Hope and Gloria
Gloria Hunniford describes herself as a ‘jobbing journalist’ but she is so very much more than that. As a broadcaster, presenter, author and talented singer, Gloria is loved and respected by so many people for so many reasons. The pets in her life think she is pretty glorious too.
Gloria, named after the silent movie star, Gloria Swanson, was born and grew up in County Armagh in Northern Ireland. If she had remained faithful to her singing career, which began at the age of nine, then the world of broadcasting would have been deprived of one of its most distinctive voices. Fortunately, the BBC in Belfast recruited her as a production assistant and very soon realised they had a new presenter on their hands.
During the 1970s, Gloria devoted herself to her career and soon began to attract a huge following amongst listeners to her current affairs programmes and, later, slots on the World Service and her daily magazine programme. When Ulster TV asked her to host a daily show, Gloria Hunniford, television presenter, was truly born.
Television audiences warm to Gloria. It has something to do with her soft, Irish tones and much more to do with her unique talent for drawing people in and making them feel welcome in her company. “Being a familiar face on television brings so many people close to you, more than could ever be possible in everyday life,” purrs Gloria. “Meeting so many wonderful people is a real plus for someone like me, and I think that’s why I still love doing radio. It’s as if I’m sitting and chatting to people in their own living rooms.”
Gloria’s easy-going style lends itself perfectly to the chat show format. Programmes, including Gloria Live, Sunday, Sunday, Open House with Gloria Hunniford and being stand-in presenter on Wogan and This Morning made her a household name throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. Being so popular and frequently in the public eye has brought Gloria countless accolades including TV Personality of the Year, Radio Personality of the Year and Best Dressed Female. This kind of attention may not be everyone’s cup of tea but Gloria’s fans like to vote for her, every chance they get!
Gloria’s nine-year run on the Sunday morning show Heaven and Earth was a testimony to her popularity with the viewing public. The programme appealed to her because, she says: “It delved beneath the surface and gave viewers the opportunity to explore the moral and spiritual side of life. Our beliefs are what define us, and it’s exciting to look at issues which really mean something to all of us.”
Family is something that means everything to Gloria Hunniford. Her three children: Caron, Paul and Michael Keating are at the core of her life and when she lost her daughter, Caron, to cancer in 2004, it shook her foundations. While continuing to be a rock of support to her son-in-law and her two young grandsons, Gloria picked up her pen and started writing Next to You: Caron’s courage remembered by her mother.
“I wrote the book for the two boys. I wanted them to have something they could refer to any time and for always. Something that would tell them what their mother was like when she was a toddler, a schoolgirl and a student. Things she can no longer tell them herself,” says Gloria. “When I had finished the book I felt a sense of relief but more so a sense of satisfaction because I knew that if I was run over tomorrow, my grandsons would have this record of their wonderful mother.
I included pieces that Caron had written about her love for her sons and don’t we all wish we had such valuable words to treasure? I wanted the book to be a comfort to them when they are old enough to come to terms with their loss and need to understand it all.”
Providing comfort to the boys also included a gift of two rabbits. “I thought the boys would love to have a pet again so we gave them a rabbit each. I know rabbits can be great companions and something for the children to cuddle and care for. It seemed a good idea to share the rabbit theme with them so we adopted rabbits too!” Soon, Gloria and her husband, Stephen, had three hutches-worth of rabbits and were spending most of their time on cleaning duty! “It was a lovely idea but we realised that we were not being fair to our rabbit family and fortunately we were able to find good homes for them very quickly before it all got out of hand. But my grandsons love their bunnies and, as we all know, pets can be a great comfort, particularly in difficult times.”
For now, Gloria is happy to feed her need for a pet by pet-sitting her son’s dog from time-to-time, as she says: “I would love to have a dog again sometime but right now I’m too busy and it wouldn’t be fair to bring one into the family. We had dogs when our children were growing up and I do miss canine company.” Gloria was not allowed to have a dog or cat when she was a child in Ireland, purely because her father kept racing pigeons in the back garden. “It just wasn’t possible to have a dog, and certainly not a cat, because nothing could disturb or risk the safety of the pigeons. I didn’t really understand at the time. It was only much later in life that I realised how important those pigeons were. My father was breeding them for the war effort and many of them went on to serve as messengers with the Armed Forces, saving thousands of lives all over the world. Some of them may have even been awarded a PDSA Dickin Medal for their courage. It’s amazing really, but then so was my father.”
Gloria had to wait until she was married before she could have a dog. Jip came into her life and soon made himself at home in the Keating household. As the children came along, so did more animals, including their first rabbit, a genuine Easter bunny, called Peter.
“I thought it would be a lovely Easter gift for the children but within three weeks of Peter’s arrival, six baby bunnies arrived too! Of course we went on to have kittens for the children and then two more dogs arrived.” Gloria’s son, Michael, was given a Yellow Labrador he called Che, and then they were given another Labrador puppy, Remy, who was later joined by Honey, Gloria’s Bichon Frise. “How could I refuse the gift of a dog called Honey? Impossible! She was a wonderful little dog and we had thirteen wonderful years with her. She was such a good companion and all three dogs got on so well together. It was a lovely time and the children had so much pleasure from having the dogs around.”
Reaching out to others
Gloria’s home in Kent or her holiday retreat in Cornwall is where this busy woman finds solace, although her hectic schedule shows few windows for time off. She continues to be an
inspiration to many people of her generation as she practises what she preaches in her vigorous promotion of the benefits of good health, good eating and good exercise. Her radio work and recent television appearances on Celebrity Cash in the Attic and Castle in the Country, with John Craven, please her faithful fans, who like having her there in their homes.
Gritty and determined may not be the first words anyone would use to describe Gloria Hunniford but the passion she puts into her family, her work and her good causes shows she has enough grit to surface the M1, with heaps left over. The Caron Keating Foundation is at the heart of Gloria’s work and it stands alongside her unstinting devotion to her beloved grandsons and Caron’s memory. In her latest book: Always with you, which is due out in September 2008, she deals with the pain of loss, but don’t mistake it for a book devoid of hope. This book, like its author, radiates hope and reaches out to share its positive messages with others. Truly glorious.
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