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Lorraine Kelly: ‘Who’s gonna tell Bette Davis to put her fag out?’

The TV titan reflects on an amazing career, and says she still gets a buzz when she remembers the astronaut who sat on her sofa

Lorraine Kelly is a Scottish journalist and TV presenter.She was born in Glasgow in 1959, but moved with her family to East Kilbride where she attended high school. She turned down a place at university to work on local paper the East Kilbride News, before joining BBC Scotland as a researcher in 1983. She moved to TV-am as a reporter covering Scottish news in 1984.

In 1990, she became a presenter on Good Morning Britain and then later GMTV. Since then, she has become a TV mainstay, appearing on and presenting a variety of different shows, including her own Lorraine. She was awarded a OBE in 2012 and a CBE in 2020. She is married and has a daughter.

In a Letter To My Younger Self, Kelly talks about her early life, how her career grew, her love for her family and the hero that she’s glad she never interviewed.

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At 16 I was probably spending most of my time sitting listening to David Bowie with my friend Stuart. I was quite a late developer. I wasn’t a bit sophisticated, not interested in boys or anything like that whatsoever. I’ve never been that interested in boys actually, I’ve never gone through that stage. Me and my friend Janice went to discos on a Friday – I mean, your dad came to pick you up at 10 o’clock, it wasn’t exactly a rave. But I remember getting annoyed when boys asked us to dance, because we were having too much fun together. I was more interested in music, having fun with my friends, and reading. My mum and dad always had books in the house, we were surrounded by books. My parents encouraged us to question everything, to have curiosity. And my dad took me to the movies every Friday no matter what was on. I was probably a little bit shy, but yeah, I was a pretty happy kid.

Lorraine Kelly in 1991
1991: The year she won the TRIC Diamond Jubilee Award for New Talent of the Year. Photo: Duncan Raban/Popperfoto via Getty Images

My mum and dad were very young, just 17 when they had me, so they felt closer to my generation than most of my friends’ parents. They were into The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, my mum wore miniskirts and trendy makeup. My friends’ mums and dads were sort of beige in comparison. 

My parents did amazingly well because they had nothing, you know. My dad is from the Gorbals [in Glasgow]. He and my mum both came from Irish families. My first house was just a single end with one bedroom and an outdoor loo. They worked very hard, they were real grafters. And they instilled that work ethic in both my brother and me, which is probably the greatest gift they ever gave us. They taught us to read and write before we even went to primary school.

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I’d tell my younger self, be nicer to your brother because he’s lovely. My brother and I used to fight a lot. I was six when he was born. So I was the little princess and then this, oh my god, this little baby from central casting came along. He was chubby with big blue eyes, he was fair haired – he was like an angel. And everybody adored him. I said to my mum, can you not send him back, I don’t like him. It’s really funny because we’re really good friends now, we’re very close. 

I’d also tell her, don’t stress about silly things that really don’t matter. All that angst about exams, and thinking you’re not skinny enough or pretty enough. I was bullied at school pretty badly, not terribly badly but I was bullied. The only place I felt really safe from all of that was home. But these days with social media, kids aren’t safe anywhere. I don’t know how they cope. 

Your identity was very tribal then. And I was a weird kid. When we got to sixth year and you were allowed to wear your own clothes, I decided to wear the full school uniform. I was a really odd kid. In terms of look, we wore jeans with a tiny little turn-up, and desert boots and cheesecloth shirts. Then I went through a phase of being a born-again mod, then I was a little bit of a punk. But not really a punk, I was a plastic punk. Obviously I wanted to be Debbie Harry, as everybody did, so I kind of modelled myself on her. I was a magpie, picking different bits of fashion and culture. I didn’t really like the real hardcore punk stuff, but I loved bands like The Stranglers. 

I knew quite early on I wanted to be a journalist. I was curious and I was interested in things, and I thought it would be a great job. Because every day would be different. Every single day you’d be learning new things. So I got a job as a trainee cub reporter on the East Kilbride News. I just saw their ad and applied and somehow they liked me and they took a chance on me. 

I would tell my teenage self she looks absolutely fine. Back then I thought I was fat. That was just me putting pressure on myself after seeing images in magazines or on TV. I didn’t feel good enough. I would do that stupid thing of skipping breakfast, things like that. But that didn’t last very long. As soon as I left school that sort of thing mostly stopped. But my weight has been sort of on and off over the years. You obviously put on weight when you have a baby and during lockdown. But I don’t beat myself up about it anymore. And I’m better now than I ever was, I feel happier and healthier.

My younger self wouldn’t believe the opportunities I’ve been given, and the fact that she’s going to meet somebody she’ll spend her life with and be lucky enough to have an amazing daughter. I adore her, she’s fantastic. And that she’d see so much of the world. I’m not really into ‘things’; I’ve got one pair of earrings that my husband bought me when I was 40 and they’re gorgeous, little diamond studs. But I’ve only got one pair of ears so I don’t need any more earrings. I’m not into designer bags – to me a bag is just a thing to put stuff in. 

Lorraine Kelly and family
2014: With daughter Rosie Smith and husband Steve Smith celebrating her 30 years in breakfast TV. Photo: WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

But I’m very lucky to get a really good salary for working in television. So I use it to travel, that’s my luxury. Next week we’re putting all our things in a camper van and going to Namibia. We’ll just drive around and sleep on the top deck of our pop-up van. We’ll be building a fire and boiling some water and having boil-in-the-bag rice. It’s very basic but we did it before in Botswana and I absolutely love it. Every time you do something like that you’ll learn something amazing, and you learn something about yourself
as well.

Very early on in my job at TV-am I got to talk to people like Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Sammy Davis Jr. How incredible. On my first day at TV-am they were pre-recording an interview with Bette Davis. She was very ill at the time, and tiny, like a wee bird. What was hilarious was she was smoking a fag in the studio and you’re not allowed to smoke in the studio. And everyone was like, OK, who’s going to tell Bette Davis to put her fag out? I was watching from the gallery thinking, oh my god, I’m through the looking glass. This is the best thing ever. If I don’t do anything else in my life I’ve been in the same room as the legendary Bette Davis. 

If I could go back and tell 16-year-old me about becoming a well-known person I think she’d say bring it on! She was much bolder than I am now. When I was working for BBC Scotland the boss told me I would never make it in television because of my accent. But that gave me the balls somehow, when I knew there was a job going at TV-am, to phone the boss. I don’t think I could find the balls to do something like that these days. When you’re young, you’ve got nothing to lose. You don’t think, oh, what will they think of me? You just think, that looks like a good idea. I’m gonna go for that. 

Lorraine Kelly and Buzz Aldrin
2016: Interviewing Buzz Aldrin on Lorraine. Photo: S Meddle/ITV/Shutterstock

I do also think though, I’m quite confident in myself now. A lot of women in the public eye have pressure to look young, to have the perfect figure blah, blah, blah. I didn’t ever have that pressure because I was never hired because of how I look. That’s given me a freedom for my whole career.

I never got to interview David Bowie, and I’m quite glad I didn’t because, to be honest, I’d have been overwhelmed and I’d just have burbled nonsense at him. I did get to interview the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, And I was just looking at him and thinking, oh my god, when I was 10 years old I watched you land on the moon. I can’t believe this. Who would have thought when I was sitting watching those little black-and-white images of the moon landings with my dad, beside ourselves with excitement and joy, that one day I’d be sitting talking to Buzz Aldrin, for Christ’s sake.

Lorraine Kelly presents Queens For The Night on November 5 and Lorraine, weekdays at 9am, both on ITV

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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