MOST TV presenters would jump at the chance to host This Morning, one of the most coveted jobs on telly.
But when ITV bosses first offered Alison Hammond the regular Friday slot at the end of last year, she turned it down flat.
“I was like: ‘No, I’m not doing that. It’s massive,’” she says. “I’d done Fridays before with Rylan [Clark-Neal], but this was committing to every week. I kept thinking: ‘What if I don’t want to do that Friday?’
“The whole time at This Morning I could say yes or no and I could get out of it, but now it’s ‘Fridays are your day’. It was daunting.”
However, in typical Alison style, serious moments like this are immediately down-played with a joke and her trademark cackle: “It’s three hours, Babs [her affectionate nickname for everyone], I struggle to keep my legs closed for that long.
“I’m a bigger woman and it’s hard as I have fat legs, so I like relaxing with my legs open.”
The 46 year old has been a member of the This Morning family for nearly 20 years, after catching the eye of producers when she took part in the third series of Big Brother, where she was the second person to be evicted from the house she shared with Kate Lawler and Jade Goody, among others.
She was approached to do “a few months” for a segment called Diet Camp – and never left.
Stints on Strictly Come Dancing and I’m A Celebrity! followed, building on her popularity with the public. Then, at the end of last year it was announced that she and Dermot O’Leary would be replacing audience favourites Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford.
It was a decision that was immediately met with a backlash from viewers, and one that Alison, who has a 16-year-old son, Aidan, struggled with after she was subjected to racist trolling and criticised for her lack of chemistry with Dermot – the pair presented together for the first time, having not seen each other for 15 years.
“I call Dermot my work husband because it was like an arranged marriage,” she says.
“Because of Covid, there were no screen tests. No lunch. Nothing. We literally did a Zoom and we couldn’t even get that right. I was waiting for half an hour and he wasn’t there and he was waiting on a different Zoom! Then we spoke on the phone briefly and it was just: ‘OK, I’ll see you on Friday then.’”
In a recent Fabulous interview, Dermot revealed the pair had had a frank exchange off-air, and it was a turning point in their working relationship as well as their friendship.
“We are so honest with each other now,” agrees Alison. “We tell each other: ‘Can you not do that again. I don’t like it’.
I call Dermot my work husband because it was like an arranged marriage.
“It’s the little things, nothing major. For example, he steals my lines and he doesn’t keep up to speed with my life on Instagram even though we host a show together!” she laughs.
Although there is one other thing that bothers Alison about her on-screen partner – his inability to social distance.
“He just wants to be glued to me. I quite like the two-metre rule because I look better at a distance. I normally love the way I look, but I sit next to Dermot and think: ‘Bloody hell, I’m massive compared to you.’
“So I want him to stay over there because now we are able to stand closer together, it’s obvious how big I actually am. I could put him in my pocket!”
While she and Dermot have now settled into their Friday roles, she has no ambition to follow in the footsteps of fellow This Morning presenter Holly Willoughby, if she were to leave.
“No, no, no! Five days a week? Absolutely not. It would be too much. I don’t live in London and you have to read all the briefs the night before. Just Friday is fine for me.”
Alison recently made history as the first black person nominated for the Best Presenter award at the National Television Awards and was hoping to end the reign of Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly. But it was not to be, and the Geordie duo scooped the award for the 20th year running.
“I felt like I was standing on the shoulders of giants getting that nomination, it was unbelievable. There have been loads of [black] people who are amazing [on TV] – you know, Moira Stuart, Lenny Henry, Trevor McDonald.
“I was ready with my speech. I thought I was going to win. I was fuming,” she laughs. “Only joking! I love Ant and Dec. Usually it’s two people who win and I weigh the same as Ant and Dec, so it’s like a double act,” she says, roaring with laughter again.
‘I’M BEAUTIFUL AND I KNOW IT’
“I just felt like it was my time, but you know what? Just to be nominated was enough. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I did feel proud to be the first black woman nominated.
“I’ve had good experiences in my life, but it’s not the same for everyone. I’m really glad that times are changing and we are addressing these issues.
“I just hope young black people see me and think: ‘I can do this too.’ We have a seat at the table now. I asked [This Morning boss] Martin Frizell if I could have the NTA [after the team won Best Daytime Show this year] and he said: ‘You can borrow it for a year.’ But as if I’m giving him it back!”
There’s no doubt part of Alison’s appeal is her larger-than-life personality. A size 28, she’s incredibly body confident and is delighted to be representing bigger women.
“In my head I’m slim,” she cackles. “There is a slim woman in here with a lot of fat around her. I don’t realise how big I am until I’m next to someone. But I’m beautiful and a lovely person, and I know it. I’m not one of those people that hates myself. I actually love myself.
“People get really angry, but what do they expect us to do? Go and hide under a rock until we get to the size they want us to be? I know people who do.
“They won’t go swimming because of how they look. How sad is that? You could get hit by a bus tomorrow. I’m not going to stop my life. I love the fact that we’re all so diverse and different.
“If people see me on TV and it’s upsetting them that much, then I think it says more about them than me. I just think: ‘What’s wrong with you that I offend you so much?’
“Obviously, I’d love to be a little bit smaller because it helps with my knees and my ankles, but I’m not going to stop enjoying myself or wearing sexy clothes or having sex with men.
“That’s what I do. I’m a young woman. I’ve got low cholesterol, good blood pressure. I walk. I go to the gym. I just love my food,” she laughs.
