Bubbly, witty, Bolton-born Sara Cox got her first break on Channel 4’s The Girlie Show in the Nineties then rose to fame on The Big Breakfast – but it’s on radio where she’s made her biggest mark, attracting 7.8 million listeners during her stint hosting the Radio 1 Breakfast Show in the early-Noughties.
Now, the 43-year-old mum-of-three (she has daughter Lola, 13, from her first marriage to DJ Jon Carter, and Isaac, 9, and Renee, 7, with her advertising exec husband, Ben Cyzer) presents Sounds Of The 80s on Radio 2, and in May moves to hosting her own show four nights a week. She’s back on screen too, presenting BBC2’s Back In Time For Tea.
Here, Cox tells Gabrielle Fagan about her work schedule, feeling the fear on horseback, and her attitude to ageing.
How do you keep fit?
“I think exercise is crucial for mental health, because it ramps up the feel-good hormones. I run a couple of times a week, walk my dogs, and go to really punishing gym classes. Our garage is kitted out with a rowing machine, a TRX suspension training kit, and a yoga mat, and I do half-hour sessions when I can. Recently, I’ve been training for a rowing challenge for Sport Relief, in a BBC team racing ITV. It’s been pretty gruelling.
“My real passion is horses, I’ve ridden since I was a child, but it can be dangerous going very fast on a half-ton animal with a brain the size of a sprout! It was very frightening in 2013, when I came off a horse and broke my collar bones, chipped my femur and jarred my neck. As I fell and saw the ground whizzing up to meet my face, I thought, ‘What sort of state will I be in after this?’ I resolved then for the sake of my family to be more cautious. I get scared even now sometimes when I ride, but I’d never give it up.”
How do you juggle your career and family life?
“It can be a bit manic. Currently, I’m wishing there were a couple of extra hours in the day because it’s super-busy. I’m doing a lot of telly work, a new show, Love In The Countryside, which will be shown in May.
“I cover for Chris Evans on his Breakfast Show. In May, I start in my own weeknight show on Radio 2, from 10pm to midnight, which I want to have the liveliness, humour and music of a breakfast show. As we’re in the West End, close to theatres and music venues, I hope lots of actors and comedians and musicians will pop in after their performances for chats. It means that for the first time in 14 years, I’ll get my weekends back. ”
How do you feel about ageing?
“I don’t have any problem with being in my 40s. People are obsessed with asking women about being in their 40s – but I don’t see the same fascination for asking men in their 40s, like Paddy McGuinness or Dermot O’Leary, about it, which is weird. I think it’s an amazing decade and I’m in a really good place. I feel I’ve hit the sweet spot. My kids are a little more independent, my parents are in good health, and my career’s going well.
The only difference I’ve noticed in myself since being 40 is that I’ve been diagnosed with presbyopia (when the lens in the eye stiffens and thickens with age which makes it harder to see things at close range). I struggled reading small print. Then I discovered multifocal contact lenses. I pop them in and can totally forget about my vision, which suits me because I’m so active. I wouldn’t feel as confident in glasses.”
What couldn’t you live without?
“To me, it doesn’t feel like home unless there a couple of furry creatures knocking around under your feet. I love dogs, as I grew up with lots of them on my dad’s farm. We’ve got two Maltese terriers, Beano and Dolly, and a kitten, Watson. Beano goes to work with me at Radio 2 and sits under my chair. The BBC had to do an assessment on him to make sure he was safe, because obviously you can’t just take in something like an Irish Wolfhound or a Komodo dragon. Imagine Tony Blackburn eaten by a huge lizard... that’s definitely not happening on my watch! It’s actually a bit like a Kennel Club at the BBC – lots of presenters take pets in.”
Sara Cox is a brand ambassador for 1-DAY Acuvue Moist Multifocal Contact Lenses, acuvue.co.uk
Clash of the Channels Boat Race: BBC vs ITV airs on BBC1 tomorrow as part of Sport Relief.