Surgery forced her to slow down, but television presenter Julia Bradbury admits switching off can be a challenge. She tells Gabrielle Fagan how she keeps the balance.
TV presenter Julia Bradbury may seem unstoppable, but she’s been forced to slow down following a triple hernia operation earlier this year.
The former Countryfile star, who grew up in Sheffield, admits she unwisely ignored the symptoms for nearly a year, which she eventually discovered could have had life-threatening consequences.
“To be honest, I suspected the nagging ache and bulge in my groin could be a hernia but I just kept putting off going to the doctor,” she says. “I’m conscientious about the kids’ health but I’d keep delaying on my own. In the end, the pain in my groin was impossible to live with, which made me seek the treatment and it turned out surgery was essential.
The 49-year-old, who lives in West London with property developer Gerard Cunningham and their children – Zephyr, seven, and four-year-old twins Xanthe and Zena – says the worst part of recovery is being unable to lift her kids. “I’ve had to explain to them I’m having to take things gently... I’ve been warned unless I do, the hernias can come back, so I’ve really heeded that advice.”
“I’m a naturally energetic, passionate person who gets excited very easily, so slowing down and being calm doesn’t come easily to me,” she acknowledges with a smile. Indeed, she’s rarely off screen and work often revolves around her love of the great outdoors and travel, so can be physically demanding.
Bradbury presented Countryfile for 10 years until 2014, and has also fronted Britain’s Favourite Walks: Top 100. She spent time in Australia for ITV’s Australia With Julia Bradbury shown in February, and most recently co-presented Britain’s Greatest National Treasures alongside Sir Trevor McDonald, celebrating iconic buildings and feats of engineering.
“It’s such a rewarding career and allows me to draw attention to things I’m passionate about. In Australia I got to highlight deforestation, coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, and of course plastic pollution.”
The only downside is absences from the family. “I explain to the kids I have to go and we count the number of ‘breakfasts’ I’m away for. I do call but more often send them messages that can be played to them, rather than randomly ringing when they might be busy or tired.
“Zena’s more introvert and shy and I think she feels it a bit more when I’m away. When I call, she sometimes gives me the silent treatment. It’s really hard but when I’ve been away, I usually get a break with them afterwards.”
Having children later in life – she had her son when she was 42 – has its advantages, she notes.
“I’m much more sorted as a person now than when I was younger, and I certainly don’t have any yearning to go out partying ’til late. I did all that years ago, also I’m mindful that around 7am, my kids will be up and breakfast needs to be in cereal bowls. It’s far better to be awake and fresh to face that,” she says, laughing.
Enjoying the outdoors is also key to her contentment. “I’m at my happiest when we’re outside all together. A memory I’ll treasure is when recently, in the pouring rain, we went out in waterproofs to roll down a hill, have a leaf fight and look for slugs. It was magical.”
Bradbury – who’s been open about “struggling” when she was in her 30s, and seeking therapy as she dealt with career issues and endometriosis – adds: “My focus is giving my children a solid foundation, so eventually they go out into the world as independent, self-sufficient, well-adjusted people.
“I’m very aware of the mental health problems young people face nowadays, and realise you have to try to equip children to deal with life’s challenges. It’s not about being happy all the time – it’s about helping them to understand how to deal with the knocks, the losses and the down moments too.”