Alex Jones: 'I was back on TV an hour after doctors told me I’d miscarried'

India Sturgis
Alex Jones wears floral dress, Preen (harveynichols.com) -

Just over a year on from her private heartbreak, TV presenter Alex Jones is pregnant again. Here, she tells us how she juggles family, work life and the prospect of a new arrival

It’s an unusual way to spend a midweek morning, but here I am discussing the merits of silver nipple caps with Alex Jones in a smart London hotel tearoom.

‘Oh wow, that’s unbelievable,’ says the pregnant TV presenter, her Welsh lilt bouncing through each syllable. The items in question are Breast Angels, tiny silver cups worn between breastfeeding to heal and soothe cracked nipples, something the 42-year-old suffered agonisingly with while nursing her first child. 

‘This time around I will feel differently [about breastfeeding]. If you can, it’s obviously the best thing you can do. But, as I found out, it can be excruciating and for the mental health of the mother it is not the always best thing. You have to balance it.’

A lot has changed since Alex and I last met. More than two years ago I interviewed the One Show presenter for this magazine when she was presenting a groundbreaking documentary, Fertility & Me, for BBC Two, tackling issues surrounding fertility and the pioneering science helping couples to have children later in life.

At that point Jones was 39, recently married, without children and beginning to think quite seriously about her fertility prospects. Things were by no means certain.

Alex Jones with newborn Teddy and her husband Charlie Thomson in January 2017 Credit: Instagram @alexjonesthomson.

‘You’ve spent so much time trying not to get pregnant and then suddenly it is the complete opposite,’ she told me back then. ‘Suddenly that’s the only thing you want.’ Now, she has a two-year-old son, Teddy, and is seven and a half months pregnant with his brother or sister. Dressed today in a red leopard-print Zara dress, black tights, black loafers and carrying a Chloé handbag, she is managing admirably on little sleep – Teddy was up at four, five and six this morning.

 ‘All I could hear was, “Mamma! Mamma!”’ she impersonates – with surprising fondness, given the context. 

In person, Alex is exactly as she appears on screen: warm, funny and frank – traits that won over the naysayers nine years ago when she arrived on the famous green sofa at The One Show as a relatively unknown and youthful lookalike of her predecessor Christine Bleakley.

Since then she has risen to become the BBC’s second-highest-paid female presenter (after Claudia Winkleman), earning between £400,000 and £449,999 in 2017, and has also fronted myriad shows and televised events including The Invictus Games and Sport Relief, as well as making it to the Strictly Come Dancing semi-final in 2011.

Today we’re discussing the complexities of motherhood and how long it took her to become pregnant with number two when she pauses, suddenly hesitant.

‘We actually got pregnant in October 2017, when Teddy was 10 months, and we lost that baby. I didn’t realise for a long time because I had been breastfeeding and your periods don’t come back straight away.’

Alex wears: dress, Agnona. Black top, Wolford. Shoes, Jimmy Choo Credit: Christopher Fenner /Styling: Ursula Lake

Alex and her husband, Charlie Thomson, 40, an insurance broker from New Zealand, had flown over to spend Christmas with his parents, who still live there, when Alex began to feel sick, the most unwell she’d ever felt. They put it down to jet lag, but then, on her in-laws’ advice, she went to A&E, where a doctor suggested a pregnancy test – something she scoffed at. When the test proved positive, she and Charlie were bowled over.

‘It was so unexpected, but we were thrilled,’ says Alex. ‘In hindsight, when I was very ill in New Zealand, that’s probably when everything was falling apart.’

A few weeks later, back in the UK, they arranged a private scan to establish a due date, assuming she’d be about six weeks along. The news, instead, was devastating. ‘We learnt the baby didn’t have a heartbeat. I was around 14 weeks, which is a decent amount of time. The baby had stopped developing at about nine weeks. That was really hard. It hit us like a ton of bricks.

‘It’s really odd. You’re in that room looking for answers that you’re never going to get. You’re thinking, “Have I done something wrong? What did I do differently? Was it because we flew a long way? Was I too stressed? Was I putting too much pressure on myself?”’

At the time, Alex was working full-time on The One Show (having gone back to work three and a half months after having Teddy), finishing a book – Winging It! Parenting in the Middle of Life – and acclimatising to parenthood. Charlie proved the voice of reason.

