Profile: Vanessa Feltz

WAKING up with Vanessa Feltz might not be everyone's idea of a good start to the day but the loud-mouthed blonde has a habit of forcing her way into our lives.

In January, the former talk show queen will take over the early morning radio slot vacated by Sarah Kennedy. Radio 2 controller Bob Shennan says Feltz's "zest and passion for life" made the woman once described as looking like "an ageing Italian porn star" the ideal choice.

The news has reportedly provoked outrage among Radio 2 DJs, who say it is another example of the BBC "dumbing down". But what will the famously opinionated listeners of Radio 2 make of her? In recent years, the brassy blonde has become more famous for her colourful personal life than her work. We've seen her fat, we've seen her thin, we've seen her fat again. We've seen her heartbroken after her mother died and when her husband ran off with a 26-year-old. We've seen her career crash when her BBC chat show was axed amid a fake guests scandal. And we looked on, horrified, when she cracked up on 2001's Celebrity Big Brother, ranting and scrawling random words on the kitchen table. Earlier this year, we learned in stomach-turning detail about the gastric band operation the over-sharing star decided to have after her weight ballooned to more than 16 stone.

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It's been a larger-than-life few years, all lived in front of a British public who seem to like and loathe her in equal measure. But then Vanessa Feltz doesn't seem to want it any other way.

Feltz has a knack for getting people's backs up. She's unapologetic about her tabloid career, prone to mouthing off, forever squeezing herself into clothes intended for someone half her age and size. She was named the 93rd "worst Briton" in a 2003 Channel 4 poll. But she also has a brilliant talent for empathising with her audience, for inviting herself into their lives, and making them feel as if they are intimately involved in hers.

• In quotes: Vanessa Feltz

People who have worked with her are quick to praise her professionalism, energy, wit, warmth and intelligence. Her unlikely friends include comedian Russell Brand ("he sends me suggestive text messages") while her first kiss was with DJ Pete Tong on a family holiday to Majorca. She was ten, he was 12.

Feltz has described her background as like "growing up in Fiddler On The Roof". She was born in north London to middle-class Jewish parents. Her father ran a lingerie business, grafting to put her through private school. She graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, with a first-class degree in English literature. She says she always did her best to be the "textbook dutiful Jewish daughter". At 22, she married junior doctor Michael Kurer, who had proposed on their first date.They had two daughters together, Allegra, now 24, and Saskia, 21.

She got a job as the first female columnist on the Jewish Chronicle before moving to the Mirror and writing a book of sex tips for women called What Are These Strawberries Doing On My Nipples? I Need Them For The Fruit Salad.

Feltz has never been afraid to slum it, with numerous reality TV show appearances, advice columns and daytime TV programmes in which guests tear chunks out of their relatives or discuss why they'd decided, aged 65, to become a porn star. Explaining her career choices, Feltz said: "Well, had my opportunity been to present a programme on antiques or the poems of Horace I would have done that, but it so happens that the show I was asked to present was a talk show called Vanessa, and I took the opportunity. It's not as though if I'd stayed at home someone would have come along and offered me a show on the iambic pentameter."

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Instead, she first burst into our early morning lives on the Big Breakfast, taking over the slot made famous by Paula Yates, in which she interviewed celebrities while on a bed. She then secured her own ITV talk show Vanessa, a ratings hit, and was poached by the BBC for 2.5 million to present The Vanessa Show, making her the third highest paid TV personality in Britain. She was pilloried by the press. "I think that fitted the stereotype of the fat, greedy Jew but actually I hadn't approached the BBC - they approached me," she said.

Her annus horribilis came in 1999 when her BBC show was cancelled after it emerged that actors had posed as guests (something Feltz was unaware of). Then, after issuing her with an ultimatum to lose weight fast, her husband left her after 17 years of marriage. Instead of curling up under the duvet, Feltz went on Parkinson and shared her pain with the world. Then she went on a crash diet, losing six stone. She celebrated by posing in a swimsuit on the front page of a national newspaper and having an affair with her personal trainer.

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But then, just like the guests on her shows, bad luck seems to stalk Feltz. Her relationship ended, she piled the weight back on and found herself attacked in the press by her own father, who claimed Feltz had ostracised him for remarrying too soon after the death of her mother. As if that wasn't humiliating enough, she found herself on reality TV show Celebrity Fit Club in 2004 with a bunch of other famous fatties. But, after a prolonged period in the doldrums, the 48-year-old is enjoying a renaissance. She is engaged to a man 11 years her junior and last year was named Sony's Speech Radio Personality of the Year for her mid-morning show on BBC Radio London. She will continue to present the show, in addition to her new gig, as well as filling in for Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 when he is away. Also starting in January, she and her fianc, singer Ben Ofoedu, will be presenting a new daytime show for Five.

Feltz confesses she rarely turns down work.The one exception was the offer of "quite large amounts of money to write my autobiography. I can't think of anything more ghastly than having to wade through my turgid, bollocksy life story, and why anyone else would want to I cannot imagine." Except that, intentionally or not, Feltz has built her career on her willingness to share the most private details of her life.

Now the much lampooned presenter has lived to laugh another day. Whether Radio 2 listeners will be laughing along with the irrepressible Ms Feltz over their morning cup of tea is anyone's guess.