COULD it be that my size and weight are somehow tied up with an experience I had early on in life?
One of my strongest childhood memories is of a Sunday when my dad came to the house and we were sitting eating our roast dinner together.
My dad, Clifford Hammond, was a big man with a big presence.
He wooed my mum Maria and she fell madly in love with him, and pregnant with me, before finding out he was married.
Dad came to our house sporadically.
He would just land on us and expect the whole world to stop for him — and because my mum was in love with him, the whole world did stop.
Mum’s great cooking came into its own when she made her Sunday roast, but this Sunday I reached a point when I’d had enough to eat.
“I’ve finished, Mum. I don’t want any more,” I said, even though there was still food on my plate.
“All right, then,” Mum said.
My dad looked up. “Eat the rest of your dinner,” he said sternly. I shook my head. “I’ve finished. I don’t want any more.”
“Eat your dinner, now.”
His eyes bored into me and then he started taking his belt off.
My eight-year-old self did a quick calculation: If my dad beat me with his belt, my mum would try to protect me and he would overpower her
Now, I’m not sure whether he was serious or just putting on a show to scare me, but my mum looked at me wide-eyed, as if to say, ‘Oh, my God!’
My eight-year-old self did a quick calculation: If my dad beat me with his belt, my mum would try to protect me and he would overpower her. “I’m going to have to eat this food,” I thought.
To keep the peace, and out of self-preservation, I ate every last bit of my dinner.
A few years ago at a charity lunch, I sat next to a therapist who made a connection between my size and that Sunday when I was eight.
When I explained what had happened, he suggested I’ve carried that moment through my life ever since. I went away and thought about what he’d said.
It made a lot of sense. I never leave anything on my plate, and that’s maybe one reason why I’m a big girl.
That Sunday lunch left a psychological imprint: I finished my food to protect myself and something about that experience set up a lasting link in my brain between eating and self-preservation.
Once you make a connection like that, you should be able to do something about it, and I think I’ve let it go . . . up to a point.
In 2007, as I was sitting down to interview Matt Damon about his third Bourne film, The Bourne Ultimatum, I noticed that my chair felt a bit tight. I know — I was interviewing Matt! What can I say? Hottie! Fittie!
He was incredible. I was so pleased to meet him. But halfway through the interview, something awful and embarrassing happened.
I was mortified. I wanted the world to swallow me
My size and weight went against me and suddenly the side of the chair broke.
It was a horrible, shameful moment.
My girth had broken the chair while I was interviewing Matt Damon, one of my idols! I was mortified. I wanted the world to swallow me.
“Are you OK?” he asked. He was very nice about it. “Let’s get you another chair.”
I’m a black woman, but I went bright red in the face.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, and I ripped the arm off the chair and flung it on to the floor. That made him laugh and, instead of bursting into tears, which would have been the natural thing to do, I started laughing as well and we carried on with the interview.
“That was so funny,” my producer said afterwards. But I was mortified.
“If you don’t mind, don’t show that part on TV,” I said.
“Right, that’s it. I’m having a gastric band,” I decided. I didn’t want to be fat anymore.
I had the operation later that year. Physically, it worked, it created a pouch at the top of my stomach that filled so quickly I couldn’t eat much.
But mentally, I wasn’t ready for the drastic change it made to my eating habits.
It didn’t feel right to be eating so little, and although having a gastric band is supposed to make you feel full quicker, I was eating salad and still feeling hungry afterwards.
“This is hell. This is absolute torture!” I thought. “I haven’t eaten enough!” It was confusing.
Then something started going wrong physically: I was sick a lot. I couldn’t keep anything down.
It was really distressing. I felt as if my body was rejecting the foreign entity inside me and I began to get ill.
I kept it for two years, until it was getting to the point where I couldn’t even keep down one bite of food. “I can’t take this any more,” I thought, miserably.
Why am I constantly battling to lose weight when my body doesn’t seem to want to get rid of it?
“I’m striving to have a slimmer body and I’m not happy. I’m vomiting all the time. It’s awful.” I went to see my surgeon and told him what was happening.
“Let’s get you in and have a look,” he said. But I’d made up my mind. “I’d like you to take it out, please.”
Normally it takes 15 minutes to remove a gastric band, but it took my surgeon an hour and a half because scar tissue had grown around mine so thickly that it was squeezing my stomach shut to the point where I couldn’t eat anything, which was why I was always being sick.
The weird thing was that, in two years with the gastric band, I didn’t lose more than a stone.
