Zoe Ball: 'I'm quite loved up at the moment'
Her marriage is wonderful, she's given up alcohol and from tomorrow she's hosting the nightly 'Strictly' spin-off show 'It Takes Two'. Susie Mesure meets Zoe Ball
You name it, Zoe Ball is "loving it". Anything and everything, it's all good, apparently. Whether she's high on life, sugar, or possibly endorphins, Ball's good humour is irritatingly infectious. In the space of 10 minutes, she's managed to make me wish that I, too, got my kicks from Nutella, instant coffee, and Tracy Anderson's butt crunches.
There can't be many people who can make you envy an alcohol-free cocktail, but listening to the radio DJ-cum-TV presenter expound the delights of the "Del-boy"-worthy Piña Colada extravaganza she and "Norm" – Norman Cook, her DJ husband of 12 years – had on holiday in Ibiza, I'm practically salivating. Not to mention pledging to follow her lead and renounce all booze, something she and her husband did three years ago.
"I'm much happier. I think I'm a better mum; I'm a better employee, and a better friend. Hopefully. It's incredible," Ball, 41, says of her new lifestyle. It certainly made it easier getting up to fill in last month for Chris Evans on his Radio 2 breakfast show. "It seemed like a huge mountain to climb, but once you get over the top, you realise you can survive without it and still have a brilliant laugh. You just go to bed a little bit earlier. Or go to bed, which is a good start. And you always wake up feeling pretty good in the morning."
She swings her long, newly toned leg – thank you, Tracy Anderson – over the arm of her chair and flashes me another of her face-splitting grins. "That opening moment will be hilaaaarious. 'And now, here's … um, hello Dad.'" We're talking Strictly Come Dancing, or, rather, It Takes Two, the nightly spin-off gossip show she will be hosting from tomorrow. She giggles, thinking of Wednesday when she will introduce her father, one Johnny Ball, to the nation.
You see, it's a case of like daughter, like father, with the two Balls. And not just because of those noses. Seven years after Zoe managed a respectable third on Strictly, Johnny, a one-time children's telly supremo, is also strutting his stuff on the BBC show. "I just hope the judges won't give him a really hard time. I imagine Craig is probably going to tear into him," she says, looking nervous at the prospect. "Goodness knows what he's going to score."
She consoles herself by remembering that at least no one gets voted off during the first week. "I saw him rehearse yesterday. He dances like a 74-year-old. He's not going to be a Louis [Smith], a Nicky [Byrne], or a Denise [Van Outen]. They can physically do things that he possibly can't. But he's not going to shame the family. And that's good."
Along with Cook, or Fatboy Slim to use his stage name, family for Ball means her "nearly 12-year-old son, Woody" and daughter Nelly, who is almost three. That Nelly came along barely months into her new life of sobriety was no coincidence, Ball admits. Neither, surely, can be the energy she swears she still has in spades, despite falling into the older mum bracket. "The fact that people can have them older is really fantastic. I've got so many friends having kids now in their mid to late forties and loving it. It's really fantastic. I mean, we'll all be knackered when we're 60..."
This doesn't mean they're planning sprog number three, however. "Norm's 50 next year; I'll be 43. We're so blessed and our two are doing great, so we think: 'Let's leave it at that.' There are lots of babies around. So I can get my kicks and give them back and think: 'Good luck with the sleepless nights.' " Being Zoe, though, she'd be trying to help find a solution rather than just tucking herself up tight. I leave with the offer of her sleep-whispering nanny when I confess my own child-related tales of nocturnal woes.
It's this approach that keeps Ball, who lives in a beachfront house in Hove, Sussex, bouncing through life despite her very public breakdowns, on both the personal and professional fronts. How many showbiz stars can boast of a stronger relationship after splitting up and getting back together? Yet Ball got away with walking out on Cook and their then two-year-old son for DJ Dan Peppe. She's also firmly back in the BBC firmament, despite potentially throwing away her career early on, when her hedonistic lifestyle meant she barely lasted two years in the breakfast-show hot seat at Radio 1, where she'd made history by becoming the first female presenter.
Looking back, she says: "I think at the time, life changed quite a lot: I met Norman, I had some amazing adventures. People tend to have to remind me of a lot of them." One snap sums it up: the sunglasses-toting, Stetson-wearing, bride-to-be on her wedding day clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels, cigarette in mouth. But that was then, and this is now.
"I'm really grateful that Radio 2 has taken me in. I feel really at home there, I love it. It's great to be back in radio." For now, she's happy being a "supply teacher" and filling in when regulars like Evans are on holiday. Although, once Nelly reaches school age, "who knows", she adds.
She is briefly wistful when talking about "Grimmy" – the latest Radio 1 breakfast show star Nick Grimshaw, who she thinks is amazing. "I love listening to him, he makes me laugh. He's very quick and clever and I wish I was a little bit younger so I could go out drinking with him."
Except she doesn't really. She's perfectly happy at home with her kids, especially at bedtime when it's time for their stories. In fact, stories are the reason we've met up because she's helping Disney to persuade parents to read more to their children. Coming from the cartoon giant Disney, that's a bit like McDonald's pushing healthy eating, but as Ball says: "If it brings characters like Winnie the Pooh into children's lives, then when they're older they can dig out the books."
Ball's just as happy if she's not the one doing the reading. "I had a real sort of proper, warm-glow moment when Woody read to his sister the other day, and I just sat on the floor in his room and thought: 'I need to remember this moment for ever.' It's very sad, God, I'm getting tearful. But it's such a special time."
She is, needless to say, "loving it" all. Or, as she puts it: "I'm quite loved up at the moment." Definitely make mine whatever she's having. Especially if it comes with a maraschino cherry on the top, like her and Norm's Ibiza cocktail.
23 Nov, 1970 Born in Blackpool. Mother, Julia, leaves when Zoe is two and father, Johnny, raises her.
1978 Moves to Farnham Common, Bucks. Attends Holy Cross Convent School in Chalfont St Peter.
1994 Gets first TV job presenting a children's show on art on the BBC.
1996 Becomes regular Top of the Pops presenter alongside DJs Jayne Middlemiss and Jo Whiley.
1997 Starts co-hosting Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Kevin Greening.
1999 Marries fellow Radio 1 DJ and musician Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, at Babington House, Somerset.
2000 Their son, Woody, is born.
2003 Couple split up after Ball admits to an affair with DJ Dan Peppe, but they patch it up three months later.
2005 Ball finishes third in that year's Strictly Come Dancing.
2010 Daughter Nelly May Lois is born.
2012 Hosts BBC's Strictly Come Dancing spin-off, It Takes Two.
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