Alex at the Baftas with Charlie in 2015 Credit: Rex features

‘He was amazing. He said, “It’s one of those things. There was something wrong and it’s your body stopping things before it gets any further.”’

An hour after learning she’d had a missed miscarriage – a symptomless or silent miscarriage (which then results in either a ‘natural’ miscarriage, taking medication to speed up the process, or surgery) – she was back on television, despite her boss, who she confided in, telling her she didn’t need to do the show. ‘I said, “What else am I going to do?” It’s a horrible feeling because it is so empty. There’s nothing to say. It’s done.’ It took Alex a long time to come to terms with what happened. She went on autopilot. 

‘I’m not saying it’s easier or harder if you already have [a child]. The sense is at least you have a healthy child, but you remember how it felt at that point, you know what it’s like to hold a baby and the potential is very real.’

Having only told her mother, father, sister and parents-in-law, for months Alex weathered questions about when she was going to start trying for a second baby.

In Britain, one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage and one in 100 women will experience recurrent miscarriages (three or more in a row). While age can be a factor, chromosomal abnormalities are often to blame and many more have no obvious underlying cause. Alex doesn’t want to become ‘a poster girl for how fertility can go wrong’, but acknowledges it has become an integral part of her story.

Six months passed and she became pregnant again, but was fundamentally changed. ‘It was completely different. You don’t let yourself relax. I couldn’t enjoy it for a long time and didn’t tell anyone for ages.’

When we meet she is days away from her third trimester and all is progressing well. Although a couple of weeks later, she suffered a scare after not feeling the baby move for a couple of days. She went to hospital, sharing an image on her Instagram Stories of her hooked up to a monitor and writing, ‘If in doubt mammas ALWAYS check! So reassuring to hear the heartbeat.’

‘You just want to make sure, don’t you?’ she tells me afterwards. ‘It was the midwife who asked me to post something because you’d be surprised how many people don’t come. In the majority of cases everything is absolutely fine, but there are those really unfortunate cases where things aren’t. On reflection I should have gone [to hospital] straight away, but you just think it must be me, maybe I’ve just not been not tuned in.’

The couple want the gender to be a surprise, as it was for Teddy, and this time Alex will take an extra month’s maternity leave, having felt three and a half was too short.

‘I’d thought it would be fine beforehand, but, of course, I had no idea what was coming [with having a baby],’ she says. ‘The BBC was amazing. They were clear there was no pressure to come back. It was me who was thinking I’d lose my job. It’s so mad. It’s irrational.

'I suppose it’s because I really respect and treasure the job. I wanted to go back to it and inherently [the industry] is fickle.’ If she’s a grafter, it’s a quality instilled by her mother, Mary, a retired bank manager. Alex grew up in Ammanford, a small former coal-mining town in Carmarthenshire, alongside her younger sister, Jennie, who is now a medical rep, and her father Alun, a sales executive. Shyness dogged her until she was 16.

Alex on Strictly Come Dancing with James Jordan in 2011 Credit:  Handout

‘I was very short and I had no boobs. Then I grew, found a good set of friends and a fantastic drama teacher.’

But her career was something of a slow burner: she studied theatre, film and TV at Aberystwyth University, then was fired and rehired twice as a runner for a production company. ‘It was like Byker Grove, a lot of us the same age working there. We didn’t get an awful lot of work done. I was making hilarious mistakes.’

She managed to reposition herself as a presenter for the Welsh-speaking channel S4C before a BBC editor saw her showreel online in 2010 and invited her to do The One Show. Now well into its 12th year and watched by millions, the programme is beloved for mad segments that can switch from Jon Bon Jovi discussing golden eagles to more heavyweight, news-led issues surrounding mental health or knife crime. Alex navigates it all with compelling joviality. ‘It’s a job that fits into family life and I feel incredibly lucky to have it. I never want to leave, ever.’

Recently she made headlines for receiving a pay rise to match her co-host Matt Baker. Previously, the corporation had come under fire for paying Matt £450,000 to £499,999 – significantly more than Alex. The whole episode aggravated her because the two hosts had, in fact, always had parity on The One Show, the difference was down to Matt doing other jobs such as the Commonwealth Games and Countryfile.

