Julia Bradbury looks amazing considering that only last August, at the age of 41, she gave birth to her first child, a son, Zephyr. She is svelte, fashionable in her mock-croc Hunter wellies, beaming with happiness. She bounces into the room, kisses everyone hello and hugs her Countryfile co-presenter Matt Baker with gusto.
“Hello, Baker Boy,” she says, laughing. She’s about to resume filming for Countryfile with her on-screen return pencilled in for 11 March. It’s not, though, her first post-Zephyr job. “I signed up to do The Great British Countryside and the way television projects go, they wanted to shoot in August, which was when I was due to have the baby, so…”
Two-and-a-half months after giving birth she was on location with Hugh Dennis. “It was fine. I took Zephyr with me and he’s such a good baby. I had no idea how he would be. He could have been a real crier but fortunately he’s a very mellow baby.”
So has having Zephyr changed her life?
“Of course it has!” she laughs. “I did know it would but I wasn’t exactly sure how. I had no idea that ten weeks after giving birth I’d be with Hugh Dennis taking on a great British adventure, finding out the way the very rocks beneath our feet have made us who we are. It worked very well, though. All the crew and Hugh were great about my having Zeph with me.
“Hugh and I made quite a pair. Hugh’s been obsessed by how the landscape formed since he was a child, and I’m passionate about the outdoors and I’ve loved walking the British countryside since I could toddle.”
She admits that having a baby on location did make a difference. “It was weird. I couldn’t jump gates, leap down fells, walk down paths like a mountain goat. I was really aware I had this precious bundle attached to me.”
The oddest thing was breast-feeding. “There I was in car parks with Zeph up my jumper. I’m sure people were thinking, ‘Is that Julia Bradbury over there? What is she doing?’ But, to me, it was, and is, all about Zeph.”
This is partially because her pregnancy took her completely by surprise. She suffered from endometriosis and had been told that it would be almost impossible for her to get pregnant.
“It really was a miracle. It was a 33-hour labour, which wasn’t great, but luckily Zeph was long and slim with a small head! My partner [property developer Gerard Cunningham] and I were delighted. He’s such a loving and happy father but he likes to remain very private.”
They chose not to find out the sex of the baby. “I really just wanted to make sure he or she was healthy. I was an older mother and I was terrified I might have a late miscarriage or something like that, so no alcohol, shellfish or unpasteurised cheese.
“In the end, I’d describe myself as being cautiously optimistic about everything. Fortunately Zeph is one of those happy babies who is very portable and, so far, no trouble at all – healthy and happy.”
She and Cunningham are based in London but they also have a house in Rutland. “I grew up there, and the countryside is very important to me.” She does, however, love living in London. “I like the cultural mix and what you can do, and really enjoy what London has to offer, but then again I am very fortunate to be able to escape to Rutland.”
She was brought up in Derbyshire and went to school in Rutland and then Sheffield. Her father worked for British Steel, and her Greek mother was in the fashion business. “My father loves everything about the countryside and has hundreds of books on his shelves about every single area of life.
“In a way, it’s how I got into doing programmes such as Countryfile. I was presenting Watchdog and I had an idea to do something different. I went to see the powers-that-be at the BBC and they were mooting the idea of doing walks based on Alfred Wainwright’s walks.
“I knew who Wainwright was because my father had his books on the shelves. I think they thought a woman doing the walks would be a good idea.”
They proved to be right. She presented three series on BBC4 that became surprise hits. “I’d love to do more but I don’t think that’s going to happen. There will, however, be a book of them that I’m writing now.” She did, however, go on to do walks in Iceland, Germany and South Africa, as well as a series following canal towpaths.
“I love the walking programmes,” she says, “because it’s such a wonderful way to see the different parts of various countries at a relaxed pace. However, I do have other interests, such as consumer affairs. I was also an LA correspondent for GMTV – it’s not all about walking for me.”
Return to Countryfile
She is delighted to be returning to Countryfile, though. “It’s great to be back and connecting with the audience. I was sent so many presents after I had Zephyr – I know there are some pretty devoted fans out there.” There are also some issues she wants to tackle.
“Litter is the big one. I cannot stand it. Something really has to be done about fly-tipping. There are masts now with cameras on and, when someone is filmed fly-tipping, they say, ‘You have just been caught fly-tipping on camera.’ I would have thought that’s a pretty big deterrent, although goodness knows what happens if you’ve just stopped to have a pee!”
What about her more daring side? After all, maybe she won’t now be able to do things like take part in the Macmillan 4×4 UK Challenge endurance race as she did in 2009 with her sister to raise money. Neither will she be able to travel from Kazakhstan to Mongolia with Baker to raise funds for Children in Need. She pauses.
“No,” she says. “I’m passionate about my work so I was always going to go back and have a career but, having said that, my priorities have changed. It’s about Zeph now and working around him.
“My only stipulations are I won’t take him anywhere that isn’t absolutely safe and I don’t want to be parted from him for very long. So I’m afraid if Richard Branson called me up and offered me a chance to fly to the Moon, the answer would have to be no!”
This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 21 February 2012.
Countryfile continues tonight at 7pm on BBC1/BBC1 HD