Helen, 33, was brought up on her parents’ dairy farm in Cumbria. Irish setter/dachshund cross Barney was a former stray who became Blue Peter’s ninth dog and went with Helen when she left the programme in 2013.
Helen has been married to Richie Myler, a rugby league player with Perpignan-based Catalans Dragons, for three years. Their son Ernie will be two in June, and their second child is due in April. Helen returns to Britain regularly for Countryfile, and to visit the family farm where Barney now lives with Helen’s parents Richard and Janet.
Having a dog is very humbling. No matter what stresses you have in your own life, caring for a dog takes you back to basics. I used to get in from work fretting about stuff, but then after a half-hour walk with Barney, everything was in perspective. They keep you grounded, and they change the whole atmosphere of a house too. The place comes alive with a dog in it.
As a child I defined my grandfathers by their dogs’ names, calling them Sheppy Grandad and Mandy Grandad. I was 13 when we got our first house dog, Molly, who was a black Labrador. My parents said she wouldn’t be allowed upstairs, but Molly quickly became the darling of the house and slept in my bedroom. I was 22 when she died, and my parents said they could never have another dog because they couldn’t stand that pain again. But dogs bring so much to your life, and they ask so little.
When I joined Blue Peter in 2008, none of the presenters had a dog. My boss asked me if I’d have one, and I said I’d love it but would need the programme to help with the practicalities. So as a puppy, Barney was with me everywhere – in the office, in the studio, on trains. He became my little best friend. Having Barney meant people would talk to me when I was out in London, and it wasn’t weird.
People thought he was TV-trained but he’s just a very placid dog, and sits with his back in contact with your legs. Lots of dogs don’t like small kids fussing them, but he follows my toddler Ernie around. He’s very chilled, but he doesn’t do ‘fetch’. Throw a stick and his expression says: “What do you want me to do with that?”
Dogs are so happy all the time, whatever small thing you do for them – let them outside, let them inside, give them their food, have them sit next to you. He makes me feel like I’m a good person all the time – someone likes me!
Living in France is a good opportunity while Ernie is little, but it seemed best for Barney to live with my mum and dad while we’re there. I’ve no idea how long we’ll live in France. Richie’s contract is for this year, so at the end of that we’ll reassess, but the new baby will definitely be born over there.
With my work pattern I’m usually in France for a month or so and then a week over here, but it varies. It’s easier than people think – three hours door-to-door – and I was surprised how many do it. The first thing I do is check in with Barney and give him loads of attention and he’s happy as Larry. He doesn’t say you look tired or ask what you’ve brought him. He just makes you feel good. My mum and dad say that for two days after I leave, he shuffles round the house looking for me, bless him. Back in France, Richie and I say every day how much we miss him.