Kate Thornton: Single motherhood, guilt and why she worries about Kate Middleton
Kate Thornton, 38, is a TV presenter who has worked on Top of the Pops, Don't Try This At Home, Pop Idol, the Royal Variety Performance, Comic Relief and the X Factor.
She lives in south London with her son Ben, who's three in May, and has been a single mum since she split from her fiancé DJ Darren Emerson earlier this year. She currently presents Loose Women, weekdays on ITV from 12.30 – 1.30pm.
Mother's Day is a lovely way to celebrate all the hard work mums do. Should we be thanking mums every day rather than once a year, as your role in the P&G thank you mums campaign suggests?
Yes - although expecting that from my son at the moment is a lot to ask, seeing as he's only just learned to speak! But I do feel rewarded every day, because life hasn't got to him yet and made him all complicated. We have this unconditionally lovely relationship. His cuddles are the best thing in the whole world.
I've always been appreciative of my own parents, and I've always had an amazing relationship with them (give or take some tricky times during my teenage years which I will eternally be sorry for, because I think I was such a cow). But the moment you have a baby, you realise everything they did for you.
It means so much to me when my mum says to me that she's really proud of the way I am as a mum. That's the biggest compliment in the world. And I just hope that I can be as good a mum to my son as she's been to me.
What are the greatest rewards of being a mum?
It's all in the detail - the hugs, the funny things they come out with. When I brought him home from hospital, I didn't turn the television on for three weeks - I just watched him. And I haven't stopped watching him ever since.
The special relationship I have with my mum and dad right now - because I'm on my own - is that they're the only people I can call with the detail. I can hear the joy in my dad's voice when I say, 'Oh, Dad, Ben did four poos today on the toilet!'
They live in Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, and if Ben says, I want to see Nanny and Gaga, we Skype them. You should see the pair of them on Skype. They're just like lovesick fools with him. They love my child with the same intensity that I do, and that's brought about a whole new dimension in our relationship.
What's the hardest part of being a mum?
Guilt. The responsibility. The lack of sleep. Ben still doesn't sleep through. He gets up every night. Some nights he just gets out of his bed and into mine. Other nights it's a bit of a production.
The guilt is about feeling guilty when you go to work, feeling guilty for enjoying an hour on your own, feeling guilty that it's just me and him - guilt about everything. And I think that will only get worse.
I've started looking at schools, and I've realised that all our local schools are brilliant but totally oversubscribed, and I got really angry about it. I'm turning into somebody I thought I'd never be. I almost wrote a letter to the Council. It does bring out the lioness in you.
How do you manage with childcare?
Ben goes to nursery three days a week - the days that I work. And sometimes he's with his Dad. I drop him off early, but I pick him up early too because I finish work at 1.30pm. He loves nursery - he never wants to come home. He's allowed to play with glue and glitter there. I don't have glitter in the house. I learnt that one. I got glittery stairs.
Do you think there's a pressure on mums to look good all the time?
There's a pressure on women to look good all the time - regardless of whether or not they're mothers. But I do think there's a pressure on women to look acceptable post-birth very quickly.
I refused to go down that road, and I did take a lot of time off work. And it took nine months for my body to go back to something that resembled what it used to be. I wasn't prepared to rush it. I walked a lot. He's a summer baby so I just spent my summer walking and learning about where I lived in a way I'd never had a chance to before. I really feel I'm a member of the community because of Ben.
We live near a parade of shops, and every time I go to buy milk, it's like something out of Trumpton - they come out of their shops and wave at him. For me it's been great, because when you're on TV, people get nervous, or they just don't talk to you. You're never on the same footing. But when you're in an NCT group, you absolutely are, because you're all knackered, you're all emotional, you're all hormonal, and you've all got to get up and do the night feed, and learn how to purée butternut squash. It's a great leveller, being a mum.
Have you got friends in the business who are mums?
One of my best friends is Tamzin Outhwaite, and we conceived at the same time. We were due four days apart but I ended up having Ben five weeks early. But our kids are very close. Ben and Florence - we plan to marry them off. She calls him Ben Ben. He calls her Flo.
What's next in your career?
I love doing Loose Women. When people ask me if I'm doing anything else, I think, I've only got another year before he goes to school, and I just want to hold on to my two days a week off. I might go back to presenting big events if I'm asked. But it's not like you walk into a network centre and say, 'I'm ready to come back to Saturday nights!'
I wish it worked like that. I accept that I'm 38 now and there are other people coming through. But I love the diversity of what I'm doing in daytime. Loose Women is so versatile. You are challenged at every twist and turn of the show. And the challenge is also in forming a relationship with the audience and just praying to God that they like you. You have to share big moments in your life, and that's weird and wonderful.
A woman came up to me the other day and said, 'Oh, your labour was tough, wasn't it - two and half days', and I thought, was I in the same hospital as you? In the NCT group? But it's because she's watched the show. X Factor was such a huge show. The bigger it got, the more you shrink into yourself in some ways - you try to hold on to what little privacy you have left. I became a very withdrawn and private person - not with my friends, obviously, but publicly.
So Loose Women is like a return to form for me, because I'm fundamentally very open. And actually there's nothing wrong with sharing big moments in your life. It's what women do. I've never been able to get through life with discretion - it's not in my nature.
Does Ben still keep his toys in 'George Michael's Hamper'?
Last Christmas George Michael sent me a present of a Fortnum & Mason's hamper that was stuffed full of loveliness. He phoned Loose Women live. He said, 'Every time I turn on the show you're talking about me.' I am such a fan. So he thought he should reward me with a hamper for Christmas. And now Ben keeps his toys in it.
Were you really the first person to play 'Candle in the Wind' after Princess Diana's death?
It was my first ever job in telly [the ITV current affairs programme Straight Up]. We'd been on air for nine weeks and I'd had eight hours of television experience.
Diana died on the Sunday morning and we were a Sunday lunchtime show. They said to me, for the end of the programme we need to play out a tribute to her in pictures, so can you cut something together and set it to music? But because it was a Sunday, the music library was shut and the only thing I had in my car, the only piece of music that was appropriate, was 'Candle in the Wind' from Elton John's greatest hits. And I thought, well, you know what, she was our Marilyn - she was the princess for the young generation. And then it got picked up the next day.
I never dared to assume for one minute that I was the link. But Nick Knowles [her co-presenter on the show] has convinced me that whatever came as a result of it was all down to me.
Are you looking forward to the Royal Wedding?
I wish any couple setting out on the path of marriage good luck, but I feel very anxious for Kate Middleton. I just think it's a hell of a job she's taken on. I would never want to live under that kind of spotlight. So when I think about her life, I find myself short of breath, panicking for her. But we'll all get a day off, don't we? That's always a nice thing.
Kate Thornton is supporting the P&G 'Thank you mum' campaign ahead of Mother's Day www.pgproudsponsorofmums.co.uk