Jo Whiley: 'At 53, I feel more confident and wise than ever'

18th Oct 18 | Lifestyle

DJ and mum-of-four Jo Whiley talks to Gabrielle Fagan about managing joint pain, family life and how swimming keeps her calm.

Jo Whiley

Jo Whiley broke new ground recently, by becoming the first female DJ in 20 years on BBC Radio Two’s weekday daytime schedule – but it hasn’t all been an easy ride.

She’s co-presenting the Drivetime show with Simon Mayo – but their new partnership, initially at least, has reportedly drawn a lukewarm, and sometimes downright critical, audience response.

Whiley, 53 – who has a well-earned reputation as one of the nation’s favourite broadcasters, and found fame presenting Top Of The Pops and hosting a morning show on BBC Radio One for eight years – is determinedly weathering the storm.

Off-air, she reveals, she’s also dealing with a health challenge. The Northampton-born presenter fears she may have developed osteoarthritis – the most common type of arthritis, believed to affect around 10 million people in the UK. The condition is associated with stiff, painful and inflamed joints, due to ‘wear and tear’ type injury and the break-down of cartilage over time.

Here, Whiley, who lives in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, with her husband, band manager Steve Morton, and their four children, talks about the discomfort and pain she experiences regularly, her hopes for the new show, and how the role has transformed her family life…

Why do you fear you have osteoarthritis?
“I’ve lived with daily aches and discomfort for years because I have scoliosis (a curvature of the spine), but now I’m coping with a new type of pain because I’m pretty sure I’ve inherited osteoarthitis [the condition is thought to sometimes run in families, although a single gene responsible hasn’t been identified]. My late grandmother, my aunt and my mother have the condition, and my father has rheumatoid arthritis, so clearly joints are a weakness in our family.

“I remember as a kid, my father had such bad flare-ups which completely immobilised him and confined him to bed. My mother has had her knees and a hip replaced and they’re both on medication to combat the pain.”

Jo Whiley (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Jo Whiley (Gareth Fuller/PA)

What are your symptoms like?
“The ends of my fingers and my knuckle joints in my left hand are swollen and sensitive. It’s worrying, as some days I can’t completely close my hand to make a fist, so often holding things, carrying shopping bags or opening jars is a problem.

“The worst thing is if my hand is knocked, I get a white-hot agonising pain which takes my breath away, makes me feel nauseous, and can take up to five minutes to wear off. It’s been getting worse over the last five years.

“Over the last three years, I’ve had three occasions where I’ve been super-achey all over for around 24 hours, a bit like flu in my joints. I wonder if that’s part of the condition. I’m putting off getting a diagnosis, partly because I don’t  want to be told I have it and also because it may mean medication, which I’d rather avoid.”

How do you cope with your aches and pains?

“Keeping active is vital to stop me stiffening up, and I hope it’s helping to strengthen my bones and joints, so that I don’t end up suffering as my parents have done most of their lives. I also take a supplement, Seven Seas JointCare Supplex & Turmeric, to help my joints.

“Nowadays, when I first get up, I feel achy and creaky and have to unfold and and do stretches to get myself fully mobile. I swim, weight train at the gym,  run regularly and recently took part in a half-marathon. Even at home while I watch TV, I work out on an exercise roller to keep myself more supple.

“I also have pain from frayed tendons in my shoulders, which will eventually need surgery, partly caused because I swum competitively when I was young.”

What’s your outlook on life?

Jo Whiley at the Brit Awards, London, 2017. (Ian West/PA)
Jo Whiley at the Brit Awards, London, 2017. (Ian West/PA)

“I’m generally a positive person. I enjoy good health, and my perspective is that a joint problem is not the worst weakness in the world to have. I’m always super-thankful that’s all I’ve got. My younger sister, Frances, is disabled with a rare syndrome (Cri du chat syndrome), and growing up with that has made me aware of the huge challenges some people face.

“She has a genetic disorder, and I had screening when I had children to check they were free from it, which fortunately they were. They’ll have to have screening if they have children.”

How have you weathered the reported criticism from some listeners about  your new partnership with Simon Mayo co-presenting Drivetime?

“I think the show’s finding its feet now we’re five months into it. We’re gradually carving out our own roles in our ‘radio marriage’. New shows always take time to bed in, and need tinkering because they’re never right straight off. In general, listeners often don’t like change, but we’re determined to make it a huge success. It helps that Simon and I are old friends and know each other very well.”

How did it feel to be the first woman on Radio Two’s weekday daytime schedule for 20 years?

“Getting to present a daily (primetime) show is  amazing, and to happen at my age makes. you think, ‘Wow, life’s still really exciting and there’s still so much more in me and much more to do’.

“It’s a wonderful time because the profile of women in radio and TV is rising all the time. Things have moved so much and so many things are being tackled: Pay and harassment, sexism and ageism. There’s been such a shift in society and with two daughters, I’m so happy they’re growing up with great role models and an awareness of what women can achieve at any age.”

Has it been hard coping with a busy career and a family?
“I’ve  worked the hardest I’ve ever worked this year, because I’m on air three hours a day, five days a week, and have lots of other stuff going on. But a huge bonus is that my early morning working hours have made me feel connected to the family again.

“My Radio Two evening show meant I was rarely home before midnight and I felt quite isolated. although they’d text, call and tell me what they were up to. I just kept thinking, ‘I’m not sharing it’.

“Now I’m home after work by mid-morning. The family’s response to the announcement of the new job was wonderful. They cheered and said, ‘Brilliant, we’re going to see you again!’ That made me cry with happiness. It’s great  joining in with things again, and my daughters and I have started working out together.”

How do you feel about ageing?

“Age is just a number and a state of mind. We’ve lost friends over the last few years to cancer, and my motto is ‘appreciate each day’. At this age, I feel more confident, wiser, have lost the hang-ups of my youth and also care less about what people think, which is liberating.”

How do you look after your wellbeing?
“Swimming is my salvation. Doing laps is like meditation for me and makes me feel calmer, stronger and more focused, and is brilliant at calming me. I get very nervous before I DJ at live gigs. If I’m absolutely frazzled, I’ll have a shiatsu massage.”

Jo Whiley has partnered with Seven Seas to launch the new JointCare Supplex & Turmeric supplement. For more information, visit seven-seas.com

© Press Association 2018

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