Can you believe it? “Why am I constantly battling to lose weight when my body doesn’t seem to want to get rid of it?” I asked myself.
I may be up and down with my feelings when it comes to weight, but I mean it when I say that I love being big. I love myself and I love my largeness; I don’t look in the mirror and think, “Oh, no, I’m so fat.”
I look in the mirror and think, “I’m beautiful, man. I look so good. I look fire.”
What I don’t love is not being able to run. Unfortunately, lockdown was dire for me in terms of weight.
I couldn’t control my eating or how much exercise I did, and I didn’t have any desire to diet. I just didn’t care. It was so bad.
It wasn’t a surprise to find out from my GP that my blood sugar was higher than it should have been.
When she diagnosed me as pre-diabetic, I was actually pleased, because to me it meant I’d basically been told I wasn’t diabetic, as I’d feared I would be.
Something started to shift in me. I was still looking at myself and thinking, “I am fire”, but I was also conscious that people who are overweight run into problems as they get older, and that if I didn’t address it, the likelihood was that I would die early.
By the time the second lockdown started to lift, I was really heavy, I was pre-diabetic and I wasn’t walking very well because of the weight I was carrying on my back.
Just imagine what I do in my life, all the travelling and rushing around, and I was carrying the equivalent of a 15st man on my back, every step of the way.
Even cycling was out, because every time I went anywhere on my bike I’d get a flat tyre.
I went to see a doctor who specialises in weight-loss issues.
I’ve got a good life, but I also want to live longer and feel healthy
“Alison, it’s actually not your fault that you can’t lose weight,” he said. “Your metabolism is different from most other people’s.”
It was such a relief to hear him say those words. “Really? That’s what I’ve been thinking,” I said.
The doctor went on to explain how many different factors can impact a person’s metabolism, from genes and childhood eating habits to hunger hormone levels.
I’m getting to a point where I would consider weight-loss surgery, but I’m still looking at my different options and wondering which direction is best for me.
I’ve got a good life, but I also want to live longer and feel healthy.
I’m realising that, ultimately, you can have a nice big home and all the rest of it, but the only house you ever live in is your body and you really need to look after it. As I said, it’s complicated!
And Terry’s Chocolate Oranges really are more delicious than anything else in the universe . . .
Extracted from You’ve Got To Laugh, by Alison Hammond, published by Bantam Press on October 14 at £20. © Alison Hammond 2021.
BEYONCE WAS GAME FOR LAUGH
BEYONCE has always been a heroine of mine so I was thrilled to meet her in 2008, before the release of her third solo album, I Am . . . Sasha Fierce.
The first single off her album was If I Were A Boy, so I took that title and ran with it. “If you were a boy, how would you do things differently,” I asked her, “because I know I wouldn’t leave the toilet seat up.”
“I wouldn’t either,” she agreed. “I wouldn’t be scratching my nether regions in front of me. I wouldn’t be doing that.”
Beyonce laughed. “No, it’s not cool. I’d definitely want to be a guy that is faithful and a good man and kind of show other men how to do it right, you know what I mean?”
I liked the way she raised the tone so effortlessly. When I ran out of questions, I got out the Connect 4 and challenged her to a game.
She was totally up for it and beat me hands down. I’m usually unbeatable so I blame it on the nerves: I couldn’t concentrate because I kept thinking, “I’m playing Connect 4 with Beyonce.”
BRUISING DATE WITH GEORGE
IN 2002 I had a phone call from one of the This Morning producers asking me to interview George Clooney, below, on the red carpet of a film premiere.
It was the first time I’d done anything like that. I couldn’t believe my luck.
On the red carpet I chatted to a few of the celebrities and it was all going fine.
Then this big Hollywood superstar rocked up. George Clooney.
This was it.
My first big interview. I asked a couple of questions and it went really well.
I was absolutely buzzing afterwards. “I’ve just interviewed George Clooney!” I thought, “This is crazy.”
A few minutes later, I saw him walking back down the carpet. Great! He’s coming back! I might as well ask him a few more questions.
What I didn’t know was that, once you’ve interviewed someone at an event, you DO NOT get to interview them again.
So we were at cross-purposes as he walked towards me ‒ and when I lifted my mic to ask him a question I accidentally smashed him in the face with it.
Oh, no! No, no, no, no, no! He swerved out of the way. “I’m so sorry!” I said, mortified.
I was so incredibly embarrassed, but he took it in good humour and started laughing.
Phew! Right then and there, I decided that George was an absolute gem.