Davina McCall shares her Surrey memories, favourite local haunts and views on Big Brother
PUBLISHED: 19:03 06 September 2011 | UPDATED: 15:57 20 February 2013
She may have just bought a house in Sussex, but Davina McCall, who has lived in Woldingham, near Caterham, for the past seven years, says she'll always have a soft spot for Surrey. Here, the Big Brother host talks to ANGELA WINTLE about her fond m...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2009
She may have just bought a house in Sussex, but Davina McCall, who has lived in Woldingham, near Caterham, for the past seven years, says she'll always have a soft spot for Surrey. Here, the Big Brother host talks to ANGELA WINTLE about her fond memories of growing up in the county, her favourite local haunts and why she'll be returning here next month to host a very special event at Painshill Park
DAVINA McCall has been all over the national newspapers again - and not through her own choosing. This time, it's because she has swapped her 1 million house at Woldingham, near Caterham, for a 3.2 million mansion just over the Sussex border. And the tabloids have been having a field day, publishing aerial shots of her new home and writing column inches on everything from her six bedrooms to the private access she now reportedly enjoys to her local railway station.
Davina, who values her privacy, is somewhat bemused by the extent of the press coverage, not least because much of it has been inaccurate.
"It's not that I mind doing press," she says calmly. "The bits that I have to do, I do willingly. But the coverage has meant that I've already got 20 people a day coming round to my house and ringing the doorbell. And if I talk about the house move myself, it will be the same thing all over again.
"I'm actually quite a private person. Wherever I lay my hat, wherever I'm living... my wish is just to blend in. I don't want to be difficult. I don't want to stand out. And I don't want my kids to be treated any differently. Sometimes, my work life is really mad and it's just nice to feel really mega-normal at home."
But while you can take Davina out of Surrey, you certainly can't take Surrey out of Davina. It's a county firmly embedded in her heart, not least because it was where she found security after her parents' marriage break-up when she was just three years old. Her mother, who she describes as "a wild Sixties person who didn't have it in her to look after me", went back to live in her native France, and her father decided it would be best if she was brought up by her grandparents in Bramley, near Guildford.
Childhood in Surrey
Enter the heroine of this tale, Davina's much-loved grandmother, Pippy, now 88 and still living in Surrey, who welcomed her granddaughter with open arms, bringing her up as her own.
"My grandparents were granted ward of court and my grandmother was absolutely thrilled that I went to live with her because she is the most maternal person and has spent her whole life mothering people," says Davina affectionately. "Thanks to her, I had a very solid upbringing, with plenty of good morals and manners. It was very much a case of 'waste not, want not', and I was expected to eat every morsel off my plate.
"I still see a lot of her and she's definitely the matriarch of the family. If any of us haven't been in touch, she rings and says: 'Have you contacted so and so this week?' She keeps our whole family stuck together like glue."
At 13, Davina went to live with her father and his second wife in London ("it was simply because they were in a position to look after me by then"). For several years, while she steadily built her career - first as a cabaret singer in Paris and then as a booker for a London modelling agency - she turned her back on her beloved Surrey. But when she finally got married and had children with former Channel 4 Pet Rescue presenter, Matthew Robertson (more of whom later), she decided to return to her roots, settling in a six-bedroom house, which, by the time they'd finished upgrading it, boasted an indoor swimming pool complex, a steam room and sweeping veranda. It was something of a county reunion for both of them as Matthew is a Surrey boy, too.
They spent seven contented years in Woldingham, and Davina misses many aspects of the county. Top of her list is Robertsons in Oxted, which she fondly describes as one of the last classic English tea and coffee shops. "They sell delicious baked potatoes, freshly-made sandwiches and homemade cakes - and I could wax lyrical about it forever," she says dreamily. Her favourite county pubs include The Red Barn and the Hare and Hounds at Lingfield, not least because customers respect her privacy and don't give her a second glance. "The first time I went in them, there might have been a whisper, but the second time nobody really bothered," she says. "Thankfully, I've never had anybody be nasty to me. I don't get that kind of hassle."
She returns frequently to Surrey. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Davina hosted an auction that raised 10,000 towards the restoration of the pipe organ at Holy Trinity Church, Bramley, last repaired in the 1960s.
A visit to Cobham
And next month, she will be returning to her old stomping ground again to promote a charity very close to her heart. The mother-of-three will be hosting a ladies luncheon at Painshill Park in Cobham to support the Touching Tiny Lives appeal run by the charity Action Medical Research.
