A good dose of the other medicine

Anna Ford talks to Gabi Nobis about her Radio 4 show exploring the popularity of contemporary and alternative medicine - and whether it works
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The Independent Online

Thirty-two years ago Anna Ford worked as a staff tutor for The Open University, an organisation that she cannot speak highly enough of, and one she has returned to many times, since "falling into" the world of broadcasting.

Thirty-two years ago Anna Ford worked as a staff tutor for The Open University, an organisation that she cannot speak highly enough of, and one she has returned to many times, since "falling into" the world of broadcasting.

She is currently the presenter of The Other Medicine, an Open University, BBC Radio 4 co-production, in which she steps into the world of contemporary or alternative medicine (CAM).

Ford's own philosophy is in tune with that of CAM. "I have held an interest in this type of medicine for a long time," she says. "I have always had the notion that health is about keeping well rather than mending yourself afterwards."

She is by no means alone in her beliefs, and she says that she found it interesting to discover just how many people are actually using some form of CAM each year: "One in five Britons use some form of CAM, and 49 per cent of GPs are recommending this form of medicine to their patients," she says. "People are taking control of their own lives. Through the Net and through articles in newspapers and magazines, we are now able to look at our bodies in a more intelligent way, and as a result more and more people are turning to CAM."

The Other Medicine asks why such large numbers of people are turning to CAM, and investigates whether CAM works, whether it is in anyway harmful and whether this industry - worth £1.6bn a year in the UK - should be made more available on the NHS. One of the aspects of CAM that Ford became intrigued with while recording The Other Medicine was the placebo effect: "Once people think they are getting better, it has a tremendous effect on their healing. Their psychological state has a large impact on their wellbeing."

Ford admits this is not something new, but something that she feels needs to be highlighted more often. "Society has known about this for a long time - other medicines and philosophies have recognised this effect for centuries. However, scientific methods seem to have forgotten that the spirit is an important part of feeling well," she says.

In her 30 years in broadcasting, Ford has watched the world of journalism change: "One major change is the number of woman in the industry. When I first worked at ITN, I would walk into a meeting and would find myself in a room with only men. Their attitude then still contained an element of chauvinism - not intentionally, but because they didn't know how to deal with women," she says.

Just before meeting Ford, I watched her deliver the One o'Clock News on a monitor as I waited in the BBC's White City offices. I was immediately struck by her ease and eloquence. Ford attributes her success in newsreading partly to her style of delivery: as if talking to a friend down at the pub. However, after such a long and distinguished journalistic career (one which she intends to remain for a number of years yet), she is looking forward to a quieter life.

"I want to live a life out of the public eye, knocking around with friends, going to the opera, listening to music and seeing a lot of films," she says.

With more time on her hands, Anna says she might even let her life come full circle and study at the university that she used to teach at, and from which she has already received an honorary degree.

"The Open University appeals to me because it is so supportive. I wouldn't be totally on my own. I would love to study English or the Classics. Thoughts that have reverberated through the centuries are wonderful pointers to understanding the human condition."

Ford feels that a lot of the success she enjoys has to do with how she communicates, and from her study ambitions it is clear she hopes to extend herself further in this area: "I have always had an interest in words, I come from a verbal family, and I admire people who are able to explain their ideas clearly."

Ford's interest in the views and experiences of others is paramount to her success. Indeed, in the half-hour this interview lasted, she managed to discover as much about me (maybe more so), than I discovered about her. Perhaps this explains her longevity- and success - in broadcasting.

Anna Ford presents the Open University/BBC co-production 'The Other Medicine' on Radio 4 tonight and each following Tuesday until 26 October at 9pm

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