In the first of a candid two-part series, Gloria Hunniford talks to Helen McGurk about her childhood singing career in Portadown, appearing on ITV’s Loose Women and being ripped-off to the tune of £120,000.
Gloria Hunniford OBE may be turning 78 in a few days time, but she has the vim and vigour of someone more than half her age.
A regular panellist on ITV’s Loose Women, the seemingly age-defying broadcaster, rises at the uncivil hour of 4.30am to get ready to travel from her home in Kent to the London studios for filming; often she won’t get back until 8 or 9pm...but is Gloria complaining? Not a chance!
‘‘Loose Women is tremendous fun, but the danger is, sometimes you forget you’re on live telly,’’ she laughs.
The ironically titled chatshow is notorious for its spirited debates on topics ranging from the banal to the serious, and everything in between.
‘‘I always joke and say, ‘if my mum knew that I was talking about sex on life television, she’d turn over in her grave’,’’ says Gloria, but she believes the show’s cheerful determination to speak candidly about womanhood is a breath of fresh air for the older generation.
‘‘A lot of very elderly women, particularly in Ireland, will say to me from behind their hand, ‘Oh I love that Loose Women, I love it,’ and I’d say ‘Why do you like it so much?’ and they’d say ‘because you talk about things that we weren’t allowed to talk about when we were growing up’.
‘‘And that’s the truth - we weren’t allowed to talk about sex, nobody gave you a sexual education - in school it was one sentence.’’
The show’s panellists, who include Ruth Langsford, Christine Lampard, Coleen Noleen and Janet Street-Porter, have been picked to respectfully express opinions, along with displaying empathy and the quick thinking needed to guide a live daily show.
‘‘It’s a bit of a laugh, but at the same time we do talk about some very serious subjects and you do draw on life’s skills, that’s the reason why you’re on - it’s for your opinion, and of course, my opinion, having been brought up when I was in the 1940s and 50s, would be very different to young girls’ today. In those days you did what your parents told you. You adhered to not having sex before marriage, but, of course, that’s out of the woods now.’’
Gloria has often come under fire for her straight-talking on the show; viewers recently hit out at her ‘out-of-touch’ comments on Michael Jackson’s accusers - she couldn’t understand why the two men, who claimed there were sexually abused by the pop star as children, were only speaking up now - 10 years later, inferring their motives must be money-orientated.
But she takes all the criticism in her stride.
‘‘It’s about your opinion and not everybody is going to agree with that; plus the fact that I grew up when I did, so my views about certain things would be different to a lot of young people’s. So, of course, you’re not going to please everybody. But there isn’t anything that I’ve ever said that I would think, ‘why did I say that’, and if I had to do it again I would change it, I wouldn’t because it’s how I feel about it.’’
Gloria is, of course, also well known as one of the triumvirate of consumer champions on BBC One’s Rip-Off Britain.
She says of herself and co-hosts, Angela Rippon and Julia Somerville, ‘‘We’ve lived a bit, we’ve learned a lot, people trust us because we’ve built up our credibility over the years and so, in a way, our age group is perfect to do Rip-Off Britain.’’
Ironically in 2017, Gloria was herself ripped-off, when a woman posing as her, strolled in to a south London bank and drained £120,000 of the TV presenter’s savings, using her photograph on Gloria’s driving licence details.
The footage aired on BBC Crimewatch showed a grey-haired women, bearing little resemblance to Gloria.
‘‘The funniest comment I heard about that was, ‘Gloria should be more annoyed about the lookalike than the money’,’’ she says.
The star got her money back, but still believes it was ‘‘an inside job’’.
‘‘If my husband went up (to the bank) with all the details in the world, they still wouldn’t give him access to my money without me clearing it, but she was able to go into the bank, four of them, and got all my money handed over to them.’’
Named after the legendary actress, Gloria Swanson, Gloria Hunniford began her showbiz career at the precocious age of just seven, singing crowd-pleasers of the day like Goodnight Irene and Powder your face with Sunshine, with the Mid Ulster Variety Group.
‘‘My dad (Charles) was a newspaper man by day - he worked in Morton Newspapers as an advertising manager - and he was a magician by night. He would take me along to guest teas and concerts. I always wanted to sing because I’d watched two girls in particular and I remember they got five pounds between them, which I thought was an absolute fortune and they had these beautiful rainbow-coloured net dresses and I just thought I could do that one day.
‘‘Then eventually at the age of seven, because I was always singing around the house, my dad said ‘would you like to sing with the group?’. In the summer he sent me to a woman called Gail Sheridan and she taught me a couple of songs and that was it.
‘‘I started to do the concerts with my dad chaperoning me. Sometimes we weren’t getting home until 12 or 1am and then back up for school at 7am, so maybe that’s why I still don’t sleep that much.’’
Gloria’s parents were naturally very proud of the success she would go on to have in radio and television broadcasting, but were ‘heartbroken’ when she left Northern Ireland for a job at Radio 2.
‘‘They couldn’t, in a way, understand, why I was leaving Good Evening Ulster, a top-notch television programme on every night, to go back to radio - they didn’t quite get the jump from provincial to network, but then after that they were very proud.’’
- Next week Gloria talks about the death of her beloved daughter Caron to cancer in 2004, her television and radio work, and why the actor Robert Mitchum was the trickiest guest she ever interviewed.