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The Big InterviewThe Big Interview

Why our February cover star Davina McCall is the ultimate super woman

Her trademark positivity defies a lifetime of struggle. Davina McCall on fighting for her future and why her journey of self-discovery will never end
Why our February cover star Davina McCall is the ultimate super woman
February 13, 2017   |    Gemma Calvert

These days, in a world where social media rules, it takes intense deliberation for a relationship to remain out of the spotlight. It’s one thing if you’re a regular person, another matter entirely if you’re a celebrity.

Yet Davina McCall’s 16-year marriage to Matthew Robertson is one of the few celebrity unions that remains sacred.

There are no glossy home shoots, no red carpet appearances (‘God no, we’ve done all that’) and you’ll rarely find social media snaps of the dashing man she affectionately calls ‘hubbub’.

‘The reason I think it works with Matthew and I is because me being famous is not part of our home life at all. Apart from, perhaps, if somebody comes around to fix Matthew’s bike, he’ll go “don’t come out because I don’t want him to know I’m married to you”. But that’s about protection of our family and keeping our privacy,’ explains 49-year-old Davina.

TROUBLED CHILDHOOD

To the nation, Davina Lucy Pascale McCall is a telly treasure, a woman who started her career at MTV in 1992, made her name presenting Big Brother for a decade after it launched on Channel 4 in 2000 and is the face of shows including ITV1’s Long Lost Family and This Time Next Year, plus Channel 4’s latest series of The Jump.

At the family home in Kent, Davina is, simply, a wife and mum. She and former Pet Rescue presenter Matthew, 48, who left showbiz to launch his own travel adventure company, have three children: Holly, 15, Tilly, 13 and Chester, 10.

‘I leave work and walk into our home and somebody’s going “I’ve left my chemistry book at school and it’s got my homework in it”. There’s literally not a nanosecond to go upstairs and take the extra eyelashes off and turn into mummy again,’ she smiles. ‘Literally no chance!’
Of course, Davina wouldn’t have it any other way.

Her own childhood was a troubled one, marred by an alcoholic mother who abandoned her at the age of four.

Although a court decided Davina should be raised by her graphic designer dad Andrew, he couldn’t afford childcare fees so she was sent to Surrey to live with her paternal grandparents Pippy, now 96, and Mickey, who passed away 20 years ago.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER

Although she and Matthew didn’t start a family until they were in their 30s, Davina’s yearning for unconditional love left her dreaming of having a baby in her teens.

‘I knew I wanted to have a child from the age of 17. I was desperate and I’m pretty sure that was from having a bit of an unstable background,’ she says.

‘It wasn’t that I needed to love somebody – I had my older sister, my dad, my step-mum, my little sister who’s 13 years younger than me – I wanted somebody to love me, as a mother kind of would, in an unconditional way.’

Davina’s mother, Florence Lock, died nine years ago after Davina, who says she forgave her mum ‘years ago’, tried and failed many times to re-establish a healthy mother and daughter relationship.

‘I kept going back, thinking: “She’s going to mother me now” and something else would happen then I’d think: “We’re building bridges, she’s going to mother me now”. But, no.’

Davina finally, and accidentally, addressed those abandonment issues last year while being treated for claustrophobia by renowned hypnotherapist Charles Montagu ahead of a 1,000m deep-sea submarine voyage for the ITV1 series Life At The Extreme.

‘We did a regression thing where he took me back to the little girl who got left by her mother in the kitchen. I did some nurturing work on her, then I cried and cried and cried,’ she recalls.

‘Under hypnosis the week before, he asked me if I wanted to have my fear of abandonment taken away and I said “no” because I feared it was going to change me. If I’m not that, then what am I? It didn’t change me but it has changed me in here.’ She places her palm on her chest. Surely she feels calmer? ‘Yes, and settled.’

COPING WITH TRAGEDY

Davina is no stranger to self-help. She says she’s had ‘s***loads’ of therapy over the years, which, like a pebble cast into the lake of her life, has generated a positive ripple effect in countless areas. In the summer of 2012, for example, she turned to a grief counsellor to cope with the death of her elder sister, Caroline Baday – the woman she refers to fondly as having been ‘my go-to person, my right arm’.

Caroline was just 50 when she passed away, seven weeks after being told lung cancer had spread to her brain. ‘I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I was consumed. I couldn’t breathe,’ recalls Davina, her eyes widening.

‘I felt like I couldn’t go to Matthew again because I’d been crying non-stop for seven weeks until she died. I needed to go to someone where I could really let rip.’

GETTING IT SORTED

Davina recently moved her beloved grandmother Pippy, who has progressive dementia, into residential care. Davina’s father has also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The fact that Davina continues to endure some of life’s toughest challenges but remains one of the happiest, most centred and positive celebrities on the planet tells you all you need to know. She’s the architect of her own strength, persistently rooting out methods of self-enhancement.

‘If something arises, I sort it out. Don’t sit in the s***. You don’t need to,’ she says. ‘I really like being on a journey of self discovery. I’ve always sought out things that might help me.’

Her first discovery was 24 years ago – a £10, one-day self-esteem workshop. ‘It was with two Americans and amazing,’ she says. ‘I learned that self-esteem is something that can come and go during the day so don’t wear it like a cross to bear.’

