Best & Worst of Times / I'd be crying, then have to be bright and breezy: Gloria Hunniford talks to Danny Danziger

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Indy Lifestyle Online
We didn't have a great surplus of money, yet our mother seemed to provide everything we could need, and an abundance of love and affection. The smells of her home cooking are still very evocative in my mind, those smells of the kitchen, of stew on the top of the stove, of homemade soup, of endless bread and cakes being made in the oven, and that great background of comfort in the true sense of the word.

My parents had a good relationship, but my mother was subservient to my father: she wasn't cowed or intimidated, but he was the master of his own house, which was very typical of the Irish male at that time.

When we sat around the table, I was the one who always liked to continue the debate, but my mother would give me the eye, you know, 'Let this one go . . .', because my dad always had to have the last say.

I used to say to her: 'Why don't you query some of the things he says?' She always gave in, even to the extent that when I got married - I am a Northern Ireland Protestant, while my husband was an English Catholic - my father said, 'I'm sorry, if you marry a Catholic, I can't go to the wedding'. And once the decision was made, there was no backing down. My mother wanted to go to the wedding, but she couldn't, because he had issued the edict that they wouldn't be going.

I had to fight for my education. My father didn't see the point in going to college, he thought I should learn shorthand and typing. He and I had a real head-on clash about going to college.

At one point my mother said: 'If Gloria's that keen to continue, maybe you should think about it.' But he wouldn't relent, absolutely not. He always had the last word. 'She is not going to go to university, because I've decided otherwise.'

Now there's not a day goes by that I don't use that shorthand and typing, so it wasn't wasted, but it does make me query what might have happened if they'd let me have the opportunity of going on.

But I loved my parents very much and, right up until my father died, we all went to their house in Portadown for Christmas, and no matter where my sister and brother were living, we all came, grandchildren and everyone - and there wouldn't have been a week that went by when I wouldn't have been to see them.

We all think our parents are invincible, don't we? When my father died I was devastated. But when one parent dies, you keep as strong as you can for the other and, because my mother had been so dependent on him, we were terribly worried about how she would ever manage to make a life for herself. So instead of continuing the grieving, all our energies went into making things as positive for her as we could.

For example, by this stage I was living in England, and she was able to come over and have a great time with me here. I took her to the Royal Variety show, and I'd take her to the Ritz for tea, and she experienced things she never had before.

It was lovely to see her enjoying life again, she was full of fun, very friendly with everybody she met.

Then, one April, I went to the Seychelles for holidays; it was the most exotic holiday I'd ever had. And as I got off the plane back, I had an urgent call from my daughter, who told me that my mum had been taken to hospital and was likely to have a mastectomy, because they had discovered a lump. That was one hell of a shock, and it felt awful to think I'd been off enjoying myself on a beach, and here she was going through one of the biggest traumas of her life.

I immediately flew to Ireland and, sure enough, she had to have the breast removed.

The first time I saw her she was very down. The next day I went back and, I couldn't believe it, she was walking around, and that old spirit was back. I was thrilled for her.

In fact, she did very well all that year. And then the beginning of the next year, mum had been getting on a bus, and had fallen, and broken her arm.

The marking point really was shortly after that, when she fell out of her bed one day, and fell on to the broken arm. And from that moment on it was just a slow deterioration: the arm never healed, the cancer was spreading, too, and she realised she'd never be able to have real quality of life in her own house again.

I found it hard to watch the deterioration; it is devastating to see someone you love so much suffer.

Every day I'd be ringing the doctor, asking: 'What's the news today?'. I would be crying, and then maybe 10 minutes later I'd be on the radio, having to go 'Hey]' and being all bright and breezy, because nobody wants to hear someone being miserable on air.

I suppose all the way along we kept hoping she might make it. Lots of people do, and nobody had categorically said she was going to die, although by this stage the cancer had spread to the lymph glands, so we knew the odds weren't good. But, nevertheless, you have to live in hope, don't you?

When we knew she wouldn't get better, and she must have been suffering with the arm if nothing else, there was never a time when I said, I wish she would die, it would be a release for her. Never. There was always that longing just to be able to look at her.

When she was in the latter stages, I went over to Ireland practically every weekend, sometimes I came over for a day.

One Monday morning, having just got back from Ireland the night before, I got a call to say things were not good. I immediately got on the plane again, and missed her actual death by about an hour, which was a great regret. But a very comforting thing was that the previous night I had fed her her last meal.

For a year I wasn't really able to talk about her very much. It's a funny feeling when both parents die; I sort of felt like an orphan, even though I had children and a family of my own.

My lasting memory of my mother is how whenever we arrived at home, she would be at the door, smiling; and when we left, she would be at the door waving until we were right out of sight . . .

Gloria Hunniford presents her own weekday show on Radio 2. Her autobiography, 'Gloria', was published on 2 December by Century, price pounds 15.99.

(Photograph omitted)

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