I’m incredibly excited to feature an interview with Christine Webber, former Anglia TV news presenter, agony aunt, psychotherapist and author, as part of my ‘What I did at 50’ series today. Read on and enjoy!
Hi, Christine. Thank you so much for ‘appearing’ on my blog. I’m excited to say that we’re going to be discussing your wonderfully interesting life, in line with my series of features entitled What I did at 50.
As someone who’s now approaching my late fifties, I’m constantly seeking out new challenges and adventures. What has been your attitude to each transition from decade to decade?
Hi, Tracey. I am a great believer in landmark birthdays spurring you onto greater things.
I share your sentiment. First of all, what were you like as a child and what did you imagine you might one day become?
From a very early age, I just knew I wanted to do something different. I know this doesn’t sound very nice but I wanted a life full of incident and for it to be very different from that of my parents.
Did you have any further goals as you moved into your 20s and beyond?
I was quite musical and I played the piano reasonably well as a child. (I still play!) But my main goal as I grew into my late teens was to be a professional singer. I trained at the Guildhall School of Music. I did have a career of sorts, but I was just not good enough to make a good living at it. I did some acting. Again, I was nothing special. And then I turned my attention to television. I had a feeling I might be better at that. So, I gave myself until 30 to get into the business and managed to land a continuity announcer job for British Forces Broadcasting just before that deadline. This led, two years later to my dream job as a TV news presenter for Anglia TV.
Wow, getting your dream job must have felt amazing. I remember that my sister wanted to be a news presenter as a child, and used to practice announcing to the rest of us. Tell us something about the job. Was work fulfilling enough to meet all of your needs? Tell us more…
It was absolutely wonderful. And all my greatest friends stem from that time. I presented the news and also produced and presented features within the programme. This was when there were only four channels and the media world was very different from how it is now. I interviewed so many interesting people. I think Prince Philip was the most prestigious but actually when you interview a member of the Royal family, all the questions are decided ahead of time – by a committee really – so it wasn’t particularly satisfying. But I did enjoy chatting to actors, writers, artists, politicians and lots of so-called ‘ordinary people’ who were doing extraordinary things.
Then I decided as I approached 40 that I would write a novel, and that I would make a career-change from television into writing. It wasn’t quite as simple as that! But I entered the novel into a competition for first-time writers. I didn’t win, but somehow, luckily for me, the publishers on the judging panel felt I had something to offer and In Honour Bound was published by Century shortly after my 40th birthday. The other thing about being 40 was that I realised I had found the love of my life and I married him a year later. He was a doctor, called David Delvin, who I had booked to do a medical slot with me in 1983. We worked together very happily, fell in love in 1987 around my 40th birthday and married a year later.
I love the photo. Let’s move on to the decade in question. What happened at the age of 50?
Aged 50, having left television and moved into the world of being an agony aunt, I nailed what I thought was going to be a job for life with TV Times. The two previous incumbents had been Katie Boyle and then Miriam Stoppard. Both held the position for years and years. Imagine my disappointment only a few months later, when the editor decided to get rid of all features in the magazine that were anything to do with health – and the agony aunt column was one of the casualties.
I’m sorry to hear that. It must have felt devastating. (On a side-note, Miriam Stoppard’s Pregnancy and Childbirth book was one of my bibles when I was expecting my first son!) But anyway, being an agony aunt must have been fascinating, for the duration it lasted.
Having accepted the loss of that job, what did you decide to do after that?
There was quite a lean period, as I recall, but eventually I got other agony aunt jobs both in print and on TV. But being 50 made me look more carefully at my future career and I made the very significant decision to train as a psychotherapist. This gave me credibility as an agony aunt and also generated more TV work as an ‘expert’ rather than as a presenter. It also led to the commission of three self-help books – Get the Happiness Habit, Get the Self-Esteem Habit and How To Mend a Broken Heart. Additionally, together with my husband, I wrote all the sex and relationship content of the Netdoctor website. And I started a practice in Harley Street.
