Lowri Turner has a hangover. Pale around the gills, dressed in funereal black, and patently somewhat fraught, she opens the door to her enviable Victorian terraced house in London, looking rather like a do-it-yourself disaster - she freely admits that her fragile condition is self-inflicted.
"I’m exhausted! I was on a date with a toyboy last night," she groans, sitting down at her kitchen table, which is littered with boys’ toys - the diminutive novelist, and bright and breezy presenter of TV ratings-grabbers such as DIY SOS and, ironically, the dating show Would Like to Meet, is the mother of two small sons.
Skilfully and speedily she repairs the damage while we talk, making up her face and straightening her glossy, chemically enhanced blonde bob. While looking at her reflection in the eye-level door of the oven, the star of hit TV programmes such as Looking Good and Celebrity Fit Club confides that she made the mistake of asking her date how old he thought she was.
"Oh, I think I know," the 26-year-old replied enigmatically. "I didn’t pursue the matter," says 39-year-old Turner, snorting with laughter. "If he had said 45 I would have been devastated. I’m hoping that he thought I was about 35. God, this guy’s father’s only 50! If my date could see me now." She should worry - she looks at least a decade younger than her years, being small, curvy and clear-complexioned, despite the hangover. She’s also as bouncy as Tigger and has a self- deprecating sense of humour. It’s a talent she uses to some effect in her perceptive and polished novels, the latest of which, the wickedly witty Switchcraft, has just been published.
Turner, who split from her husband - veteran newspaper and radio journalist Paul Connew in 2002 - began dating again only recently. Ostensibly, she’s writing about her adventures for a newspaper, but she also put herself back on the market because she wants to escape from "the emotional limbo" into which the acrimonious divorce consigned her. She’s poured everything into her children since breaking up with their father, she says, supporting them with tender, loving care through this massive change in their lives. "Adult relationships have been on hold," she confides.
Now, though, she would like to meet a kind, attractive man. So far she’s had a blind date, been dance dating at a tango and salsa singles evening, and has tried speed dating. Turner preferred the latter since for a small woman, barely 4ft 10in tall, minus heels, she’s big on chemical attraction. "I know instantly whether I fancy a guy or not. With speed dating you have three minutes and, believe me, with some guys, 30 seconds is ample," she says with a grin. Turner has no wish to date someone who recognises her. "I’m not interested in men who want to date Lowri Turner, minor television celebrity, but it’s amazing how many men don’t even own a TV, especially the foreign ones," she explains.
"Maybe everyone feels a little numb after a break-up," Turner wrote when she started accepting dates after her children began spending weekends with their father, who has four children from previous marriages. "Or maybe not. I watch someone like Sadie Frost, apparently swapping Jude Law for Jackson Scott in the bat of a gnat’s eye, with utter amazement. How do you do that?" Today, she tells me: "I just knew I needed time for the dust to settle; I had to cocoon for a while."
In any case, Turner was convinced she was off the singles shelf forever when she and the then 50-year-old Connew married in 2001, after living together for six years. It was a thoroughly modern media marriage. She and Connew - who took on the role of house-husband while the high-earning Turner became sole breadwinner - wore matching Chinese satin outfits and their nine-month-old baby, Griffin (now four), was guest of honour.
A photographer from Hello! magazine was in attendance - Turner had sold the wedding pictures to them for 75,000. The curse of Hello! soon struck, however, since she was only just pregnant with their second son, Merlin (almost two), when the marriage broke down less than a year later. Nonetheless, she sold the pictures of herself and her two bundles of joy to OK! magazine. Griffin’s birth had also been celebrated in another celebrity mag.
Turner won’t talk about the divorce. She mimes zipping her mouth when I ask her about it. I quote a tabloid newspaper article in which "friends" of the couple alleged that she was jealous of her husband’s increasingly close relationship with their firstborn. Yet another red-top claimed that "mutual friends" had suggested that Turner was "too big for her boots" since becoming a successful, highly-paid TV presenter earning an estimated 250,000 a year from a portfolio of projects. Turner has maintained a dignified silence.
"Yeah, well," she sighs, expertly applying a shimmer of peachy-pink to her lips before going off to change for the photographs, "we all know whose ‘friends’ these people are. To be honest, they were certainly not mine. The marriage is over. Now I just want to get on with the rest of my life and stop talking about the past."
She has obviously discussed the private heartache that such a very public divorce brings in its wake with her widowed mother, Shirley, a lawyer who lives in the West country, and her identical twin, Catrin, also a high-flying lawyer. The twins share an intense bond. They are actually two of triplets, but regard themselves as twins. Their non-identical sister, Nerys, has severe learning difficulties. "Which I think probably made Catrin and I even closer when we were growing up," says Turner.
After the divorce she sold the marital home near Regent’s Park in London and moved to Islington. Catrin, her carpenter partner and their one-year-old son live just around the corner. Turner’s house - every bit as stylish as its owner - is the latest of more than half a dozen she has bought, done up and sold over the years. She’s put this house, which is far too big for her, her sons, and their nanny, on the market at 740,000, although she recently reduced the price when the London housing market entered the doldrums. With its high ceilings, ornate plasterwork cornices and stripped wooden floors, the spacious home is on four floors, has five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a 70ft-long garden. Furnished minimally with what appears to be a collection of striking modern art - "that ‘painting’ in the dining-room is actually the fabric from a skirt that I never wore tacked onto hardboard" - it looks as if it’s been House Doctored to the nines. "Too right!" says Turner. "Only I did it all myself. The last house I had was all beige, a bit bland, but the buyers loved it." She recently decorated a flat for her mother in Bristol. The buyers bought every stick of furniture too. As to her present home, Turner did it all herself. She even plastered walls and has yet to have a DIY disaster, although she says proudly: "Picture me finishing these walls! I was teetering on top of the ladder, but I did it." Everywhere there’s pristine white, with splashes of colour such as the vibrant fuschia pink on both chimney breasts in the open-plan dining-drawing rooms. "I wanted optimistic colour around the place for my children," she says, lounging on a black leather Conran sofa.
With its minimal furnishings, strategically placed candles, spiky green plants, colour-co-ordinated designer cushions and statement sculptures - such as a large, very beautiful carving of a mother and baby given to Turner by her mother to mark Griffin’s birth and a huge ammonite on the mantelpiece - the house is clutter-free. "I hate dusting. And I don’t have a cleaner. The less I have, the less there is to dust."
BORN in London, Turner grew up in a loud, noisy, chaotic home, "not manicured like this one". Her father ran hostels for discharged prisoners and she has two older brothers. After studying fashion and marketing at Newcastle Polytechnic, she made her name at 24 as the lippy fashion editor of London’s Evening Standard. A forerunner of Trinny and Susannah, she broke into TV with Looking Good, despite everyone telling her that she was "too short, too fat and too lispy".
Before that she won the accolade of "most banned fashion correspondent of all time", because she wrote honestly and hilariously about the closed shop that is the fashion industry. She was so young and naive that when she saw her first catwalk show she was "shocked". It was a Versace show in Milan "and there were all these women with no clothes on. What they did have on was made of PVC. I thought, ‘Hang on, I thought this was meant to be about clothes’, so I wrote that all the models looked like hookers.
"I was even more shocked when I arrived at my hotel and found all these presents from the designers. I printed a list of them and wrote, ‘These are called bribes’. I was a good size 16 so they couldn’t bribe me with their clothes anyway. I was banned, then unbanned the following season, then banned again, although I have a lifetime ban at Christian Lacroix."
But it was also the pinnacle of glitzy glamour at the fag-end of the 1980s, just before the fashion business imploded. Turner travelled the world, guzzled Champagne and hung out with Naomi Campbell and company. "Eventually, I was fed up with writing my 29th piece on tartan. I was so bored of it I couldn’t even be bothered to go shopping. Now I actually own very few clothes."
In Switchcraft, her second novel in the "elderly Chick-Lit" genre, she takes some smart pops at the fashion world. It’s about identical twin sisters - very tall - who swap lives. Every character in it is based on herself, she admits cheerfully. Turner and her sister used to change places at school, but have often hankered after one another’s grown-up lifestyle. "The twins in Switchcraft are not as close as we are, but what I wanted to explore is what happens when one sibling has a child and the other doesn’t.
"There was a moment when I had Griffin and my sister had just divorced and was single again. A gulf opened up between us. I looked wistfully at her glamorous, dancing-on-the-table life and envied it. Now she’s had her first baby and recently she admitted she’d looked quite wistfully at my life as a mother."
Currently, Turner writes two newspaper columns, has her own phone-in show for BBC Radio London, works for Channel 5, having just piloted a new series for them, How Much Are You Worth? - in which participants have to sell everything they own - and is about to start her third novel. In addition, she contributes to a wide range of publications, writing about everything from her ovaries - she suffers from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a complaint she shares with Victoria Beckham - to her dating exploits.
There is nothing she wouldn’t write about, Turner says, apart from her divorce. "I don’t want stuff in print that my children might read when they’re older. Some people went on record about my private life and I didn’t correct them. It would only have added fuel to the flames. My boys are my world now - and I protect them.
"After all, I’m hardly Sharon Stone, although if you’re remotely in the public eye people do love to hear sob stories about you. Well, that isn’t going to happen. I’m really happy at the moment. Life’s frantic, but good - and I’ve another date at the weekend."
• Switchcraft by Lowri Turner (Headline, 6.99).