Hang on a sec. Davina McCall struggled with self-esteem? Surely not. This is, after all, a woman body confident enough to strip to a g-string in front of the entire Balance crew during four outfit changes on our photo shoot in Kent. She’s self-assured socially too, conversing with everyone from the editor to the photographer’s assistant and regaling the team with hilarious stories, including the time her 15-year-old announced what Davina can and can’t wear to the school gate (fake fur coat – out; pink fluffy jumper – in).

HEALTH AND FITNESS

Modern-day Davina – the fitness guru, sugar-free queen (she’s even brought a book out on the subject) who swam, biked and pounded her way along the length of the UK for Sport Relief in 2014, raising more than £2.2million – is undeniably a poster girl for healthy living. In the past decade, she has sold more than two million copies of her 10 DVD workouts.

But 20-something Davina was a dangerously different story – addicted to drink and drugs, using heroin to stamp out the ‘negative voice’ in her head. ‘A lot of that low self-esteem was why I took drugs,’ she admits. ‘It did shut it up for a bit but then it made me worse. I realised I couldn’t stop and I was rapidly becoming the person I swore I’d never become, which was somebody who was dependent on drugs. I went lower and lower and my self-hatred grew worse and worse.’

The journey to hell and back again is detailed in Davina’s self-help book Lessons I’ve Learned (£20, Orion Spring). She’s been clean for more than 20 years and is strictly teetotal. Davina also swears by clean eating, frequent meditation using the Headspace app and exercising three to five times a week – anything from her own workout DVDs to spinning and personal training.

Davina is body confident now, she says, partly because of age (she turns 50 in October) but largely to do with fitness. ‘My mental health is ruled by my physical health. If I stay physically fit I feel good, generally,’ she says, adding that her fabulous physique helps in the bedroom, too.

‘Fitness contributes to everything. It makes me feel more confident. It’s also about making time for each other in bed. When you’ve been with each other for a long time and have loads of kids, it is something that requires attention. You have to take care of each other in that area. That is important to keep a relationship alive.’

KISSING MATTHEW

When Davina first met dashing, dark-haired Matthew 18 years ago she wasn’t entirely bowled over. She preferred ‘naughty’ boys who made her feel like they were always ‘about to leave’ – another clear nod to her troubled childhood.

‘He didn’t make me feel frightened or insecure, which I always equated with feeling alive,’ recalls Davina. ‘My friend was like “for the love of god, this guy is smoking hot and such a nice person, you’ve got to go out with him” and in my head I had to say to myself, “try something different”.’

So at what point did she realise she had made the right decision? ‘When I kissed him. I was like “oh my god, this is it”,’ she says.

In Hollywood, this is the point where tear-jerking music plays as the couple smooch, usually in torrential rain. In the real world, however, Davina and Matthew’s relationship is pleasantly calm. And that’s how she likes it.

‘There’s no drama,’ she says. ‘There’s no throwing all of my toys out the pram and crying. We’ll have an argument or disagree about something, like who ate the last piece of cheese, go our separate ways, then half an hour later, we’ll come back, I’ll say sorry, he’ll say sorry.
‘Now I think there’s no such thing as being needy – you’re only needy when your needs aren’t being met.’

‘GIVE MORE THAN IS EXPECTED’

Inspired by the late Cilla Black who ‘paved the way for girls like me’, Davina’s risen through the ranks in an industry dominated by men and is not shy of working hard.

She actually makes a point of going the extra mile in her professional and personal life. ‘Our family motto is “give more than is expected”,’ she explains, showing us a photo on her phone of the words on a neon sign, which she had custom made. The inspiring message beams brightly in her home every day.

As our interview draws to a close, conversation returns to Davina’s brood, namely her biggest piece of advice for raising teenagers.

‘Never say “no”,’ she says. ‘You have to teach them everything they need to know by the time they’re 12 and just hope they can make the right decisions thereon. All you can do is guide them – hair, clothing, that sort of thing. Does it really matter what they do in the grand scheme of things?’ She takes a sip of coffee and smiles. ‘Being a good person, that’s what matters.’ And there you have it. Unconditional love at its finest.

DAVINA’S LESSONS IN LOVE

1) DON’T LOSE THE FAITH
If you’re in it for the long haul, don’t sweat if you’ve had a bad six months. I know so many people think ‘it’s been s*** for six months, we’re going to separate’. Just remember it will pass. It always does. You’ll get back there.

2) ESCAPE THE KIDS
Spend one or two nights on your own every few months because it’s like going on honeymoon. I always think ‘I work so if I’m not working I want to be with the kids’ then we go away for one night and I think ‘I wish we’d booked two’.

3) LANGUAGE OF LOVE
Motivational trainer Michael Heppell gave me a tip: have a little language, a way of communicating only you two understand. To Matthew and I, the kids are the ‘kiblets’, for example. It’s a language we share – a sign of togetherness and fun.

4) EXCUSE ME
Never say sorry to placate somebody. That’s the worst crime, I think. To end it with an ‘I’m sorry’ when you haven’t done anything wrong leads to resentment.

5) TECH ‘NO’
Try to keep technology out the bedroom. We had no TV in the bedroom for years but we’re about to get it back. We may as well have a TV we can watch together as opposed to me being on the phone and [Matthew] on the iPad!

And now she’s teamed up with blogger Fleur de Force to see how Comic Relief and GSK are working together to fight malaria in Tanzania…

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