Rosemary Shrager knows that, one day, she might lose her sight.
TV chef Rosemary has a higher than average risk of developing glaucoma – a common eye condition that can result in permanent sight loss.
“I have worried sometimes that I’ll wake up one morning and not be able to see,” the 68-year-old reveals.
Rosemary – who first found fame as the haute cuisine teacher on reality show Ladette To Lady back in 2005, and is one of the celebrity senior citizen stars on BBC1’s The Real Marigold On Tour – has several close family members who’ve lost their sight due to glaucoma.
There are different types of glaucoma, which causes the optic nerve to become damaged, usually as a result of increased pressure in the eye. It affects more than 700,000 people in the UK but often doesn’t cause any symptoms in the early stages. However, treating glaucoma early is vital, otherwise it can lead to irreversible damage and sight loss.
“My grandmother and two great-aunts went blind, and my father had extremely restricted vision,” explains Rosemary. “As it’s often hereditary, it’s a terrifying thought that I could get it too.”
London-born Rosemary has yearly check-ups and is working with Specsavers to raise awareness of the importance of regular eye tests, even if you think your eyes and vision haven’t changed. A lot of the time, early signs of problems can be detected through routine eye tests.
“Of all the senses, losing my sight is the one I fear the most because I’ve seen what it means,” she admits. “My work depends on my sight – I couldn’t do what I do without it. It would finish my career.”
Rosemary’s no-nonsense attitude and bubbly personality, coupled with her prodigious culinary skills, have made her an on-screen favourite.
She’s had her own show (Rosemary Shrager’s School For Cooks), judged on others including Soapstar Superchef and BBC2’s The Big Family Cooking Showdown in 2017, and took part in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2012.
It was only by chance that she discovered 20 years ago that she could potentially develop glaucoma.
“I was at Moorfields Eye Hospital with my ex-husband, because he had a detached retina,” she recalls. “I just happened to casually mention to a nurse there was glaucoma in my family.
“I was so shocked when they told me that meant I was at high risk of developing it. Looking back, I think until then I’d been in denial. They made me confront it.”
She put it to the back of her mind and was only having eye checks every couple of years. But three years ago, that changed.
After an optician highlighted a concern at a routine check-up, she saw a consultant ophthalmologist at her local NHS hospital in Pembury, Kent.
“He confirmed a tiny change – a thinning – in my left eye, which could point to glaucoma happening,” she explains. “Thankfully I didn’t need treatment, but I now have annual check-ups.
“It just so happened that at that time, I’d been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which can also affect your sight. I thought: ‘I’ve now got two things that could really harm my eyesight.’ That’s when those fears of waking up blind really reared up.”
Rosemary admits she’d been “cavalier about my health over the years” and decided on a radical overhaul.
“In the past two years, I’ve lost around three dress sizes. I’ve reversed the diabetes diagnosis, do more exercise and look after myself a lot better,” she says.
She’s positive about the future, too.
“I wear glasses, but I can see perfectly well,” she says. “Glaucoma might evolve when I’m older but thankfully I’m safeguarding my sight with check-ups.
“Generally, it can be treated very effectively if detected early, which is why I’m urging people to have their eyes tested. I don’t think I would ever go blind through it because I’m being monitored.”
Health concerns aside, Rosemary credits television with transforming her life.
“It gave me so much more confidence,” she says. “My passion’s always been cooking but I was so nervous and under-confident about speaking in public. When I first appeared on screen, I could barely speak and was terrified.
“Then I slowly discovered that I actually love performing and acting, and got such fun out of combining that with my love of cooking. Now I have no qualms and absolutely love public speaking, teaching and demonstrating.”
She’s not so keen on the ageing process, however.
“Ageing’s ghastly – surely everyone wants to reverse it!” she laughs. “But at this stage in life, I feel happy in my own skin and feel I’ve got lots of years left.
“I’m working still, travel all over the place, and never say no to anything I think is worthwhile. It’s important to enjoy yourself and never stop learning – there’s such a lot of fun learning from the young.”
How does she look after her health?
“I’ve been big all my life and I’ve never been confident about my body image,” she admits. “These days, I’m happy with myself and realise the important thing is not to feel bloated, to listen to your body, and to feel comfortable in it. It’s not about size. I’m fit, I do exercises with my personal trainer, play table tennis and I eat well.
“I only eat between midday and 8pm, so it’s like fasting 16 hours a day. It’s really helped me. I have loads more energy. I snack on prunes now, which fill me up.
“I think you just have to enjoy yourself and actually be grateful. I’m the eternal optimist and very happy-go-lucky. Of course, I’ve had my down moments but it’s vital to keep a positive attitude in life.
“I’m an eccentric, larger-than-life character – slightly bonkers really! I hope people would say that I’m a nice, kind person who loves life. I’m happiest when I’m cooking, teaching and demonstrating – my total passion – and when I’m with my two children and grandchildren.
“I totally regret that I didn’t have any confidence in myself when I was young. I felt a total failure. I wish I’d known everything would work out. Every day, I try to do the right thing and want to do better. I’m a perfectionist really – never satisfied.”
Rosemary is working with Specsavers to raise awareness of the importance of regular eye tests. Visit specsavers.co.uk
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