it! At the end of the interview Ariana said: “I’m going on tour now, I’m taking Gloria with me and we’re going to quirk every night on stage.”
Who would be your dream guest on Loose Women, and why?
Gloria Hunniford: Sadly I missed the programme when Anthony Banderas was on the panel and he would be a bit of a dreamboat to interview. I can’t honestly sit here saying, “Oh, I’m desperate to interview x” but any big Hollywood stars are always fascinating to interview as they know how to play the game on talk shows, having done endless ones in America.
Who has been your favourite guest so far on Loose Women?
Jonathan Ross was brilliant because he not only does the plug for his projects, but he’s great, great fun. He’s a good guest because he knows how to turn a serious story into a bit of a quip as well.
I also really enjoyed interviewing Leon Ockenden, the actor from Mr. Selfridge, who’s the son-in-law of Mr. Selfridge. On screen he’s a pretty horrible character and yet in reality, he was fantastic as a story-teller. Joanne Froggatt, the housekeeper in Downton Abbey, was wonderful. You’re so used to seeing her in fairly dowdy clothes and a wig and then when she turned up on the programme, she looked terrific.
Loose Women is hugely successful, why do you think it has such a loyal following?
Gloria Hunniford: I think it comes down to the female viewpoint, its women watching women, which is entertaining. We always have so much fun on the programme, there’s always a laugh. I also the more serious topics stimulate people who are watching. It makes people at home think: “What would my opinion be on that”?
No matter what you’re talking about, people at home will have a view. It’s stimulating for them and they enjoy having the ability to ring in and giving us their opinions.
But, I do think, overall, it’s the humour. All of the women are really lively.
You appeared on season five of Strictly Come Dancing, but have generally avoided the reality television route. Would you ever consider appearing on something like Celebrity Big Brother?
Gloria Hunniford: It was series two when I appeared on Strictly, and it was one the best experiences I ever had. It was a relatively short time after Caron died and when I was asked to do it, I couldn’t find anyone in my family who would tell me not to. They all thought it would be good for me to do something joyful and that’s exactly what it was.
In the second series, truthfully, if you could put one foot past the other, you were on. It was not as competitive in the same way it is today. It was tremendous fun. Very liberating but petrifying at the same time. The walk down the stairs at the beginning was my favourite bit. It was just great. As soon as you heard that music, that was it. Once down the stairs, then you thought, “Oh my goodness, I’ve got to do it now.”
To tell you the truth, I couldn’t do Big Brother because I’d go mad if I was in anywhere for six to eight weeks. I couldn’t do The Jungle because I’m allergic to mosquitos, snakes, everything you can think of. So, to answer your question, no.
As well as your TV career, you head up the cancer charity, The Caron Keating Foundation as well as counselling parents who’ve lost children. How do you fit so much in?
Gloria Hunniford: The foundation is part of my healing; it’s doing something positive against something negative. There was one woman who wrote to me to say “I lost my son 15 years ago and I’d like to tell you it gets better but it won’t, but you eventually will learn in and around it, and that’s the truth. The big black hole remains, but you learn to live around it.” She also said, “There’ll be days when you want to sit in the darkened room with the photographs of Caron and weep.” But she said, “You must remember that if you weep until the second you die, you’re never going to bring her back and you’re not going to change anything.”
She would write to me often and in one letter said, “You know, what you and I have to do is find a way of carrying Caron’s spirit forward. You must remember that Caron had a very big soul, and the soul is bigger than death, and death is never the end.” She said, “Now you have to use her name and my own name within the business to do good for other people”, and all of a sudden it all made sense. I woke up in the middle of the night and I felt and thought, “That’s what I have to do”.
It was the best thing to do, as I knew Caron would be very proud of it, and we’re very focused in as much that I don’t try to raise £10 million a year. I give small bursaries to people. If they need £5,248 for a piece of machinery to get that diagnosis faster, that’s what they get. If they need beds – because sometimes they need tilting beds and everything – that’s what they get.
If you look at our website some time, you’ll see how many we’ve been able to help. It’s at www.caronkeating.org. You can see the hundreds of things we passed out.
Truly inspirational. Thanks for chatting to us Gloria!
We’d also like to give a big thank you to Emma Iannarilli from Fashion Mommy for putting forward some of the questions for Gloria’s interview. You can catch Loose Women, in association with tombola, on ITV every weekday at 12.30pm.