Davina McCall has been a staple on our TVs for almost 25 years, but she’s also become a national treasure for wearing her heart on her sleeve and being honest and open about her past and the challenges she has faced in life. All of which makes Davina, 51, feel so relatable. But she’s also inspirational.
In many ways Davina didn’t have the easiest of upbringings and she’s been frank about how deeply her parents split troubled her for years after it happened. As her mum and dad both felt too busy to parent her, Davina lived with her grandparents. Holidays with her mum in her native France saw her taken to inappropriate environments and treated like an adult rather than parented.
In her early teens she developed anorexia, “I thought I was ugly and fat. I missed my mum, felt confused, so stopped eating for attention,” she explains. Davina moved in with her father who had remarried and a friend of the family helped her adopt healthy eating habits once again. Her relationship with her mother Florence remained strained and went on to result in total estrangement. She did not attend her funeral in 2008 having grieved for her already when she was living: “For about a year before she died I was seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist and we were trying to get to the bottom of the fact that I had a mother who was alive but was not mothering me, and how sad that made me feel,” she explains. “I was cataclysmic with grief.”
Her twenties were marred by drug addiction but as friends around her fell by the wayside she heeded the advice of someone who still believed in her: “I’d lost all the good people,” Davina says. “There was one person left, and she was the one that said to me, ‘Look, we all know that you’re a junkie . . . I’m not going to stand around and watch it any more.’ ” By the age of 25 she was clean and doesn’t smoke or drink now.
Davina refused to allow the issues of her past to shape her future and has reached out and accepted help when she needed it and also learnt the tools she needs to realise you are in charge of your destiny. “I’ve made so many mistakes in my life. Your past is your past. Leave it there.”
After her self-titled chat show flopped Davina felt out of favour in TV-land and after beginning her family threw herself into exercise. She was asked to make a DVD and it became a fitness work out classic. She’s since honed her physique and is the first to admit she is fitter than she has ever been.
But for Davina the toning and sculpting effects of exercise are almost the side story and she loves working out to help her mental health too. “From my own personal experience, when I’ve been in a fug exercise has definitely seen me through,” she explains. “Increasing your fitness can make you feel good about yourself because you think ‘I’m getting somewhere’. With running when you see yourself go a bit further or a little bit without stopping or without walking, you think ‘Oh my gosh, I can do this’. It’s not just fitness, there’s a sense of achievement. It’s a bit like cooking for yourself, it’s about saying you’re worth it.”
Davina points out it’s important that you are working out for yourself, “When you’re feeling down or feeling a bit blue, and you just think ‘ugh, what’s the point?’ There is a point because after you’ve done it you’ll think ‘yeah! I did that for myself, I didn’t do it for you. I didn’t do it for the guy over there that I quite fancy. I’m doing this for me, and I’m doing something great for my body.” Although she embraces many forms of exercise to keep motivated and her body busy, Davina admits cranking up the volume and getting some fabulous tunes are the way to make her feel good. “When I run I have to listen to really loud, banging tunes. When I do that I get this kind of euphoria that comes over me and it sort of stays with me all day. Couple that with exercise and the endorphins, and it does make a huge difference.”
Read on: Why strength training helps lift your mental load too.
For a woman in the public eye getting older can be nerve wrecking. But rather than worrying about a younger person taking her job, Davina recognises that with age comes experience and qualities which she has needed time to develop.
“[In my 50s compared to my 20s] I feel much more confident and that I can literally talk to anybody. I feel like I’ve got nothing left to prove and I’m alright in my own skin,” she explains. “I think we’re the first generation who are doing whatever we want, whenever we want, so that’s exciting. And we may have a few more wrinkles now, but with that comes a sense of wellbeing and life experience.”
In fact rather than dreading another birthday, Davina is intrigued to see what it brings: “Every age has a different set of hurdles to get over, but I’ve calmed down a bit and I’m feeling a lot more at peace with myself. It’s a kind of self-acceptance, warts and all.”
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Davina is famed for being incredibly upbeat and positive and she believes her future always looks brighter because she takes the time to be appreciative of what she has. “I live by the motto ‘an attitude of gratitude’ – some people might look at me and think “Oh that’s easy for you”, but when I had a heroin habit, I was the lowest I could go emotionally. I hated myself. I couldn’t look in a mirror because I disgusted myself. The day I got clean was the day I started being grateful wherever I could. It’s a simple principle but I have found that being grateful, even for the little things and trying to reframe a terrible situation gets you through it.”