Fern weighs up the options as she starts new chapter in life

FERN Britton is as smiley and bubbly in person as she is on television – but the bubbles go a little flat at the mention of her dramatic three-stone weight loss a few years ago. Originally, her trim figure was attibuted to healthy diet and exercise, but it turned out that she’d had gastric band surgery.

“I don’t have to justify any of that again, but you have to work very hard at it. I exercise a lot, I cycle a lot and that's how I keep going,” she says. “I was unhealthy before and I didn’t know that getting healthier could mean such an extraordinary physical change.

“While I’m happy that I can buy smaller clothes, that wasn’t, and isn’t, my objective. I think a male presenter would not have been given the same attention, but you have to accept there’s sexism in television and always will be, in probably every industry.”

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Sexism is one thing; ageism is another. But unlike Selina Scott, Anna Ford and Angela Rippon who have complained, Britton is philosophical. “I’m not expecting it [her TV career] to last forever because I'm a realist. I'm not going to be having any Botox or fillers or a facelift because I have the face I should have for the age I am (53). I think one of us has to blaze the trail and say, 'No, this is how it is’.”

Since quitting ITV’s This Morning 18 months ago, Britton says she hasn’t missed the show and doesn't watch it. She sent her replacement, Holly Willoughby, flowers when she took over and is quick to praise her. “Holly’s a young mum in a young marriage. She’s a modern woman, beautiful, smart, quick and funny. And sometimes, when you get older, you have to think, ‘It’s their turn, I've had my turn’.”

Britton remains in demand, and later this month will begin her own hour-long daily live chat show on Channel 4, replacing the Paul O’Grady slot. It will be a mix of true stories, celebrities and entertaiment. “We don’t want to copy Paul O’Grady or This Morning, because those two shows are icons in their own right. It will be surprising because it’s live. You can change the running order at the last minute if something big happens. I’m terrified, nervous and waiting to fall flat on my face.”

Her strengths lie in her natural empathy and ability to tease a good interview out of tough subjects. It was during a BBC interview with Britton that Tony Blair said he would have gone to war in Iraq even if he had known there were not any weapons of mass destruction, and it was Britton who laid into Gordon Brown on This Morning about the economy

Television is the backdrop to her debut novel, New Beginnings. The book concerns Christie Lynch, a journalist and single mother who wins a high-profile presenting job. It's surely art imitating life for Britton, who spent 14 years in TV news before Ready Steady Cook and then Good Morning, where her partnership with Phillip Schofield proved highly popular. The book features predictable stereotypes – a bitchy fellow presenter, a ruthless agent – and a mysterious drowning. Britton says some of the barbs she’s suffered definitely lent inspiration.

“I remember a famous presenter, who was having her make-up done, saw my shoes in the corner of the room and asked whose they were. The make-up lady said, ‘They're Fern’s’, to which she said, ‘Oh, hasn’t she got big feet?’”

“Sometimes people can be so breathtakingly, brilliantly bitchy and unpleasant that you have to applaud them for it.”

Britton has three children by first husband, TV executive Clive Jones, and a fourth by second husband, TV chef and restaurateur Phil Vickery.

She has been frank about the depression she has fought throughout her adult life.

“It’s taken a long time for me to understand I can’t take a course of anti-depressants, then come off them and be fine. It comes back again. So I take a low dose every day, as if I were a diabetic who needed insulin.”

Britton doesn’t take herself too seriously. “You have to remember you're not a heart surgeon. When you make a mistake or a fool of yourself, or someone's unpleasant, you think, ‘Well, what I’m doing isn’t frightfully important’.”

New Beginnings by Fern Britton, is published by HarperCollins, £12.99. To order from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop call 0800 0153232 or go to www.yorkshirepostbookshop.co.uk. Postage costs £2.75.