Mollie King: How grit and grief pedal powered her biggest challenge to date

mollie king women's health june 2024
Mollie King: Powering though grit and grief Hearst Owned

What were you up to in 2017? If you need a memory-jog, Theresa May was running the country, TikTok was a Kesha song and the most toxic political issue dividing Sunday lunch tables was whether you wanted in or out of a European trading bloc. For Mollie King, it was the year she turned 30, navigated her career post-pop stardom (Mollie was one fifth of The Saturdays, if your pop history knowledge is rusty) and fronted Women’s Health – telling our interviewer she’d watched enough Sex And The City to be utterly unbothered about her newly single status.

Six and a half years on, just as your scenes have shifted, so too have Mollie’s. She’s closed the lid on her singing career to speak to hundreds of thousands on Radio 1, being promoted to the weekday afternoon slot – along with her co-host Matt Edmondson – in the station’s recent reshuffle. She found her ideal match in 6ft 6in, kind-eyed, CBE’d cricket captain Stuart Broad (their respective career backgrounds drawing comparisons to the Beckhams) and became a mum to Annabella, now 18 months old.

Alongside jovial clips from her radio shows, and the odd red carpet, Mollie’s Instagram showcases snaps of south-west London parks, plush holidays and wide, gleaming smiles that reach the eyes of two smitten parents. It’s a congruous evolution for the Wandsworth-born, Surrey-schooled former pop star.

Amid the joy-giving, life-affirming moments that accompany our ascent on life’s staircase, the hard things stack up, too, the truth of which Mollie doesn’t need reminding. When we speak – she’s all trussed up before her photo shoot in a warehouse that gives new meaning to the phrase ‘urban jungle’ – it’s exactly one month after Mollie took on one of the hardest experiences of her 36 years.

Encased in a neon waterproof jacket and a helmet, and weaving through some of England’s very grey, very soggy roads, she cycled 500km from London to Hull in memory of her late father (the east Yorkshire city was his birthplace). Losing a parent is enough to shake the foundations of any individual’s world. But the circumstances around Mollie’s loss – his death came 10 days after Annabella was born, following a shock brain tumour diagnosis midway through her pregnancy – are the sort that land in your gut with a thud and trigger a wince.


I’m given a heads-up before our interview that Mollie’s grief is still raw; that she might only be up for going there in the context of her epic feat, which was broadcast over a week across radio and on BBC One, and saw her raise an almighty £1.3m for Comic Relief. ‘I actually got back on the bike a couple of days ago. And I tried to cycle for two hours. And my body was just like, “Nah, this is not happening,”’ she tells me.

That Mollie had yet to return to exercise following Annabella’s birth meant she was building her fitness back from scratch. Oh, and she’d never properly cycled on a road. Of all the ways of raising money, why an endurance challenge? ‘The main factor for me doing it was because I lost my dad just over a year ago. And that was the worst time of my life.’ She pauses, her voice on the verge of cracking. ‘It was really awful. And at the time, I didn’t really have much time to process it. And I just thought an endurance challenge would give me that time to take it in and to absorb it. And it did. It was amazing. In those five days I could actually think about what had gone on and I felt like my dad was really close when I was doing it. I mean, he must have been; there’s no way that I could have done that without his support.’

Mollie is an irrepressibly positive person. But at times, her sadness vibrates. When her voice almost breaks, I have to stop myself from offering a hug she didn’t ask for. Instead, I ask about the lessons she gleaned as she pedalled and processed the enormity of becoming a parent and losing a parent within a fortnight. ‘I think it’s just that you can never predict what’s going to happen,’ she begins. ‘When I found out I was pregnant, my dad was the healthiest person I knew. He was really athletic; he’d run three marathons in his time and he was still super strong. And so, to then find out halfway through my pregnancy that he had a brain tumour and that we didn’t have long with him was such a shock – a shock feels like an understatement.’ But if life’s unknowability has taught her anything, it’s the art of self-compassion.

mollie king june 2024 womens health
The BBC Radio 1 presenter talks about her huge cycling challengeHearst Owned

‘I think [the lesson] is just be kind to yourself; to know that you never know what’s around the corner. Also, that when you’re really, really pushed – that’s the hardest I’ve ever been pushed, learning to be a mum and then my dad passed away 10 days after the birth of Annabella – I actually think the big thing that I have learned is that we are stronger than we think we are. And I think that we’ve all got it in us to be strong.’

