Lorraine Kelly: 'I'd never had any desire to do sitting on a sofa with a pink jacket and big hair'

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland news website

image captionLorraine Kelly has been part of the furniture at ITV for 25 years

It is 25 years since Lorraine Kelly took her first steps to becoming queen of the breakfast TV sofa. She told BBC Scotland's Stark Talk her big break came after the Lockerbie bombing.

By her mid-20s, Lorraine Kelly had worked her way up from local newspapers to network TV reporter and proved wrong one particular BBC executive who said her Glasgow accent would never be acceptable to viewers.

She had landed her dream job in 1984, by becoming the roving Scotland correspondent for ITV's breakfast television franchise TV-am, and had no wish to confine herself to a TV studio.

Lorraine says: "I was doing the best job in the world as far as I was concerned. I got to see amazing parts of Scotland and do incredible things.

"I'd never had any desire to do sitting on a sofa with a pink jacket and big hair. That was never a thing for me."

However, her sensitive and engaging reporting on the 1988 Lockerbie disaster led to the TV-am editor thinking "the wee girl from Scotland" might just have what it takes to present ITV's flagship morning show.

Lorraine says: "When they asked me down for a week, it was not something that I desperately wanted.

"Maybe that worked in my favour in a way because I was not fiercely ambitious. I kept saying 'can I go back and do my job now'?"

image captionLorraine Kelly with daughter Rosie before taking part in the Cancer Research UK Race for Life this year

Within a year of her first stand-in show she was one of the main presenters and for a quarter of a century she has remained part of the furniture even twice surviving the demise of the franchise, which changed to GMTV in the early 90s and more recently to Daybreak.

She is now so popular she presents both the main breakfast programme and its follow-up, which bears her name.

Lorraine says it is strange and difficult to think that a disaster in which 270 people died could have given her a career boost.

"It is quite difficult to live with that," she says.

"The fact that dreadful, horrendous, terrorist atrocity resulted in me getting one of the best jobs ever."

It is a job which sees her regularly interviewing prime ministers and film stars. Not a future which could have been imagined for a young girl born in Glasgow's notorious Gorbals in 1959, to two parents who were barely 18 years old at the time.

Her maternal grandmother, "Granny Mac", had wanted Lorraine's unmarried mother to have her child adopted but her father refused.

image captionLorraine is a big Dundee United fan

Instead, the couple were wed four months before Lorraine's birthday on 30 November.

Lorraine says of her father: "To stand up to Granny Mac, at that time and in those circumstances, he's my hero."

Like Lorraine, her father worked in TV but he repaired them rather than appearing on them.

She says she loved having "trendy young parents" and a mother who wore mini-skirts but they also taught her to read and write before she went to school and did all they could to improve their circumstances.

From a "single-end" in the Gorbals, they moved up the road to Bridgeton where they had an inside toilet for the first time, but she says conditions were still pretty rough.

She says: "Now people would be horrified and think it was Dickensian but it wasn't at all. I could not have had a better childhood."

In her early teens the family, which by now included a younger brother for Lorraine, moved again, to East Kilbride, a new town south of Glasgow.

image captionLorraine Kelly received an OBE for her services to charity and the Armed Forces

The move meant leaving her friends behind but the house had a bath, a phone and, for the first time, her own room.

Her parents had thought Lorraine would be the first in her family to go to university but instead she took a job as a trainee reporter on the East Kilbride News.

From the typewriters clattering in the smoke-filled news room of her local paper, Lorraine moved on to take a researcher's job at BBC Scotland, where she was told her accent was not right for broadcasting.

"That was back in the 80s and nobody really spoke like me," Lorraine says.

"I just think as long as everyone can understand what you are saying it is fine.

"Of course when I first started I was using a lot of words that people maybe didn't get."

When Lorraine moved on to TV-am, she struck a relationship with cameraman Steve Smith which was both professional and personal.

She says she fell in love with the man, his team (Dundee United) and his city (Dundee) but he took a bit of persuading.

They have been together more than 20 years and in 2005 returned from Berkshire to set up the family home in Dundee, with Lorraine commuting back at the weekends.

Her time as Scotland correspondent coincided with two massive stories - Piper Alpha, in which 167 oil workers died and Lockerbie.

She and Steve were on the scene before the police cordon went up and got right up to the nosecone of the plane in the field at Tundergarth.

She says: "I remember thinking to myself I will never ever have to do anything as bad as this, ever. And then of course there was Dunblane, which in a way, was even worse."

By the time of the 1996 Dunblane school massacre, in which 16 children and a teacher died, Lorraine was well established on the breakfast TV sofa but went up to the Perthshire town to report on the tragedy.

One of the Dunblane parents Pam Ross, whose daughter Joanna died, became a close personal friend after they met in the wake of the shooting.

Lorraine, who by this time had a young daughter, says: "Pam had seen the broadcast that morning that Eamonn Holmes and I had done. Totally ad-libbed, we just talked like parents outside the cathedral for three and a half hours and somehow tried to reflect what was happening and how the nation felt."

She says she has had instinct for what the story is and how to strike the right tone since her early days in East Kilbride and she still loves writing her two newspaper columns - one for The Sun and the other for the Sunday Post.

Learning to ride

Despite the heavy workload, days off sick have been very rare for Lorraine, she even famously presented TV-am flawlessly with a raging hangover after a drinking session with actor John Hanna.

However, last year she was off work for five weeks when she fell off a horse she had been learning to ride for a charity event.

She says: "On the second lesson they said to me 'try to do a jump'.

"It wasn't like a Grand National jump but clearly I did not know what I was doing.

"I fell off and landed on my bottom.

"All I would have had was bruised bum but the horse reared up and slapped right down on my thigh. I was lucky, it was literally an inch away from my pelvis. It is like being hit over the leg with a hammer."

Apart from a massive scar on her thigh, Lorraine says she is in good health despite her many years of early mornings.

She says: "When I look back at myself, especially in my 30s and 40s, I look older then than I do now."

She credits the dance exercise Zumba and good genes with her current health and rejects the idea of cosmetic procedures such as botox to maintain her youthful looks.

"Oh no, that's my pet hate in the world," she says.

"Why would you do that? Women are injecting poison into their face to freeze it. In 20 years, less than that maybe, folks are going to go 'what were they thinking?'"

So will Lorraine still be on the sofa in another 25 years?

"If the alarm goes off and I think I don't want to go in, and I can't imagine that ever happening, then that's the time I would go.

"I can't ever see myself retiring. Barbara Walters is over 80 in America and she's still doing it, so why not?"

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