Helen Skelton: 'It's a dangerous path if you take what people say about you seriously'

10th Oct 18 | Lifestyle

Outdoorsy presenter Helen Skelton tells Gabrielle Fagan how family tragedy shifted her outlook and why her love of fitness has nothing to do with abs.

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Helen Skelton, who became a household name as the bubbly, charismatic Blue Peter presenter with a penchant for adventure, is now a familiar face on Countryfile – but she still often hits the headlines for her wardrobe and its apparent ‘malfunctions’.

There was the time her dress was caught in a gust of wind while she was reporting at the London 2012 Olympics, while the length of her skirts during her stint covering the swimming at Rio 2016 whipped up a storm of comment. It was even claimed that her outfits cost her a job in the team reporting on the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April.

Thankfully, Skelton – who has two sons, aged three and one, with her husband, rugby player Richie Myler, 28 – has developed a good sense of perspective. Here, the down-to-earth 25-year-old talks about her love of fitness, how two family tragedies have shaped her outlook, and what makes her tick…

Helen Skelton (Joseph Sinclair/P&G/Sainsbury's/PA)
Helen Skelton (Joseph Sinclair/P&G/Sainsbury’s/PA)

How do you cope with criticism of your personal appearance?
“Losing two cousins who were really close to me altered my perspective on life massively. They didn’t even get to the age I am, and nowadays I’m just grateful for every extra year I chalk up on earth, and enjoy life as much as possible.

“It means I definitely don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’. My elder cousin was in her 30s and had breast cancer, and my other cousin died in a tragic accident in her mid-20s. We’re a close-knit family and it was traumatic for everyone.

“I know being an open, honest, outspoken person gets me into trouble all the time, but I don’t know how to be any other way. Sure, sometimes I think, ‘Why did I say that?’, but at the end of the day, it’s all a game really. People getting wound up about me wearing a pair of shorts and say it’s affected my getting a job is just plain silly. I thought I looked nice, while my family and friends just laughed and said, ‘Helen, you’ve always worn weird outfits, what’s the fuss about?!”

“Frankly, you’re heading down a dangerous path if you take seriously what people say about you, and I don’t read most of it. I believe in a great saying – ‘Don’t wish life away, and don’t look on it as forever’ – and when life’s stressful, I think of that.”

You shocked some viewers and were described as ‘too aggressive’ in your Sport Relief boxing match against Love Island’s Camilla Thurlow earlier this year. Was that fair?

“Come on, you’re signing up to boxing not ballet, and basically to hit someone in the face! If I hadn’t fought like I did and given it everything, it would have been disrespectful to the sport and all the effort my trainer put into me.

“I got a black eye, my husband found it difficult to watch and cried, but he was proud of me and I did my best. I wouldn’t do it again but I loved every minute of the experience.”

What’s your fitness regime?
“I’ve been active and dedicated to health and fitness since I was 15 years old, but I don’t do it because it’s good for my backside, my abs or to look good. I do it because I enjoy it and get a total buzz out of it. I’m 5ft 2 and never weigh myself and never follow a diet, and off-screen I hardly wear make-up.

“I’ve been lucky to experience so many challenges: The 78-mile Namibian Ultra Marathon, kayaked the Amazon, cycled to the South Pole, run in the London Marathon.

“Our garage is full of every type of sport equipment – skis, mountain bikes, road bikes, boxing gloves, skipping ropes, kayaks, kites. I work out in there regularly and I’m always up for trying a new sport.”

Helen Skelton (Joseph Sinclair/P&G/Sainsbury's/PA)
Helen Skelton (Joseph Sinclair/P&G/Sainsbury’s/PA)

What’s the secret of your happy relationship?
“We only married in 2013 – so ask me the secret in 10 years time! Marriages and relationships are not all plain-sailing but we approach it like team work. Rich is the best dad. He’s the ‘sugar police’ when it comes to their diet and insists on routine, whereas sometimes I’m anything for a quiet life, so we’re a good balance.

“Our house is chaos usually, as Ernie (three) and Louis (one) are so close in age and are the definition of wild at times. For the time being, we’re not having any more, but I wouldn’t say no one day. We’ve just had to buy the biggest bed as they end up sleeping with us every night.

“We laugh about the idea of ‘date nights’. I  can’t even fit in time for a hair colour, so how do people find time for those?”

How do you look after your wellbeing?

Helen Skelton (far right) with the Countryfile presenters (left to right) Matt Baker, Ellie Harrison, Anita Rani, Tom Heap, Charlotte Smith, John Craven, Adam Henson, at Blenheim Palace, near Woodstock, Oxfordshire, August 2018. (Steve Parsons/PA)
Helen Skelton (right) with the Countryfile presenting team at Blenheim Palace in August 2018 (Steve Parsons/PA)

“I don’t take mental health lightly. Being aware of what makes you happy is a really good thing. I’m much better and happier when I’m outside near green spaces, so I spend a lot of time outside – walking, wandering, getting fresh air – and that keeps my head in check.

“Countryfile’s the ideal job for me, even though some moments have challenged my calm – like getting splatted in the face by a cow pat, and being trapped in a rubber dry suit when I was seven months pregnant and having a group of total strangers try to wrestle me out of it!

“Getting enough sleep, exercising and spending quality time with my family and those who are precious to me is key. I’m learning Reiki, a healing technique, and I practise on my husband and the kids but hope to become a trained Master of it eventually.”

What keeps you motivated?

Helen Skelton (Joseph Sinclair/P&G/Sainsbury's/PA)
Helen Skelton (Joseph Sinclair/P&G/Sainsbury’s/PA)

“Spending time with my kids and Rich, and I love my work in the crazy world of television. I love the variety of live television, entertainment and sport, and my dream would be to cover the Olympics in Tokyo.

“What’s so rewarding is helping with a campaign: P&G and Sainsbury’s #HelpUsHelpThem campaign raising funds for The Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland.

“It’s really important to help reduce the stress and anxiety of service people and their families across the Armed Forces Community, who are vulnerable and in need. It’s for all sorts of people, from serving soldiers to those who’ve been medically discharged, or relatives of those who’ve died. There couldn’t be a more deserving cause, which I’m proud to support.”

What do you feel guilty about?

View this post on Instagram

Once upon a time I was a Blue Peter Presenter. The job was good, but the team was better. We worked hard but we played harder as a big dysfunctional, live in each other’s pockets kind of way. On the eve of @joel.defries wedding to his stunning partner I just wanted to acknowledge that although I am a terrible friend and rarely see the gang that shaped such a fab part of my life (domestic responsibilities take over. My kids don’t care I was on BP) I will be eternally grateful for the laughs, lessons and memories. Yes you will call me out for being a sop. Yes I am apologising for not seeing you more. #oldfriend #badfriend #bluepeter #memories #joel #theforgottenone #weddingeve #tbttoasociallife #whenwewereyoung

A post shared by Helen Skelton (@helenskelton) on

“I feel guilty because I love my friends dearly, but I’m a terrible friend and regularly pull out of lunches, birthday parties and meet-ups. We’re really good in this generation at stretching ourselves in all directions and doing things that we think we ought to do, but every now and again, you’ve got to say no to stuff. With the boys and working all over the country, I literally can’t do everything.”

Helen Skelton is supporting P&G and Sainsbury’s #HelpUsHelpThem campaign, raising funds for The Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland. From now until November 20, Sainsbury’s shoppers can buy selected P&G health and beauty products, including Oral B, Olay, Gillette and Pantene, in store or online and trigger a donation. 1 pack = 1 donation.

© Press Association 2018

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