The list of people so famous they can dispense with anything as bothersome as a surname remains an exclusive club. But to the likes of Elvis, Madonna and Beyonce, might we now add Davina?
Certainly the producers of Davina: 7 Minute Fit - the latest in a bestselling line of DVD workouts that have been rousing Brits from their post-Christmas torpor since 2004 – don’t feel the need to include any of Davina Lucy Pascale McCall’s other names on the cover. Ditto the publishers of Davina’s 5 Weeks to Sugar-Free, a new book in which the 47-year old TV presenter, wife and mother of three serves up a collection of ‘yummy, easy recipes to help you kick sugar and feel amazing’.
Davina - with apologies to the Waitrose Weekend style guide, it just doesn’t feel right to call her McCall – was approached by the publisher with the idea of going sugar-free. But having signed up, she embraced the challenge with all the zeal you’d expect from a woman who ran, swam and cycled 500 miles in seven days for Sport Relief. ‘Once I’d said yes to the book, I’d made a commitment to myself, and I had to follow it through,’ she says. ‘My back was up against the wall - I had nowhere to go.’
The key to kicking the sugar habit, she says, was the fact she wasn’t trying to please anyone but herself. ‘If my husband says to me, “You probably shouldn’t have that pudding,” I will order it, and then I will eat it all in front of him, just to spite him. Because I’m that kind of person. The only time any kind of commitment like this works is when you're doing it for yourself.’
For Davina – whose addiction to the white stuff once saw her reduced to stealing chocolate from her kids - the proof of the sugar-free solution was literally in the pudding. ‘The publisher sold me the whole concept of this book by bringing me a chocolate mousse that had no sugar in it,’ she says. ‘It tasted like a really rich, really naughty, shop-bought mousse. I said ‘You’ve got to give me the recipe right now’. So that was that.”
What Davina has not attempted to do is force her new regime on her family - husband Matthew, a former TV presenter, and children Holly, 13, Tilly, 11, and Chester, 8. ‘It’s not really realistic for me to impose my sugar-free madness on them,’ she says. ‘Obviously the kids have puddings at school and things, so I just try to be a bit more careful, and restrict their intake where I can.’
Health and fitness has proved a profitable sideline for Davina: as well as her DVD range, she’s just launched GetFitWithDavina.com, an interactive online gym. The reason people trust her, she believes, is that she doesn’t claim to be infallible.
‘I always say I’m just like you – I try, but sometimes I massively fall off the wagon. Every time I go and see my mother-in-law in America, it’s bacon and fried food, so I have a massive fall off the wagon there, and when I come back I get back on it again. I’m realistic. But I do try to generally lead as healthy a life as I can.’
Does she work out to her own DVDs? ‘Oh my god, completely. People think that’s weird,’ she laughs, ‘and sometimes it is quite weird, but I forget that it’s me in the end - it’s like watching someone completely different.’
Her Sport Relief endurance test – ominously titled Davina: Beyond Breaking Point - also proved a bit of a workout, to say the least; as she was plucked from the freezing waters of Lake Windermere, sobbing and on the verge of hypothermia, broken is exactly how she looked.
‘It was much harder than I thought it would be,’ she admits. ‘Physically I was prepared, but mentally it was really, really difficult. Sometimes I’d go and sit on the loo, because it was the only place I had any privacy, and just cry.’
She went on to complete the challenge, raising more than £2 million in the process. ‘All of it seemed worthwhile then,’ she says. ‘I was just so glad I did it. The support I felt from the public was incredible.’
Davina has enjoyed the public’s support ever since she elbowed her way into the national consciousness 15 years ago as the host of Big Brother. She nearly turned the job down, but it proved a game-changer, thrusting her into the spotlight at the age of 33 – that’s positively fossilised in telly terms - after more than a decade of trying to catch a break.
Last summer, Davina opened her heart to Waitrose Weekend, talking movingly of how her difficult childhood - she was raised by her grandparents after effectively being abandoned by her French mother - propelled her desire to be famous. ‘Essentially,’ she said, ‘I wanted to impress my mum’.
In her early 20s, she fell into drug and alcohol abuse, but work, and an unswerving determination to make it in television, soon replaced them as her narcotic of choice. A craving for fame might not seem like the most nourishing lifestyle option, but it’s clearly been good for Davina, especially now she’s parlayed her success into a second career as a health and fitness guru.
There have been a few missteps along the way, of course – not least the critical mauling she took over her 2006 chat show (called - what else? – Davina). Did it hurt?
‘Of course it hurt,’ she says. ‘I took it quite badly because I was pregnant and really, really stressed out. I’m just really grateful that TV companies saw fit to give me another chance, and I’m still here. It’s kind of a miracle, really, when you think of some of the turkeys I’ve presented!’
Davina’s current hits include hyper-addictive high-stakes game show The Million Pound Drop, and ITV’s tear-jerking reunion show, Long Lost Family. Given her own background, it’s no surprise she finds the latter an emotional experience. ‘To be with someone on the day you know they will never forget is a real privilege,’ she says.
The fact she’s seen as a natural shoulder to cry on says a lot about how Britain sees Davina these days. Is she, we venture, in danger of becoming a bona fide national treasure?
‘I’m not sure about that,’ she laughs. ‘The Sport Relief thing may have topped up my national treasure level a bit, but I’ve got a way to go yet. I’m working on it, though.’
Published in Waitrose Weekend, January 15, 2015
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