‘That wasn’t explained, which led to a lot of hassle. For the job we do we’ve always been on the same.’

She wasn’t on last year’s BBC’s highest- earners list either, because The One Show is now produced by BBC Studios, a commercial entity that doesn’t have to disclose figures. So she hasn’t had a pay rise?

‘No, no,’ she laughs, ruefully, adding, ‘there is no reason in the world why any female should be paid any less for doing exactly the same job as a man.’

Alex doing the Mother of all Challenges marathon with four other mums for Sport Relief last year Credit: Comic Relief Ltd

Having Teddy has opened her eyes to equality issues for both men and women. ‘The parameters will be so clearly marked by the time he goes into the workplace. [Teddy] won’t let himself get into a compromising position hopefully because it’ll be second nature to them by then.’

Alex first met Charlie at a party in 2011 and they married four years later, on New Year’s Eve at Cardiff Castle. The first few months of parenthood were testing, to say the least. At one point Charlie told Alex she was ‘less fun’ than she used to be. ‘Teddy was about nine months at the time and I was like, “Are you actually having a laugh? Yeah, we’ll get some wine, put the music on and be up until 4am like we used to. Don’t be mental.”’

But it was a wake-up call, too. ‘I’m guilty of putting a lot of focus on Teddy. I realised I needed to put some time into us, too.’

She is adamant that your early 40s are not too old to have a baby.

‘As long as you keep yourself healthy, that’s all you can do. As a society we are changing. People are living a lot longer and are more aware of taking care of themselves.’ Juggling a relationship, family, friends, work commitments and a baby is no small task. How does she cope?

‘The whole balance thing is an absolute shambles. Every day is a test.’

She wakes at 6.30am, showers, gets Teddy up at 7am, feeds him and then takes him to nursery. She squeezes in household chores before going to work. ‘Charlie does tons, though. We take it in turns to come home to put Ted to bed – and more often than not it will be Charlie because I’m still on the show till 7.30pm. And he does all the cooking for Teddy because I’m hopeless, I cannot cook.’

Yet instead of such pressures pulling her apart – as the narrative so often goes  – Alex feels that being a mother helps her to do her job.

Alex alongside co-host Matt Baker on The One Show Credit: rexfeatures

‘I’m better at my work now than I was before Ted. I was a bit selfish and unfocused before whereas now I know what my priorities are. I don’t get dragged down in the politics of the place.’ It’s a trait, she thinks, that extends to mothers everywhere.

‘One of the skills you pick up is the ability to do more things in an hour than you were ever able to before. Mothers are really valuable to the workplace.

They can multitask and negotiate, they have empathy, patience, tenacity… all this stuff that maybe we didn’t have pre-children. Certainly, I didn’t have. I’m not saying people without children don’t, [but] I’m not sure mothers are truly valued enough. They are superwomen.’

Happily, when it comes to superhero aspirations, a flawless physique is far down the list of Alex’s priorities.

‘There is so much to think about, I really can’t be bothered to be back in a certain pair of jeans at the three-month mark or whatever. Who cares?’

Instead, she eats healthily and exercises when she can. She swears by H&M, Zara and a mantra of buying shirts, dresses and jumpers a couple of sizes up, rather than relying on maternity wear.

She’s equally practical when it come to breastfeeding. Teddy had tongue tie (where the baby’s tongue is attached to its mouth in a way that restricts movement), as well as difficulty latching on caused by his position in her womb. A cranial osteopath helped loosen his neck and she persisted in agony for four months, but, bottom line, she won’t hesitate in switching to formula milk earlier on if she needs to this time around.

Did she suffer postnatal depression as a result? ‘I don’t think I did, but who knows? How do you define postnatal depression?’ she says. ‘I certainly wasn’t feeling great when the breastfeeding was horrific over the first three weeks. I remember being in the shower very clearly, crying and thinking absolutely everything hurts. You have those thoughts of, “When is it going to end?” Everyone has a touch of the blues.’

If it’s said lightly, I suspect it was felt more keenly. I tell her I think she is admirable for discussing all this so openly. 

‘It’s a bumpy road for a lot of people – us included,’ she shrugs, before heading off back to the BBC’s Broadcasting House to continue the juggling act.

Alex Jones co-hosts The One Show on BBC One, weeknights at 7pm 

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