Gloria Hunniford on living with grief, and having body confidence at 83

gloria hunniford interview womens health nhs blood pressure
Gloria Hunniford talks health, grief + positivityGetty Images

After nearly six decades of being on our TV screens, Gloria Hunniford is a certified national treasure.

Whether she's saying *exactly* what she thinks on Loose Women, or naming and shaming scoundrels on Rip Off Britain, the (eternally glamorous) 83-year-old takes no prisoners - and when it comes to blood pressure, she knows that we can take no chances.

She's teamed up with the NHS to urge people aged 40 and over to get their blood pressure checked. New research shows only one in 14 people realise that high blood pressure often has no symptoms – and the majority of those at risk prioritise other tasks like getting their car MOT’d or their boiler serviced. Us humans need regular maintenance, too.

Known as a ‘silent killer’, high blood pressure can be fatal and it's a leading cause of heart diseases, strokes and even linked to dementia.

Gloria has sadly seen first-hand the pain that uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause. She lost her dad to a stroke, and almost her husband, too.

She told Women's Health: ‘I always regarded my dad as super fit, and he wasn't a drinker, but of course, in those days, we didn't know very much about the damage of smoking. So it was a real shock to me when he had a really bad stroke.'

Her dad lived another couple of years, but his high blood pressure, ‘led to a narrowing of arteries in the brain, dementia set in, and then eventually he died from a stroke.’

unspecified location unspecified date in this image released on march 11, 2024, gloria hunniford gets their blood pressure checked by pharmacist deepak to encourage people to get their blood pressure tested as the nhs expands offering of free blood pressure checks in community pharmacies in the united kingdom photo by jeff spicergetty images for nhs
Jeff Spicer

In 2004, the year Gloria lost her daughter, Caron Keating to breast cancer, she almost lost her husband, too. Like her father decades prior, Stephen Wray, now 78, suffered a stroke and a minor heart attack due to high blood pressure.

The Northern Irish star adds, ‘When we realised that Stephen has suffered from a stroke, because of his high blood pressure, we found out there's an awful lot you can do either through medicine, by changing your lifestyle or taking action yourself.

‘That's why I love this campaign. And I think the NHS has done a brilliant job because they’ve made it accessible to everybody over 40. All you have to do is drop into your local pharmacy.'

Grieving in public

british television presenter caron keating with her mother northern irish television presenter gloria hunniford attend a bafta event in london, april 1992 photo by dave benettgetty images
Dave Benett

After a successful stint in radio, Gloria made the move to TV in the 1970s, when she became the presenter of Good Evening Ulster. Working as a broadcaster for such a long time has meant the general public have had a front row seat to witness the milestones of her life play out in real time - and that includes the most painful experience of them all.

April 13 marks the twentieth anniversary of the passing of her daughter Caron Keating. Caron, who followed her mum into broadcasting, tragically passed away in 2004 aged just 41, leaving behind two young sons.

Gloria said: ‘You never get over losing a child, you have to learn to live with the fact. When Caron died I was lost completely - we just can't get over that kind of grief. I could see that it could take you out if you gave in to it.

'I went back to work within maybe three months - that was important for me, because I knew where I had to be and what was happening - otherwise grief can be like a sort of quicksand.'

But it wasn't just TV work which gave her some much-needed focus. She found new purpose in establishing The Caron Keating Foundation, which fundraises and allocates grants to cancer charities. Gloria was inspired by a letter she received from a member of the public who was touched by Caron's loss. She explained, 'We had thousands of letters, but there was one in particular where she wrote "Caron has a very big soul. And the soul is bigger than death. And death is never the end." So that was the beginning of the foundation.'

Caron's husband, Russ Lindsay, has now remarried, but Gloria is still close with her grandsons, Charlie and Gabriel. The 'boys' are now in their 20's, and Gloria shares a lovely story about how Charlie is paying tribute to his beloved mum in a really thoughtful - and unexpected - way.

She said: 'I used to wonder why he doesn't ask me more questions about his mother). Such as "What was she like at university or at work?"'

But, when Charlie announced he'd be getting married in the same church as his late mum, she realised that was his way of feeling close to her. She added: 'So that all brought a tear to our eyes - and oh my goodness, there's going to be a lot of tears on the day.'

Good body image

Gloria had a slight health scare last year when a routine kidney stone operation resulted in sepsis, but she thankfully recovered quickly - which is not a typical outcome for the average octogenarian. She puts her good health down to her positive attitude: 'I'm a big advocate of attitude. I think as you get older attitude of mind is important.'

Last year Gloria joined her Loose Women cohorts in their My Body Story campaign. It was launched to tie in with International Women's Day, and saw the presenters celebrate body positivity, and feeling happy in their own skin (and for Gloria, in her clothes).

She laughed: 'I loved the campaign because you don't have to be in a swimming costume, you don't have to be a size 10 - just be proud of your body. It's such a good message, especially to younger women. It's funny though, because everyone else is in bathing suits and bikinis and I think, not me - I ain't getting into a bikini.'

Respected from the start

When Gloria started in journalism 55 years ago, it was a very different world - least of all in that women were usually expected to be getting dinner on the table at 6pm rather than be out on the streets looking for the next bit of breaking news.

Gloria explained that from the start of her career, she has never been shackled by sexism - but it might be more likely that she has simply never cowed to negative stereotypes. ‘I have never been afraid of sexism at all,’ she said, adding that her first boss reinforced that she was ‘as good as any man’.

She recalled: ‘He took me to the newsroom the first day I started and said, “What do you see,” and I said, “I see a lot of men pounding on typewriters".

'And he said, “Remember, as a woman, you're not here to do recipes, knitting or sewing - you're on the streets of Northern Ireland reporting on bombs, bullets and barricades just like them.”

'So I’ve never been afraid of sexism at all - because his voice always rings in my head that I’m ‘as good as any man at my job.'

4.2 million people in England are living with undiagnosed high blood pressure - make an appointment with your pharmacy today to get yours checked.

More health stories...

You Might Also Like