Tragically, more than 25 premature babies die in the UK each week and some 70,000 newborn babies need special care each year.
The appeal helps raise funds for vital medical research into reducing pregnancy complications and premature birth, and gives babies a better start in life.
Davina has hosted two such previous events and, once again, she'll be cheerfully posing for pictures with guests and signing autographs.
"A room full of women, all having a laugh with their best mates, is always a great place to be," she says. "It's just the magic that happens when women get together. There are no social barriers. There's never that issue of girls not getting on with other tables.
"But the major thing to expect is that we'll all have a laugh. Mind you, we'll probably cry a bit, too, because the charity usually shows a film about its inspiring work. But we'll probably laugh more than cry and it promises to be a great day."
She has been supporting the charity since the age of nine because her grandmother was a leading fundraiser at its Bramley branch.
"I did the sponsored walk every year because whatever she did, I did. I think it's nice when you've got roots and some kind of connection. And any charity that helps fund research into children and maternal health is of interest to me because I'm a woman and I have daughters."
Davina is currently making the most of some quiet time with her family after the latest airing of Celebrity Big Brother. She's delighted that Ulrika Jonsson emerged triumphant from the house and says it's always a
pleasure when somebody wins who wasn't expecting it.
"I thought Verne Troyer was going to win because the public loved him, but his antics later in the series probably cost him votes," she says. "And I just fell in love with Terry Christian. There was no one I disliked, although sometimes the most annoying people entertain me the most."
Davina is noticeably proprietorial about Big Brother and still gets frissons of excitement during the build-up.
"I love seeing the housemates' characters emerge. I get to know them as the public do, and when they come
out, I feel like I'm meeting a celebrity."
Big Brother's future
Some say the show has run its course, but she vehemently disagrees.
"I think it will run and run. As long as it's attracting viewers and making money for Channel 4, I don't see why it should stop.
"It might not be everybody's cup of tea, and nothing gets the flak Big Brother does, which seems ridiculous when you think it's just a live entertainment show, but people totally miss the point - it's just a really entertaining programme."
It would have been hard to predict Davina's success when she was a rebellious and attention-seeking teenager. But as she matured, she grew ever more ambitious, and after bombarding MTV with audition tapes, her single-mindedness paid off and she was finally given a slot, swiftly followed by her own show.
Nevertheless, despite the success that followed, she still craved happiness and security until a fortuitous meeting with her future husband, the aforementioned Matthew Robertson, in a park near her West London home.
They were both out walking their dogs and when Davina spotted this handsome man in the distance, she knew she couldn't let the moment pass and struck up a conversation. Several weeks later, after countless more 'accidental' meetings, romance blossomed.
"I never wore skirts when walking the dog, and then, suddenly, there I was in flowery dresses and wellies trying to look like Jessica Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice," she laughs. "A fortnight later, we had our first kiss. Immediately, I thought: 'Oh my God, it's all going to change. Everything will go wrong like it always has in the past.' But then I thought: 'Just go for it.'"
She describes Matthew as her perfect partner. "He's the only man I could imagine not having a problem with what I do. Although he was only in the business for a short time, it did give him an insight into how weird it is. The things I love about him most are his optimism and positivity. I've always been a very emotional person and when I met Matthew I felt grounded for the first time. I just can't imagine being with anybody else and I'd be lost without him."
Now, of course, they're the proud parents of three children, Holly, seven, Tilly, five, and Chester, two, who were all born at their former home in Woldingham.
But devoted though Davina is to being a mum, she has a packed year lined up professionally. She'll be appearing in a new BBC series of Who Do You Think You Are? later this year (filming started last month) and this summer she'll present another series of Big Brother.
If speculation is to be believed, it may be her last and despite her strong views about the show's continuing appeal she has obviously given it some thought.
"It does get much more difficult for women as they get older, but I'm good at my job and I'm sure that even when I'm an old biddy there'll still be something for me to do," she says. "If it did all end tomorrow, I'd be a housewife - it's a great job.
"For me, fulfilment is about achieving your dreams. And my dream was to get married and have kids. I love my job, but my goal in life was never to be at the top of my game. All I've ever really wanted is to put a roof over my head and do all the things that other people want to do. Everything else has been an amazing bonus."