Gloria Hunniford: ‘When I find a white feather I believe it’s Caron’s calling card’

Gloria with Caron and her husband Russ on their wedding day
Gloria with Caron and her husband Russ on their wedding day

In the second part of our interview with Gloria Hunniford, the Portadown-born presenter talks about the unbearable grief of losing her daughter Caron and why the charity she established has helped her cope

With her cheery demeanour and megawatt smile, Gloria Hunniford’s life often appears golden but there has been profound sadness and grief.

Gloria Hunniford and daughter Caron Keating in Sevenoaks, Kent. Caron died from breast cancer in 2004.

Gloria Hunniford and daughter Caron Keating in Sevenoaks, Kent. Caron died from breast cancer in 2004.

The lowest point, she said, was undoubtedly the death of her beloved daughter Caron Keating from breast cancer in 2004. She was 41.

‘‘That’s a low point that you never think you are going to be in and it is very, very hard to get out of it.

‘‘To lose a child is categorically the worst thing that can happen to you in your life,’’ said Gloria.

‘‘I’ve lost parents, my former husband (Don Keating), close colleagues and friends, but losing a child is just one of the most horrific things that can happen to you, because you’ve carried that child for nine months, you’ve given birth to that child, you’ve loved that child to maximum capacity and then to lose that child, at whatever age, is utterly devastating and so what you have to do is just give yourself time, knowing that you are going to grieve.’’

Caron had followed her mother into television, married her manager Russ Lindsay and had two sons.

She became famous when she began presenting the children’s show Blue Peter in 1986 and was known for her quirky dress sense, humour and derring-do as she jumped under freezing waterfalls, swam with sharks and abseiled down cliffs and skyscrapers.

Caron managed to keep her breast cancer hidden for seven years from all but her close family and friends.

‘‘She was a very beautiful girl inside and out,’’ said Gloria, ‘‘she never knew how beautiful she was, and that was a very appealing thing. She wasn’t one of those girls with skirts up to their bottoms and their fronts down to their navel - she was never like that, quite the opposite.

“She wasn’t that kind of show-off, but at the same time men will tell me she was one of the most beautiful women they ever met.’’

Following Caron’s death, Gloria said her grief was all-consuming and inward-looking.

‘‘When you lose a child you are in such deep grief that it is very hard to take on the grief of people around you, your other children - it’s a very selfish grief for a while.

‘‘Then you come to terms, to a point, and you think - I’ve just got to start. I woke up one day and I thought, I have a lovely husband and children and grandchildren and I have to get myself back to some sort of normality for them .

“People would say to me, can you ever be the same person - I don’t think you can, but sometimes I think you are a better person because you have a stronger empathy for other people and their situations - sometimes it can change you for the better, even though you just wish you never had to go through the experience.’’

Following Caron’s death, Gloria was comforted by the letters she received from members of the public.

‘‘Sometimes it’s the public who write you the most profound letters that guide you.

“One of them said ‘Caron had a very big spirit and a wonderful soul and you’ve got to remember that the soul is bigger than death and death is not the end,so you now have to find a way of carrying Caron’s fight against cancer forward’.’’

Gloria said that letter gave her the key to starting the Caron Keating Foundation, a fundraising charity she established with her sons Michael and Paul.

‘‘Caron’s Foundation is very important to me.

‘‘It’s my healing; I am very proud of it, because it is table-top run - we do it as a family. I know Caron would be proud too.

‘‘It’s a charity that helps cancer charities all over the country, including Northern Ireland - one of them is Action Cancer in Belfast and its mobile mammogram unit.’’

Gloria said the charity is about to hand over £300,000 in grants.

‘‘We do get great support - people are very kind in helping us.’’

Although Caron is no longer around, Gloria believes that when she finds a single, white feather, her daughter is trying to send her a message from beyond.

‘‘Caron introduced me to the whole philosophy of angels because she did some programmes and documentaries about it and she totally believed that if she found an isolated white feather - it was a sign of an angel’s calling card.

‘‘I now believe when I find that white feather, I’d like to believe that it’s Caron’s calling card. She used to make me laugh, because if she couldn’t get parked she’d say: ‘‘I’ll just ask the parking angel.’’

In 2010 Gloria was hit by more heartache following the death of her older sister, Lena Cinnamond, who was 77 and had dementia.

‘‘It’s very hurtful when you’re loved one just doesn’t know who you are - when it got to that stage with my sister it was heartbreaking; she was a lovely woman and very much a family woman and yet when she didn’t know who you were it was so sad - and that is a hard thing for families to get used to.

‘‘My brother-in-law looked after her for a long time, but then it got to the point where she might leave the gas on, but not lit, or she might leave the water running, or she’d try to let herself out in the middle of the night and she would be found in the road.

“She became a danger to herself and others around her, so in the end there was no option but to put her into a home in Portadown, which is where she died.’’