Alison has struggled with her weight her whole life, having tried every diet going, as well as having a gastric band fitted in 2014, which she then had to have removed after her body rejected it.
“I didn’t do very well with it. I was sick quite a lot and I don’t think mentally I was ready to have it,” she says.
But earlier this year she was forced into some tough decisions after her doctor warned that she was pre-diabetic following the second lockdown.
“Lockdown was dire for me in terms of weight. I couldn’t control my eating or how much exercise I did. It got to a stage where my doctor said: ‘You’ve got to do something about this, Alison.’
People get really angry, but what do they expect us to do? Go and hide under a rock until we get to the size they want us to be?
“I’ve never had health issues until then. It scared me because my mum had diabetes and I want to be there for my son,” she says.
“So I decided to do something about it. I go for walks and I cut out sugar. I feel a lot better. I’m not weighing myself, because you feel it in your clothes. I’m no longer pre-diabetic, and I’m doing really well.”
Alison’s weight has proven to be irrelevant when it comes to attracting men, including mid-interview flirting with A-listers Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Will Smith and Michael Bublé. While writing her new autobiography, You’ve Got To Laugh: Stories From A Life Lived To The Full, she rang her exes to get their permission before including them.
All of them agreed, including one who asked her to “exaggerate his manhood”. She has a good relationship with her ex-fiancé, Noureddine Boufaied, who is Aidan’s dad. Although he has gone on to marry and have three more children, Alison describes them as “one big happy family”.
Now – despite revealing with another trademark cackle that she’s “very good in bed” – she has decided to ditch dating, because it’s easier to be single.
“We’re not supposed to be on our own, but at the moment I am enjoying not being with anyone. I’m going to be a spinster and die on my own and you aren’t going to find me for three weeks.
“Look, if it happens, it happens, but I’m not going to stress.”
THE ALISON HAMMOND SHOW
In the past, she says her job has impacted her romantic life – especially as she is renowned for flirting with the Hollywood stars she interviews. A video of her grilling notoriously difficult Harrison Ford and sending him into hysterics went viral, clocking up more than 11 million views on YouTube.
“My exes have seen me flirting with George Clooney and Hugh Jackman. That’s got to be quite difficult if you’re going out with someone,” she says.
Alison was named after boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who became friends with her late father Clifford. She met the him several times growing up, but was unimpressed.
“I was always thinking: ‘Why is this dry, old boxer hugging me? Why are we even here?’” she says.
Her mum Maria, who died of cancer last January, rubbed shoulders with celebrities too, while working as an extra in ’70s TV shows including the BBC’s Empire Road and Angels. Alison credits her parents’ attitude for making her so relaxed when interviewing A-listers.
“Everyone told me Harrison Ford doesn’t like interviews, but he was amazing. I’ve had some bad ones too. Bradley Cooper had a late night and he was like: ‘I don’t want to play with you today’.
“But I carried on because you gotta keep going. With Leonardo DiCaprio, I got a kiss. He had a cold and I said: ‘I’m more than glad to take your germs.’ But that’s gonna go now, isn’t it? There will be no more kissing celebs post-Covid and I’m a little bit upset about that.”
Everyone told me Harrison Ford doesn’t like interviews, but he was amazing.
Her success with the stars has led to them encouraging her to head Stateside to crack America, but Alison has no interest.
“I’m such a home bird and Aidan is so settled here. I’ve realised in my old age that it’s not about the money. The more successful you get, the more you realise it’s about quality time with family. I live for going home. I look forward to being with my son.”
The one thing Alison has set her sights on though, is joining the likes of Michael Parkinson, Terry Wogan and Graham Norton with her own show.
“There was supposed to be a pilot for a chat show, but it never happened because of Covid. Trisha [Goddard] used to have a chat show. It’s gonna happen. We need The Alison Hammond Show. I’d love that. I needed that NTA, that would have made it happen.”
But if anyone is going to make it happen, Alison will.
- You can read an exclusive extract from Alison’s book You’ve Got To Laugh: Stories From A Life Lived To The Full (£20, Bantam Press), which is out October 14 and available to preorder now.
- Catch Alison on This Morning, Fridays, 10am on ITV and ITV Hub
In the make-up chair with Alison
Describe your make-up evolution?
I’ve gone from never wearing make-up because I was a tomboy before Big Brother to being obsessed with it. I love the beauty features on This Morning because I love the freebies!
What are your make-up bag essentials?
Morphe foundation – it’s amazing.
What do you splurge on?
I have to have a good Dior mascara.
What’s your best budget buy?
Vaseline – it’s good for lips and my face if it’s a little bit dry.
Who is your beauty icon?
Love Islander Olivia Attwood’s make-up is always on point.
What can you not go without?
A liquid eyeliner and lashes.
What’s your top beauty tip?
Take your make-up off at night – unlike Loose Woman Kaye Adams! I burst into her room recently and she had a full face on.
- Hair: Michelle Sultan using Imbue
- Make-up: Mikey Phillips using Nars & Fenty Beauty
- Styling: Stevie B
- Alison wears: kimono, Dear Curve; slip, Great Gatsby; earrings, Prettylittlething.com; ring, I Hate Mondays; shoes, Sante + Wade; dress, JD Williams, earrings, Mimis Edit; necklace, Zara; ring, I Hate Mondays