Eamonn Holmes on Weybridge life, early mornings and the world of television
One of Britain's busiest presenters, not only is Eamonn Holmes the host of BBC One's National Lottery Jet Set, he also fronts the breakfast show on Sky News and recently took over Michael Parkinson's Sunday morning slot on Radio 2. The affable Irishman, who now lives in Weybridge, tells Tracy Cook why he's always felt at home in Surrey...
The first time I met Eamonn Holmes, I nearly drowned him. He was the new presenter on the Holiday programme, I was the new director. We were filming at Center Parcs, so I sent him out on the lake in a canoe to do a piece to camera. Little did I know he couldn't swim, hated water and was absolutely petrified! He never forgot it either. Fifteen years later, when I bought his autobiography, This is MY Life, he signed it, "Even though you tried to kill me, I survived to write this..."
But Eamonn being Eamonn, he did get in that canoe and do the shot. He's a professional through and through, and it's a hallmark of the man that he does every job thoroughly and well. And how well he's done! Now presenting Sunrise on Sky News, he has his own radio shows on Radio 5 Live and Magic FM and his column in the People newspaper. He also presents BBC One's National Lottery Jet Set and has recently hosted BBC Two's SUDO-Q quiz, and then there's his numerous appearances on other TV shows such as Celebrity Stars in their Eyes, Family Fortunes and Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway.
The most recent feather in his cap is taking over Michael Parkinson's Radio 2 Sunday morning radio show for a few weeks. "I am so excited about that," he enthuses. "It's just fantastic following in the great Parky's footsteps."
At home in Weybridge...
Today, we meet at his house in Weybridge, where he lives with his partner Ruth Langsford, with whom he co-presented This Morning last summer, and their six-year-old son Jack. They moved to the area three years ago, and immediately felt at home.
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"I love it round here," says Eamonn settling into the leather sofa in his comfortable living room, while Ruth disappears to make coffee. "When I first moved to London, I didn't like it - I found it claustrophobic. I wanted greenery, trees and space, more like home where I grew up. Belfast is a very green city.
"When I met Ruth, we just kept moving down the A3 until we found Weybridge! Surrey's great: you can be in real country with real cows in five minutes, and there are so many beautiful places to go, like Box Hill. We went to Shere last weekend... what a beautiful village! I can't imagine moving from here now."
He has kitted out his home to suit his needs; upstairs under the eaves is a large office where his assistants work, a home cinema complete with big screen and comfy seats, and a mini studio so he can pre-record interviews for his radio shows. "It saves going into London, although I can get into a spot of bother if Heathrow change the flight path or the neighbours start mowing the lawn," he laughs.
"What does amaze me about living here, though, in what's probably the wealthiest part of the country, is how few top-notch shops and restaurants there are. There are plenty of chains - and don't get me wrong, Jack loves Dexters on the High Street - but sometimes we have showbizzy friends down and we're a bit stumped as to where to go."
But Weybridge does have the advantage that it's just a short drive to the Sky studios in Isleworth: an important factor at 4am in the morning. "I still hate those early morning starts, even though I've been doing them for 15 years now," he grimaces - for 12 of those years he presented GMTV's breakfast programme. "And no, it doesn't get any easier!"
Weybridge is also near Heathrow - important for Eamonn because his three children, Declan 18, Rebecca, 16, and Niall, 15, from his first marriage, still live in Belfast. His career has been dominated by flying to see them at weekends.
"I've never been restricted in my access to the children - the only restriction has been work," he says. "The fantastic thing, after 15 years of commuting backwards and forwards - and it absolutely exhausting me, is that now they're more excited by coming here. Especially if I can get them tickets for X Factor or Ant and Dec!"
As a child, Eamonn always wanted to be on television. No surprise really, since his mum named him after Eamonn Andrews, that other famous Irishman who presented This is Your Life. He grew up on the New Lodge Road, in Belfast, surrounded by the troubles and became fascinated with how television news was made. As a teenager, he would watch TV crews filming the bombings of the day and then rush home to see the finished report on the news that night. He started off at Ulster TV and quickly moved to BBC's daytime TV with Open Air, then on to Breakfast News and Holiday, before launching GMTV in 1993.
Definitely one of a kind...
Nowadays, he feels his greatest achievement, though, is surviving in the business for 25 years. "Most people in television are finished by the time they're 40," he says. "Think about presenters you used to watch when you were younger: where are they now? The Desmond Lynam's and Bruce Forsyth's are a rare breed." Now 48, he credits his survival to working across genres - he's just as happy presenting news, quizzes or sport, and thrives on live television.
"There aren't many of us who can do live - just me, Phillip Schofield, Noel Edmonds... maybe a few sports presenters. So I'm lucky that anytime there's some big live event the BBC want to do, my name leaps up the presenter list from number 70..." he laughs. He works hard, juggling his various TV, radio and newspaper commitments. "I have to," he says. "Like everyone else, I've got to pay for my house, lifestyle, even my divorce... You just don't know how long the job's going to last."
He is grateful for the opportunities it's brought: he's met everyone who is anyone - from Princess Diana to John Travolta. And he's had the chance to get to know personal heroes, like Sir Alex Ferguson. Eamonn's been a lifelong supporter of Man United, but now that he lives near the Chelsea training ground in Surrey, I wonder if he's going to swap allegiances? "Over my dead body," he retorts with a twinkle in his eye. "I hate that team."
But while he may still worship at Old Trafford, his heart and his future now lie firmly in our leafy Surrey. You just won't ever see him out on the river in a canoe.
My Favourite Surrey...
Restaurant: "I love that tapas bar (El Meson De Los Hermanos) on Baker Street in Weybridge. It's like being on holiday in there - and I don't get on holiday enough!"
Shop: "I don't mind shopping in lovely places. We picked up a few presents recently in that wee gift shop in Shere."
View: "Oh, it's got to be Box Hill. It's so beautiful there."
Place to chill: "Home! I'm so busy I love having the chance to relax at home in Weybridge, especially now I don't have to fly to Belfast so much as my kids come here."
Place to visit: "Painshill - that's a lovely place for taking Jack at the weekends."