Tess Daly looks stunning when she arrives for the HELLO! photo shoot in a floor-length white Grecian- style dress. Her skin is tanned and luminous, and there are no outward signs that the TV presenter has been surviving on very little sleep since the birth of her second daughter Amber
just three months ago. “This is my second full day away
from her and it’s quite hard,” admits Tess, who also has daughter Phoebe, who’s nearly five, with her TV presenter husband Vernon Kay, 35. “I gave her a big kiss this morning.”
Tess, 38, is gearing up to co-host the seventh series of Strictly Come Dancing with Bruce Forsyth, which begins this weekend. While she doesn’t like being away from her children for too long, she also can’t wait for the new series to begin. “I count the days until we’re back on air – that’s so sad, I know,” she laughs.
Strictly’s new celebrity line-up includes former EastEnders actress Natalie Cassidy, businesswoman Jo Wood and Joe Calzaghe, Britain’s only undefeated boxing world champion – and Tess says she was relieved to be told only a week before it was officially confirmed.
“It’s difficult keeping that a secret,” she admits. “I had my mum saying, ‘Can you tell me love, I promise I won’t tell anyone else.’ So I told Vernon and Mum and that was it – and they were sworn to secrecy.”
Warm, friendly and as likeable off screen as she is on it, Tess sits down to chat exclusively to HELLO! about babies, what it’s like to be part of the Strictly extended family and her plans for the future…
Tess, you seem excited about seeing the Strictly team again…
“We’re all good mates, it’s like a school reunion when we all get together. I’m just devastated that Camilla [Dallerup, who won the last series with Tom Chambers] is not going to be there this year. She was always there backstage with me holding my hand, and she knew I was pregnant before anyone else. She sussed it out. Anton [Du Beke] is also a mate, and I have been texting Brendan [Cole], giving him advice about wedding venues. It will be nice to see everyone again in one place.”
Were you as taken aback as everyone else about Arlene Phillips leaving? “Yeah, it was a surprise to us all. Arlene is wonderful, she is such a sweetheart. She was one of the first people to send flowers when I had Amber. We’ve spoken via text and we’ll keep in touch. We’ll be seeing her around Strictly anyway as she’s still part of the extended family. We all think really highly of Arlene – she’s an expert at what she does.”
Do you think women in TV are victims of ageism?
“There are mature women working at the Beeb – I mean, look at Anne Robinson. She’s probably the highest paid woman in television.”
What do you think Alesha Dixon will bring to the judging panel?
“She’s such a big, bubbly, vivacious character and a really talented performer. She’ll be the rose between the thorns on that panel, that’s for sure! And she’s not afraid to speak her mind.”
Are you looking forward to seeing Bruce again?
“Yes, he’s incredible, a total inspiration. I saw him a couple of days ago and he’s on sparkling form. He’s as cheeky as ever, telling me off for trying to pinch his chips at lunchtime. He amazes me… we’ll meet for lunch and he’ll say, ‘Okay darling, I’ve got to go, I’m off to The Ivy later, then I’m going to a show.’ He’s got a more hectic social life than any of us. That and showbusiness keep him young.”
Amber’s arrival in May fitted in very well with the Strictly schedule…
“It’s funny, Phoebe thought we were off air in the summer because I was having the baby. To be honest, it was just very good luck.”
How did you cope with being in the early days of pregnancy during the last series?
“It was tough not being able to tell anyone. I felt nauseous constantly, but worse than that was getting flu and not being able to take anything for it. During the series, Anton taught me to dance for Children in Need – and every time he twirled me I wanted to throw up, but I didn’t dare tell him.” Have you and Vernon taken time off to bond with Amber over the summer?
“We have. I think it’s really important because you never get that time again. You just want to hold this little person close and smell them. Vernon was due to film a new series of Family Fortunes a week after I had Amber, but the producers were amazing and put the show back by a week.”
Apparently you sent him to the pub while you were in labour…
“I did! He’d bought all my favourite magazines for me, bless him, and he was there holding my hand. But he’s very squeamish and I think he felt a bit helpless. It was Cup Final day, so I packed him off to the pub because I knew we had a few hours to go. He didn’t protest too loudly.”
How long were you in labour for?
“Five hours. I’d been told that I mustn’t be in labour longer than nine, or I’d have to have a Caesarean like last time, so I pushed like a madwoman. I didn’t want to have to stay in hospital for long, and wanted to be fully active after the birth – I wanted to be back home for Phoebe, too. I was as high as a kite after Amber was born.”
Vernon’s now outnumbered by females in your house…
“I don’t think he’d have it any other way. When I was pregnant first time round, I think he was sort of hoping for a boy. But because Phoebe is a bit of a tomboy – he throws her in the air, wrestles with her, takes her go-carting and climbing trees – this time, he didn’t mind.”
When you had a family water fight the other day, Vernon posted a photo of you in a bikini on his Twitter page.
“It was done without my knowledge, which was a bit cheeky! He had his wrist slapped. I would have chosen a nicer one actually.”
But you looked very good…
“That’s very generous. But if I’d known the whole nation was going to see my tummy, I would have sucked it in a bit!”
Do you worry about your figure?
“I’m the least obsessive person about that because I feel that women are under so much pressure as it is. I was a model for ten years and I saw so many girls obsess about their weight that I thought, ‘I can’t put myself through that.’ As a mum, it feels an achieve- ment just to get your teeth brushed before ten in the morning.”
How have you lost your baby weight?
“Breastfeeding, for me, is miraculous. I think it’s nature’s way of getting you back in shape. I’ve done a little bit of swimming, that’s it. But trust me, I’m not sitting here all smug and toned at all. I’ve still got a bit of a baby belly, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it.”
You and Vernon have been together for quite a while now. What makes your relationship work?
In December it will be ten years since we met. I can’t believe it. We’ve always had lots to talk about – we’ve got similar backgrounds and there have been many parallels in our lives. We scream at each other sometimes – after all this time, he still throws wet towels on the floor. But those are just the little things; the big picture is that we’re still having a laugh and getting on. We enjoy each other’s company. He’s so generous and spontaneous, there’s never a dull moment.”
What are you like as parents?
Vernon is a lot stricter than me, which surprised me. I’m the one saying, ‘Okay, you can have one more biscuit,’ but he puts his foot down. We’re strict about manners and respecting other people. We want to teach our children the value of things and that you can’t have everything you want. I can’t imagine anything worse than having a precocious child.”
Tell us about your projects beyond Strictly…
I’m launching a range of beauty products at Marks Spencer in October. The idea came about when I couldn’t track down the products I wanted, so I found a business partner and went from there. I could envisage how I wanted the products to look – gorgeous lush, gold packaging that would look great on your bathroom shelf. But I also wanted he products to perform, and be accessible for everybody to buy. I tested a lot of products in search of the perfect formulations.”
What else have you got planned?
I’m also writing a very candid book about my experiences as a mum. When I was pregnant, I couldn’t get enough of other women’s pregnancy and birth stories. As new parents, you often don’t now where to turn.”
But for now, you’ve got Strictly to focus on…
Do you know what, when the show ends I miss it – I have to go cold turkey for a while! I love it – it’s a dream job. I feel very, very lucky.”