Vulnerability can be seen as currency in today’s modern celebrity economy, with some performing their own pain with ease. But that’s not Mollie’s way. She’s prone to tying her experiences up in neat little bows, reaching for the positive pay-off. In the wake of exposing her raw emotions to so many, is she experiencing something of a vulnerability hangover? ‘Yeah, it was so weird, because going into [the challenge]

I didn’t really think about how it would be broadcast. All I was thinking about really was the more physical side of it. But I think because of how tough it was, you couldn’t help it; you just had to open up completely about everything,’ she shares. ‘And I did show a really vulnerable side. But it wasn’t really like it was a choice. It was just what

I was going through. And it’s still something that’s incredibly raw and really difficult to talk about in day-to-day life. I just don’t really talk about it. Because it – it just hurts so much. So, it was something that just came out, and it couldn’t not come out because it’s what I’m going through every day.’


If grief weighs heavy in our cover star’s heart right now, it sounds like there’s enough love beating in there to power a small island. When she talks about her daughter, I can practically see the heart-eyes emojis form on her retinas. ‘I absolutely love it,’ she enthuses, when asked about motherhood. ‘I just do. I just want

to squeeze [Annabella] all the time. She’s at the age now where I’ll be like, “Darling, can I have a kiss?” and she’s started to be like –’ she mimes rolling her eyes and swerving away ‘– already! I’m like, “You’re one!’”

Any early indications that she’s developed her parents’ sporting prowess? (Yes, parents’ plural; while Stuart was the professional athlete up until moving into punditry last year, Mollie was selected to be in the Team GB Olympic skiing squad aged 12.) ‘We’ve obviously got a lot of balls around the house. Whether they’re our dog’s or some of Stuart’s that are just everywhere,’ she says, any irritation well masked. ‘She’s actually already starting to, like, kick them and throw them. But she likes to bop along when we play music as well. So who knows what her interests will be… she’s actually just learned to walk, so it’s been very exciting, sort of seeing her take those first few steps and now picking up the pace.’

I’m not a mother, but I’m extremely online; enough to know that the social media discourse around motherhood is intense. From birthing to feeding and beyond, what women do and don’t say about their experiences all feels ready to be received in the worst possible faith. When I bring it up, Mollie gives off the impression that she’s largely above the noise – and prefers to keep this stuff in-house.

mollie king on the cover of the june issue of womens health
Mollie King on the cover of the June issue of Women’s HealthHearst Owned

‘With a lot of the parenting things, I’ve gone to my nearest and dearest; that’s my sisters, my mum and my best friends,’ she tells me. ‘Those are the people I’ve looked to for advice rather than going online, because there are so many opinions. And I think, really, whatever you think is right for your baby is the right choice.’ There’s a wealth of experience in her friendship circle to call on, too. ‘I’ve always had that little sister role… I’ve loved watching my friends go on and get married and have babies, and that’s always happened a lot before I was ready to do it myself. I’ve always just enjoyed everyone else doing it first and then a few years later, going, “Oh, I’m catching up now!”’

Speaking of weddings, Mollie confirms that she remains at the Pinterest-boarding stage of planning her own, with her and Stuart yet to set a date.

All the milestone chat makes me think of her breezy referencing of Carrie and Co in that last WH cover interview – then and now still pop culture’s ultimate iconic thirtysomething single women, 50% of whom never expressed interest in becoming mothers. Did Mollie ever entertain thoughts of what this decade might look like child-free? ‘I had always thought I would love to be a mum if I’m lucky enough. So I hadn’t really gone down the thought process of, “If this doesn’t happen.” I was just always desperate to be a mum. And when Stuart and I started dating a few years down the line, I was like, “I know this is it.”’

