When Julia Bradbury first stood in the stunning amphitheatre at the open-air Minack Theatre overlooking Porthcurno Bay, Cornwall, a decade ago she was pregnant with her nine-year-old son Zephyrus and desperately worried about her mother Chrissi who was ill with bowel cancer.
Today Julia, 50, has not only Zephyrus, but five-year-old twins Xanthe and Zena too – conceived after four rounds of IVF – and a thankfully cancer-free 83-year-old mum. She was reminded of that bittersweet time when she returned to the theatre this summer to film the eight-part ITV series Cornwall And Devon Walks With Julia Bradbury.
‘Phil Jackson, who runs the theatre, reminded me that Zeph was in my tummy when I was filming there for Countryfile. Mum was in the midst of treatment when I was pregnant, and that’s when she said to me, “I don’t want to go on.” I remember saying to her, “You have to. You’ve got to meet whoever’s in here.” She taps her stomach. “You’ve got to live.”
Julia Bradbury, 50, has gave an insight into how her family is handling lockdown and argued that the great outdoors is the ultimate panacea
‘To think that now she has lived, not only to see her grandson come into this world but two granddaughters. My poor mum…’
Julia, the younger of two sisters, is particularly close to her mother. So much so that in 2019 they explored her native Greek islands together in a six-part ITV travel series. She hasn’t seen Chrissi or her father Michael ‘for months’ and misses them both dreadfully. ‘My mum is desperate,’ she says. ‘She needs hugs and cuddles.
We Zoom every other day and they talk to the kids regularly, but it’s not the same as seeing them and kissing them and hugging them.
‘Dad’s OK. He gets out more than my mum. He’s the walker but he has this thing where when he bathes Zeph, he gives him a frizzle – he rubs him with his beard afterwards. Zeph misses that.
He misses his grandparents. We’re all missing those little human things you take for granted horribly. When we talk Mum’s very vocal about missing us and being sad – genuinely sad. It feels like a lifetime away that we were going around Greece together.’
Now Julia knows that, compared to many, her family is more fortunate – ‘touch wood’, she says – than most. ‘We haven’t had a direct loss because of Covid but it has been…’ She shakes her head.
Julia, who recently filmed an eight-part ITV series called Cornwall And Devon Walks (pictured), hopes her new TV series will inspire you to get out and enjoy nature
‘My parents are in their 80s. They’ve lived through cancer [her father survived prostate cancer shortly before Julia became pregnant with Zeph] and they can’t see us or their grandchildren.
‘I don’t want to sound morbid but you think, how long do you have left with your parents? I’m sure my mum isn’t doing it consciously but last year the gifts she gave her grandchildren – an olive tree in a beautiful bag she’d made with their initials on – well, I couldn’t help but feel she was giving them things to remember her by.
‘When they’re in their 80s they’re in their final furlong. Every day counts. For them to spend a year locked up unable to see their friends and family is horrible.
We talk about the importance of older people socialising and having a purpose and being part of the community to stay young, but now they can’t even go and help their friends because of the fear they’ll be at risk. It’s horrible the impact that has on mental health.’
Julia understands what it is to struggle with mental health issues. In her 30s, after being diagnosed with endometriosis and fearing she might never have children, she suffered what she calls ‘dark moments’ and so sought the help of a psychiatrist. Now she speaks about the therapeutic benefits of vitamin N, whereby N stands for Nature.
Julia, the younger of two sisters, is particularly close to her mother. So much so that in 2019 they explored her native Greek islands together in a six-part ITV travel series (pictured)
During lockdown she supported the Mental Health Foundation’s Thriving With Nature guide and began to work on this eight-part ITV walking series that takes the viewer from the beaches of the West Country to the ancient woodland. The scenery is so stunning you want to don your hiking boots and join her.
‘I was very keen this series should be a celebration of nature after coronavirus in this new normal, or whatever new normal we’re living in,’ she says. ‘People have genuinely come to appreciate our green spaces and love nature more than ever. Walking was one of the few things we were allowed to do.
The light fantastic
Julia alongside contemporary painter Kurt Jackson
Julia’s walk in the first episode of her new show takes her along a stretch of coast around Land’s End known for its special quality of light that has inspired artists for centuries.
