GROWING older was once reckoned to be the career kiss of death for many women in a notoriously ageist TV industry.
But former GMTV favourite Fiona Phillips – who left a decade ago – is showing that definitely doesn’t have to be the case as she has no fewer than three different series on the go.
She started a new run of Shop Smart Save Money with Gaby Roslin last week, as well as doing BBC daytime show Holding Back The Years. Another show she hosts for Channel 5, The Trouble With…, investigated the decline of Marks and Spencer and will next turn its attention to budget airlines.
“There always is somebody new coming up but I’m lucky to have lots going on,” said Fiona.
“It might be something to do with a need now to have diverse faces or it might be that I’m good, although I don’t particularly think I am.
“I get on with the job, I don’t complain and I love hard work. I’m quite easy to work with, so maybe that’s it.”
But Fiona, 57, is well aware that there has been sexism and different rules when it comes to men.
“You see it when there’s a pairing, when the male takes the lead role. It’s never said, but he always starts the thing. You still find that and it is frustrating.”
Fiona has spoken in the past about her GMTV days when co-host Eamonn Holmes would get the pick of the big interviews and, unlike her, had his own personal assistant.
But this was during the era of big ratings for the ITV morning show, whereas now BBC Breakfast boasts many more viewers than Good Morning Britain, hosted by Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid.
“It never happened in our day,” laughs Fiona. “We didn’t even consider them as rivals. We completely trounced them.
“I like watching Piers and Susanna and enjoy what they do. But maybe it’s a bit too much for people in the morning.
“The whole relationship between Eamonn and I was built on joking and banter and we weren’t overly lecturing at the camera.
“Some people didn’t like me and some didn’t like Eamonn but we got massive audiences because we weren’t antagonising as many people as Piers is now.”
Shop Smart Save Money’s wise advice has gone down well and Fiona says she’s picked up as many tips as viewers, plenty of which she has put to practical use at home. But consumer savviness is something she was weaned on, thanks to her thrifty mum. “When we were going round supermarkets she would pull all the outer leaves off of a cauliflower or a cabbage so they weighed less,” smiles Fiona.
“She reckoned the leaves were scraggy and we wouldn’t eat them anyway and didn’t want to pay for them.”
Fiona was used to getting up in the middle of the night during her breakfast TV days and she reckons that has stood her in good stead for travelling the length of the country for her various shows.
“If I’m filming in somewhere like Glasgow they’ll have me on a 5.30am train,” said Fiona. “There’s no frills, it’ll be standard, not first, class.
“And because I need to be ready to work I’ll have done my hair and make-up first so it’ll probably have been a 3am start. That’s the kind of time it always was on GMTV but I was younger then and you just get on with it. I do remember never getting the sleep thing right, though, and it was like feeling I was constantly jet lagged.
“All the literature you read now indicates it was probably pretty damaging.”
Fiona jokes that she’s happy to be out working as she has got “two huge teenagers lurking round the house”.
But she is quite content that sons Nathaniel and Mackenzie are considering pursuing other options rather than going to university.
“I think the whole notion of everyone going to university was a bad idea,” added Fiona. “It hasn’t worked and I think it just devalues the degrees that people are coming out with.
“There are valid ones, of course, but there are others where you really wonder what they are all about.”
Shop Smart Save Money, Channel 5, Thursday, 8pm.
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