How We Met: Amanda Prowse & Carol Vorderman - 'She took me up for a helicopter flight with Lord Coe; I was sick on his leg'


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Carol Vorderman, 53

After co-hosting 'Countdown' for 26 years, Vorderman (right in picture) has presented TV shows including 'Loose Women'. Her book 'Detox For Life' has sold more than a million copies. She lives in Bristol with her two children

We are like yin and yang; I am Mrs Numbers and science, and when I talk about aeroplanes [Vorderman is a qualified pilot], her eyes glaze over. And I don't read novels, while she writes them. But without her, my life would be a lot poorer.

Our sons were both nine and in the same house at a private school when we met, nearly eight years ago. I'm not a school-gate mum at all, but I'd just moved to Bristol from London and I wanted to settle my son in for the first few weeks by going along. One evening, a lot of mums were at the school [for an event] and were talking about their kids for ages – I hate that sort of competitive parenting – and I was inwardly rolling my eyes. I caught Mandy's eyes and I could tell she was doing the same, so I shuffled over to talk to her. She's stunning, with this wild mane of curly blonde hair, and when we got chatting I realised she was funny and very sharp – and that's where it started.

I was around Bristol a lot before I started on Loose Women, and we'd see each other all the time. We'd drop the boys off at 8am, go to our coffee-shop HQ in the middle of Clifton and set our agenda for the afternoon.

It soon became clear that we shared many experiences in life. We both went through the single-mum thing; she loves my daughter Katie, who's now 22 – she's the daughter Mandy didn't have. Sometimes when we meet people, Katie will go, "And this is Mandy, my foster mother," and people turn to look at me and think, "Vorderman, I always knew you were a rubbish mother!"

Countdown was like a second home to me, but I got really hammered by [Channel 4] when the new boss decided he didn't want me any more; I was not allowed to leave with any grace or dignity. And leaving, I grieved again [for Richard Whiteley, the presenter who died in 2005]. It took a few years to come out of all that and Amanda was always there; sometimes she'd just listen to me raging against the world – and sometimes she'd rage with me.

When Mandy started writing, she'd send a manuscript off and people just sent it back. So in 2011, I said, this is a special year for the Royal British Legion – the 11th hour of the 11th month, 2011 – why don't you give them [Poppy Day, about an Army wife] to print and let them keep the royalties? She didn't get a penny from it, but it raised £80,000, and after that agents were aware of her and her career got going.

She thinks I can't cook, but the truth is, I won't cook… I get bored by it – I go off to do something else, so, yes, food can get burnt. She'll tell me off for saying this but her stuff is actually much more basic than mine; not that there's any competition!

Amanda Prowse, 46

A former management consultant, Prowse began writing full-time after her first book, 'Poppy Day', became a bestseller. She has since written four further books in her 'No Greater Love' series. She lives in Bristol with her two children and her husband, a Major in the British Army

Carol's son is the same age as my boy, and about seven years ago we were both stood in a collection of mums while some were talking about how amazing their kids were. I caught Carol's eye and I think we were both thinking the same thing. While some parents [brag] about how well their child can play the violin, in our house we celebrate mediocrity!

We went for a coffee and started chatting. Though I knew who she was, I didn't have any preconceived ideas about her. She's a beautiful, glamorous woman but down-to-earth, and we really hit it off. And after seven years, she gets me more than anyone else.

We're polar opposites, though. I'm a words person and she's a numbers girl. I'm a lot more vociferous than her. And while she loves flying – after leaving Countdown she went to San Diego to learn to be a pilot – I vomit if she takes me up. She took me on a helicopter flight in 2012 with Lord Coe and I was sick on his leg!

She's been there in tough times – and those times do bind you closer. Two to three years ago she really helped me when my husband was away on a difficult tour of Afghanistan. I felt fraught about it and along with my boys' exams, it was a highly stressful period. So she said, "Come live with me." It was like going back to my student days; we'd meet on the stairs – in our pyjamas or a towel – and sit there and chat for hours. It was great, too, to share the responsibility of childcare: it was a lovely way to live for a few months, though she can't cook; she burns stuff. So when she'd offer, I'd say, "Let's just go to the chippy."

We've had great holidays together: in January she asked if I fancied a week in Portugal. She sneakily kept from me that it was a two-week juice fast, involving hiking up and down mountains all day; I was so hungry I stole oranges from an orchard. But we came back fitter and healthier; she's always been ahead of the game with her detox books.

She's given me confidence; when I was deciding whether I could write a book, she said to go for it; that it was better to fail than not to try at all – she's a working-class girl made good, and that's how she approaches everything. She says my new book made her cry more than any she's read, though compared with all those maths books, that isn't a surprise.

I used to beat myself up for being a working single mum, thinking I should have been there for my son for this or that, but Carol says, "You were out making a life for him."

What's great is that I don't have one single secret from her and she still likes me.

Amanda Prowse's books 'Will You Remember Me?' (£10, Head of Zeus) and 'A Little Love' (£7.99, Head of Zeus) are out now