I am a working mum but I’m no Wonder Woman. Like many parents, I’m currently experimenting with just how many hours I can squeeze out of the 24 available. It’s true that my schedule may look hectic. Training for Strictly each week takes up two hours on a Monday, eight on a Tuesday, two on a Wednesday and six on a Thursday – that’s 18 hours’ training a week, apart from the full days we spend in the studio on Fridays and Saturdays. In addition, I’m still doing the day job in journalism that I love on BBC Breakfast in Manchester two days a week. It’s 200 miles and a three-hour journey from my home in south London. I get up at 4.30am to prepare to present the programme from 6am until 9.15am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The cut and thrust of political interviews still thrills me 20 years on. The excitement of live broadcasting, plus copious amounts of strong coffee, fires my brain first thing in the morning, and my colleagues Bill Turnbull, Louise Minchin and Charlie Stayt, are good friends and very encouraging. When I’m not in either a rehearsal room or a broadcast studio, I’m at home with my four boys – spending precious time with my partner Dominic Cotton and our three children – Sam, 11, Finn, nine, and Jack, eight.
And they are the ones who are being wonderful. Dom works full-time as the director of communications for a charity. But he has an understanding boss who allows him to work from home when he needs to be with the children because I’m not around. He has taken a hands-on role with the boys’ homework. He is going to school socials and parents’ evenings that previously he wouldn’t have known about. Frankly, he is holding things together at home, while I’m prancing around the Strictly ballroom.
Our eldest started secondary school this term – but rather than being the helicopter parent I would inevitably have become if I were at home, I’m watching him grow an enviable independent streak, cycling to school every day and taking responsibility for his own homework. The younger ones have friends with mums who are hugely supportive – and urge me to enjoy the one and only time in my life when I’ll don the sequins and partner a professional dancer in front of an audience of millions while they help out with teas and playdates and sleepovers.
There are also photoshoots, and extra rehearsals for group dances. My professional dance partner Kevin (from Grimsby) and I are lucky enough to get invited to events together. We’ve been to the Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards and to watch our shared passion – football – as guests of Crystal Palace. All this makes the diary groan, but these opportunities are hard to turn down. Grandparents are rallying with days of childcare and trips out. We have plentiful support networks, generous friends and extended family. I’ve become supremely organised and each week Dom and I sit down with our calendars and work out who is looking after whom, when and – crucially – how much time we can spend together as a family.
I have always loved being busy. There is that adage that an object in motion stays in motion, while an object at rest stays at rest. I have definitely been guilty on occasion of spending hours at home doing very little. My current schedule of hours worked each week probably exceeds a working time directive, but I’m not doing it alone. It’s flattering to be called a Superwoman, but I can only do this because I have super people helping me out.
These weeks – which could end at any moment – feel intense, absorbing, enormously demanding and endlessly enjoyable. I know my family are right behind me, even as they cope without quite so much of me. But this period is a flash in time and when it’s all gone I may wonder how to fill the hours. I’ll have a partner who’s back in the office and children happily running their own lives. There’s only so much housework I can bear. Now, what are the dates of that Strictly tour..?
Strictly Come Dancing continues on Saturday at 6:30pm on BBC1