Contemporary painter Kurt Jackson, whose large canvases reflect natural history, ecology and environmental issues, is one of them.
As they walk from Porthcurno, he explains, ‘There has always been this argument about the light – we’re in the far west, so you get this strong sunlight and clean air.
‘There’s something about the geology – the silica that’s suspended in the water – that’s reflecting the light so you get these intense colours and glimmers in the sea.’
‘In every episode you will hear me talking about how I walk every day and how important green spaces are to us. I genuinely believe we should be embracing nature for our mental and physical health, and that message is repeated throughout.’
Julia speaks at the speed with which she charges through life: fast. ‘The kids love the outdoors,’ she continues, barely pausing for breath.
‘This time last year I said to them, “What was your favourite day this year?” It was being outside on a cold, wet November day rolling down hills and having a wet leaf fight.
‘A few weeks ago we went for a family cycle ride to our local park and suddenly the heavens just opened. We weren’t prepared. We didn’t have our waterproofs on and the rain became hail. It was freezing cold. We took shelter under a massive tree and it passed in about ten minutes. As we were cycling away, one of my little girls was crying because her hands were blue. I said, “Keep moving. It will warm you up.”
‘Then we stopped, looked up and there was a double rainbow in the sky above us. The kids were awestruck. So that’s their favourite day this year. I urge everyone to get their dose of vitamin N every single day.’
To see Julia’s huge grin when she speaks about her children is wonderful. We’ve known one another for years. She had all but given up hope of having children when she conceived her ‘miracle baby’.
She was 40, but far too busy careering to think about rearing, having gone from reporting for GMTV in Los Angeles in the 90s to the BBC’s Watchdog and Countryfile, more than 50 Wainwright Walks and notoriety as the rambling man’s hot-buttered crumpet. When she paused to take a breath she feared she was too late to be a mum.
She wasn’t, as she says, ‘in a relationship’ with her children’s father, 61-year-old Irish property developer Gerard Cunningham (although they had known one another for 20 years) when she became pregnant.
They moved in together seven months later. ‘After I had Zeph I was surprised by the longing for him to have siblings,’ she says. ‘The motivation to have more children wasn’t because I was baby hungry but because of that. To be here now, a mother of three, is for me a very happy place to be.’
Will she marry Gerard? ‘No,’ she says. ‘It’s not something we think about or talk about. We’re parents. We’re a happy family although what I have noticed is my little boy has suffered during lockdown too.
‘We’re fortunate in that we have a garden and space and the facilities to enable our children to do online learning, but he’s suffered because of the lack of interaction with boys his own age.
‘He’s been playing with his sisters and they dress up and stuff which is good for his imagination, but he hasn’t matured during lockdown. I think it’s had a negative impact on his relationships at school and I can’t do anything about that because I can’t send him on playdates.’
Julia flashes her dazzling smile, but you know for all her jolliness she worries too. The first lockdown was, she says, ‘the first time in my children’s lives that I’ve ever spent that length of time with all of them without having to go away for work.
‘When I left to film this new series in between lockdowns, it was all right for the first two-week stint, but the second time they didn’t want me to go. There were lots of tears and clinging. Lockdown affects us all.
‘I’ve got fantastic friends I’ve had since my 20s who I regard as family. One of my friends had a massive tumour in his throat. He had an operation where there was a 40 per cent chance he wouldn’t get off the table. He did. I’m desperate to see him but I can’t.’
She shakes herself. ‘I’m not feeling sorry for us as a family, but this year was a milestone birthday for me. We were going to take my children to see their great-grandmother who is 103, now I don’t know if they’ll ever meet.’
She looks sad now. ‘The thing we can all do, that’s in our control, is access green spaces and nature. We can all grow an indoor plant. We can all have a window box. We can all go to our local park.
‘We can all get our dose of vitamin N every day, and there will be a time when children can sit in their grandparents’ laps again, curl their little legs around their calves and be as close to them as little beings can – there will.’
Cornwall And Devon Walks With Julia Bradbury starts on Wednesday at 8.30pm on ITV.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk