On the eve of starring in a new prime time BBC game show, Birmingham’s own irrepressible Alison Hammond talks to David Johns about Big Brother, Strictly, This Morning, supporting small businesses – and scrumping for apples in Hall Green
Shy, retiring, a bit of a stay-at-home – and most definitely not a party animal. Sound like Big Brother housemate and zany This Morning presenter Alison Hammond to you? No, me neither! But these are the words that the lady herself uses to describe life when she is off-screen.
“I still live round the corner, five minutes away from my mum in Hall Green,” said Alison. “And I like doing dead ordinary things when I’m away from work – I just dropped my son off at the Snowdome and that’s more important and more fun than all the partying under the sun.”
On-screen it’s a different story of course, as no challenge, interview, or daredevil stunt is too mad for the effervescent Brummie. She’s carved out her own niche on This Morning alongside Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, presenting some of the craziest live broadcasts and getting the most natural reactions from Hollywood’s normally difficult-to-interview guests. Alison’s natural ‘take me the way you find me’ approach is hard to resist, even for A-listers.
NAILS IN THE JQ
“This is who I am,” she explains. “I am a private person in real life but very outward going when I have an audience. I’ve been living with myself this way now for 43 years so I’m not going to change now.” Alison’s roots in Birmingham are hugely important – while other famous names from the city have moved away in search of success, she has stayed firmly in the place she loves.
“I grew up in Kingstanding and went to Cardinal Wiseman School. Then we moved to Hall Green, where I still live just round the corner from mum. I love Birmingham. I love everything about it. I would never leave it. I get my nails done in the Jewellery Quarter and get my hair done too. I remember the Bullring market, my mum would go there on Fridays to get fish for dinner. Even now when I go to the Bullring, it still has the sense of the old market. Growing up I remember things like just playing out in the streets – kids can’t do that these days which is such a shame. And I used to love going apple scrumping.”
SELFIES AT BULLRING
Alison was at the Bullring recently posing for selfies and signing autographs as part of a campaign by Yell.com calling on Brummies to support independent businesses in the area. She said: “It’s the independents that make Birmingham a great city. These days, with all the competition, it’s more important than ever that Brummies get behind and support small businesses and shop local.”
We were speaking to Alison during a break in filming of a new BBC game show called The Time It Takes which airs immediately before the new series of Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday evenings this autumn. Alison is the referee on the show which is hosted by fellow Brummie, comedian Joe Lycett. “It’s great working with Joe and having two Brummies on the show,” said Alison. “It’s a big deal because it is being broadcast each week right before Strictly, so a real Saturday night family prime slot.”
Taking part in Strictly in 2014 was among Alison’s TV highlights. “The press coverage you get on Strictly is unbelievable,” she says. “And it is such a lovely show. The way everyone gets along is just how it is for real. And the public gets to see you as a person ¬– all your positives and all your insecurities. And the girls get to wear some amazing frocks!”
Despite becoming hugely popular with Strictly’s audience, Alison is clear about the opportunity that really changed her life. “Big Brother turned my life upside down,” she says. She appeared on the show’s third series, becoming the second housemate to be evicted. But even so, her personality made a big impression and she went on to appear in a host of TV programmes, including Celebrity Fit Club, Stars In Their Eyes, Ready Steady Cook, Loose Women, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and Celebrity Masterchef.
On ITV she became This Morning’s showbiz reporter, interviewing a host of top stars in her own unique, madcap way. She convinced a bemused Britney Spears to try her new dance moves and Donny Osmond to follow her lead and stuff his face with cream cakes. She also swooned under the spell of George Clooney. “I fancied him to bits and was so nervous. I accidently hit him with the microphone because I was shaking so much,” Alison recalls.
“I’ve done so many interviews now with so many famous people,” said Alison. “I can’t pick out one, they’ve all been highlights. I really enjoyed talking to them and I think they can see that and they respond accordingly.”
So, life just seems to get better and better for the girl from Brum. Any regrets? “One thing,” she admits. “I never went to university and so never got a degree. I would love to have a picture of me holding the diploma in the full gown and hat. I miss that…” And she adds with a laugh: “Maybe I’ll get an honorary degree one day? That’d be nice.”
For someone who is always smiling, it’s not surprising that there’s not much that upsets Alison. But she says: “I do get annoyed by people with bad manners. There is no excuse for rudeness. I also find it hard to understand why so many people appear to get angry for no real reason – stuff like road rage, you know… Life’s just too short.”