How did she know? ‘We’re very similar, but in the ways where we are very different it feels like it’s a really good balance, which I noticed immediately,’ she tells me. ‘I’m a big overthinker and I can be a little bit of a worrier, whereas Stuart is not an overthinker. Stuart’s like, “Right, this is what I’m going to do and this is how I’m going to do it.”’ The decades of professional sports psychology must help. Does he ever use any of his tactics? ‘He does. Even before the challenge, I was on air and I was like, “My brain just feels so foggy. I can’t think straight.” And he was like, “Oh, it’s fine. It’s just prematch nerves.”’

She imitates a laid-back tone: ‘He’s like, “You get this, babe, before any big game. You’re fine; totally normal.”’ His level head helps with more rudimentary daily trials, too. ‘He’s always telling me that I need to do mind maps when my mind goes into a bit of an anxiety spin. [He tells me to] write everything down, then you can clearly see everything. He’s very protective and he’s really good at looking after me.’


Does Mollie – seriously sleep-deprived on the day of our cover shoot thanks to a toddler who’s now in full voice come nightfall – finally feel like a grown-up?

‘No! Absolutely not! I still feel like I’m sort of in my early twenties. I still feel like I’m learning so much,’ she smiles, adding, ‘I still feel a lot younger than I am.’ A key component in Mollie’s ‘feel-10-years-younger’ recipe? Starting your career over from scratch in your early thirties. ‘When I first started, I had no radio experience at all, in terms of being on that side of the desk – being the presenter,’ she tells me. ‘I’d been the guest for years, but being on the other side, asking the questions, learning how to actually run a desk and run a radio show, I had no experience.’

mollie king june 2024 womens health
Mollie King is our June 2024 cover star Hearst Owned

Mollie recalls her gratitude for being partnered with ‘best friend’ Edmondson, and getting to shadow station legends such as Annie Macmanus, Greg James and Scott Mills. Was that humbling for the former pop star? ‘It was really humbling. And I think that there’s such a nice thing about being at this stage of my life and going into something and learning a completely new skill. Because I think that a lot of the time, we can get stuck in ruts of, “This is who I am; this is what I do; and this is how I do it.”’

Getting to grips with the mechanics of radio isn’t the only reason she’s still learning on the job; she’s also learning from her listeners, most of whom are the generation below her (Mollie’s a millennial).

Much is said about Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012. Is there something she thinks that cohort deserves praise for? ‘I think that with things like mental health, I can really applaud Gen Z in how open they are about speaking about their own struggles. And I think that’s something we can all learn from,’ she says. ‘Gen Z are really pushing the fact that it’s right to talk about these things and there’s nothing wrong with feeling low, or if you’re having a low day or an anxious day. It is normal.’

It’s an interesting point, I say, given the derision that some prominent voices have for the way those in their late teens and twenties talk about their mental health – the suggestion that it gets leveraged as an excuse. (Days after our interview, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promises to tackle ‘sick note culture’, triggering condemnation from mental health charities.) Mollie’s not one for being drawn into such mess. But she underscores her point. ‘People talking about their mental health – I mean, that surely is a huge positive,’ she responds, ‘I think what would worry me, I guess, now as a parent, is thinking: what if people weren’t talking about it? That’s more of a worry.’

As Mollie prepares for her new Monday to Friday gig (and getting her weekends back), finding a sustainable groove with fitness – for the first time since becoming a mum – is a tandem priority. ‘To train for this challenge I was getting on an exercise bike at home at nine o’clock at night, because often [that was] the only time I had. Whereas now I’m like, “Right, I need to have a routine that’s sustainable that I can keep doing for months and months.” I’m trying to carve that out at the moment.’

Her choice of movement, online mat-based Pilates classes led by Louise Buttler (wife of England cricketer Jos), feels fitting: small, precise, intentional movements that ladder up to functional, carry-you-through-all-life-throws-at-you core strength. ‘I like that it’s a full-body workout and just having a friend there talking me through it,’ she says. ‘It’s been like a warm blanket just having someone who’s been so kind and patient to just help me recover from the bike ride and get my strength up.’ Building a core of steel to match that inner mettle: it’s as powerful a fitness goal as we’ve heard. Go get it, Miss King.

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