‘Me? Looking fantastic? You’re joking.’ Claudia Winkleman shrieks and leans back on the sofa to show me the flabby tummy she hasn’t shifted since giving birth to baby Arthur three months ago.
‘I still look pregnant,’ she says, grabbing gleefully at the spare flesh that most TV presenters would sooner fluff a line than flash. ‘I put on three-and-a-half stone and I don’t care. He’s worth it. It comes off when it comes off. You’ve just got to go with it.’
‘Going with it’ is what Claudia, 39, the presenter of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing’s results show and the prestigious Film programme, does these days. Two years ago, her 11-year-marriage to film producer Kris Thykier, father of Jake, eight, Matilda, five and little Arthur, hit a sticky patch.
Happy: Claudia Winkleman says she put on three-and-a-half stone during pregnancy but doesn't care
‘Anybody who’s been married a very long time and says it’s easy is lying,’ she says. ‘Because there are always ups and there are always downs. I was working hard, he was working hard and we’d been together a long time.
‘There’s an extraordinary statistic about couples who split up within a year of the birth of the second baby. I don’t really know what it is…’ She pushes her fringe from her eyes. ‘So then you have to decide whether you stay together or whether you don’t.
‘I felt quite strong through it all. I’ve got an amazing support network. My parents [she means her mother, former newspaper editor Eve Pollard, and stepfather Sir Nicholas Lloyd] live round the corner and I have my girlfriends,’ she breaks off before continuing.
Happy couple: Claudia with husband Kris Thykier
And this is the thing about Claudia: she’s so honest that you can’t help but warm to her. She is endearingly kooky, too. And at least her husband seems to have learned his lesson. Today Claudia’s here, in a north London studio, so Kris has changed his diary to watch Jake in a swimming competition at school.
‘Childcare is absolutely 50-50 now. Look, I don’t purport to be an expert. Now it’s good. Of course, there are some things, like when the little one wakes up at 4am and I think, “Oh God, I’m so tired.” I must tell you my son hardly slept at all last night. Then, at quarter to five, my daughter’s first wobbly tooth came out. I woke up to find her this close [she puts her hand to her cheek] saying, “Mummy, something very important has happened.”
So I apologise if I’m a little bit slow.’
Which she’s not at all, but she is wobbly emotionally – understandably so. This is her first day back at work since having Arthur and she’s missing him dreadfully.
Claudia presenting Strictly Come Dancing The Results
“I’m not going to earn any money and I’m not with you. What am I doing?”’
She shows me a photograph of Arthur on her mobile. ‘This is the longest I’ve been away from him,’ she says. ‘Look, he’s only eyes.’ Which he is – eyes he gets from his mum. ‘He hiccups all the time so we call him Hiccups.’ Claudia,
‘Winkle’ to her friends, has nicknames for all three children – Jake’s ‘Owl’, while Matilda’s ‘Tink’ – and she lights up like Blackpool pier when she talks about them. She says having babies was what she was born to do. Her mother Eve, who was a hugely successful newspaper editor and devoted mother to Claudia and her half-brother Ollie, told her ‘to earn a living and have a baby. Job done,’ says Claudia. ‘Mum worked a lot but she was also very present. She’d come home, put me and Ollie to bed and then go out again to work.
‘I read the other day that a woman can be a mother and have a social life, or be a mother and work, but you can’t have all three. I don’t really remember my mother having a social life. She worked and she had us. Something’s got to give. She was never in the pub. She was at home reading to us and doing my history homework. My mum wasn’t the person you saw doing What The Papers Say. The children call her Grandma Bonkers. She arrives in a flurry of stickers, singing and having fun.
‘The thing is, neither of my parents [her father is publisher Barry Winkleman, who separated from her mother when Claudia was three] ever felt important. Nick [Sir Nicholas Lloyd, a former newspaper editor and now head of a PR consultancy] didn’t either. They were doing a job. They never felt they were irreplaceable, which is one thing they taught me. They earned a living, came home, filled the fridge and chatted about other stuff. My mum always said, “It’s only work” and that’s the most freeing thing. Claudia has her own ways of coping when life gets too frantic.
Getting older is a lovely thing, I’ll be 40 in January and I know it sounds bizarre but I think I’ve spent my whole life waiting to be 40...‘When I’m working like a lunatic, which I do sometimes, I make sure I’m nice to myself. I make a mug of tea and sit down to read a book or watch ten minutes of Nigella. I can’t go all the time without stopping. I’m not that sort of person.’
Which is why she’s agreed to support the Twinings Tea ‘Gets You Back To You’ campaign, which encourages busy mothers to take time out to relax and refocus. She insists she’s much more relaxed about everything these days. Even the pressure to stay at the top of her profession.
‘There will come a time when they [her TV bosses] say, “Sorry, your face is on the floor love, can you leave?” And that’s fine. Or, when somebody else comes along and does the Radio 2 Arts Show better than me. I’m sure that will happen as well.’ But she doesn’t look particularly bothered about it. In fact, this whole going-with-it lark rather suits her. ‘Getting older is a lovely thing,’ she says.
‘I’ll be 40 in January and I know it sounds bizarre but I think I’ve spent my whole life waiting to be 40. I don’t give a monkey’s about ageing. When you’re older there’s less angst. I wouldn’t be 18 again for anything. When you’re younger you think, “Am I pretty enough? Am I funny enough? Have I read that book?” Now I don’t care.
‘My friends are the same. If you’ve got a bunch of 40-year-olds sitting around with a Caesar salad and a Diet Coke and you go up to them and say, “Would you be 22 again?” They’ll say, “Do me a favour.”’
Claudia was a studious ‘goody two-shoes’ who excelled at school, securing a place at Cambridge where, she says, she was never ‘the brightest or the prettiest or the loudest. I didn’t have my first boyfriend until I was 17,’ she says. ‘Actually, I was so good you could even argue I didn’t have my first proper boyfriend until I was 21. I had no strong ambition. You know when you’re asked, what are you going to do when you grow up?
Mine changed every day.’
She ended up in the fashion cupboard at Vogue and Tatler before moving to Live TV and then ITV’s This Morning, where her career took off. Although she says having babies is ‘the only thing I was supposed to do’. She was 31 when she had Jake, three years after marrying Kris in the south of France.
‘When I saw his little face, I couldn’t believe it,’ she says. ‘It was like suddenly everything made sense. When Mum sees me kiss Arthur,
she says, “That’s how I feel about you. It never goes.”’ Arthur, of course, was conceived shortly after that sticky patch. Was he a let’s-make-a-fresh-start baby?
‘Oh no,’ she says. ‘It’s just to do with me loving babies and seeing the other two growing up so fast. I thought, “No, no, no. We need to slow this down.”
‘We were on holiday and there was a family with three children there. I just looked at them and then looked at Kris. I couldn’t help myself.’ The pregnancy, though, meant handing over the presenting of Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two to Zoe Ball.
‘It broke my heart but Zoe is absolutely brilliant,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t do it because I knew Arthur was going to be too little, but I couldn’t leave Strictly completely so I do the results show. It sounds ridiculous, but I feel emotional about it. I started when Jake was about six months old.
‘Kris and I watch it together. This is what we do from September to Christmas. We become obsessed by the foxtrot and I adore him for being obsessed, because I’m on a train. He can either get on it or…’
The ‘or’ is left hanging. Claudia looks at her watch. It’s time to dash. ‘I left the house at 8.15am and it’s five to one now,’ she says. ‘I can barely breathe. I just want to go and get in the car, get home, get naked and cuddle him.’ Unfortunately for Kris, she means the baby.