How to Mend a Broken Heart
Training as a psychotherapist was a good move, then. It sounds as though you became incredibly busy, and I imagine it was satisfying to work alongside your husband on the Netdoctor website. What led on from that?
At 60 I chose to stop writing the kind of self-help books I’d been penning and set about trying to write a comprehensive book about ageing; ageing in a way that was very different from that of our parents. It took a while, a change of publisher and agent to achieve that ambition but when I was 63, finally, Too Young to Get Old hit the bookshelves.
Too Young to Get Old
I must look that book up. I’m definitely too young to get old! Did you make any more life-changing decisions?
I carried on with writing columns for magazines like BBC Parenting and for websites, and David and I landed a joint column in the health section of The Spectator. But as I was approaching 70, I realised that if I was going to return to writing fiction, I’d better get on with it before I got too old. For a variety of reasons, I decided to indie publish. And Who’d Have Thought It? – a romantic comedy for mid-life readers – came out eight months before the big birthday. This has been followed by It’s Who We Are and a re-write of my first novel In Honour Bound.
Who’d Have Thought It? and It’s Who We Are
So what’s next for you, Christine?
My landmark 70th year was very happy in some ways because of my fiction writing. But very sad because my lovely husband died before I was 71. We knew he was ill. It wasn’t sudden. And we absolutely made the best of those last months, but to say there is a gap in my life now would be a massive understatement. I do however remain very grateful for the 30 years we had together which were absolutely marvellous.
I’m so glad the two of you made the most of your last months together, and I’m happy you have such wonderful memories…
What are your plans now?
I have more time on my hands now to write and do various other things, so I keep very busy. Quite apart from anything else, feeling useful and occupied helps me to deal with the loss of David. I am about 30,000 words into my next book which is all about three women in their late 50s and early 60s at major crossroads in their lives.
Also, I am taking up opportunities that present themselves that I certainly could not have tackled when David was ill. One lovely thing is that I have become an interviewer/presenter for the Royal Opera House for their Insights Programmes. These are tributes to great artists who work at Covent Garden and in them we explore that person’s career and talk about their life, and play clips of their triumphs, for an hour and a half in front of an audience.
I was very fortunate to be approached by Gary Avis, a marvellous dancer – the Principal Character Artist of the Royal Ballet – to host his evening. That was a real thrill. Over the years Gary has become a great friend so to have been given the honour of guiding him through his big night was just fantastic. And a couple of weeks ago, I also had the privilege of interviewing the world-famous bass baritone, Sir Bryn Terfel.
Interviewing Sir Bryn Terfel
It’s great to have a new adjunct to my career at 72!
Also, I have been asked to be in a pantomime this Christmas. (The last time that happened was in 1976!) I am going to job-share the role of Fairy Beanstalk with my great friend Helen McDermott. Needless to say, the fairy will be a pretty old and daffy one.
The next thing to decide I suppose is what on earth I can do that’s new when I’m 80!
I’ve enjoyed this interview with you so much, Christine. Many thanks for taking part and I wish you all the very best with your future endeavours, whatever they may be!
Here are a few details about Christine’s novel, In Honour Bound.
In Honour Bound BUY HERE
Blurb: Set in 1980’s London, Helen Bartlett, a popular TV news presenter and Sam Aziz, a glamorous middle-eastern cardiac surgeon, meet on a live programme. They dislike each other on sight, and the interview is a disaster. But that is not the end of their story because later that evening, they find themselves at the same dinner party.
Over the weeks, hostility morphs into passion, and soon they fall desperately in love.
Both are looking for the right partner with whom to settle down and produce a family. They seem made for each other; they delight in the joy that they have found, and plan to marry. But then, the differences in their cultural backgrounds start to manifest themselves. And a debt of honour that Sam cannot ignore returns to haunt him.
Struggling with their torment, while she is so much in the public eye and he is performing life-saving surgery on a daily basis, places them under intolerable strain.
Must they relinquish the most magical relationship either of them has ever known? Can they find a way out of their dilemmas? Or do they have to accept that no matter how modern we are, we cannot fly in the face of the traditions that served, and shaped us, for centuries?
Connect with Christine:
Web Christine Webber