‘I didn’t want to feel like a has-been’: Ulrika Jonsson

Ulrika Jonsson has just celebrated her 50th birthday and is railing about ‘the bloody menopause’

Well, here’s one to make you feel old. Ulrika Jonsson, a woman forever associated with sunshine, sex and, of course, Sven, has just celebrated her 50th birthday and is railing about ‘the bloody menopause’. 

Even she can’t quite believe this chapter of her life has arrived, landing like a ton of bricks. 

‘God, 50 doesn’t seem like a number that should be associated with me,’ confesses the one-time weathergirl whose career hit the buffers when she became more famous for her private life than her TV work. 

‘My mother had me when she was young, I remember my grandmother’s 40th birthday. Back then you were practically dead at 40, 50 didn’t even figure.’

In truth, it’s not the numbers she’s having trouble with but the hormones. ‘It’s been harder to get my head around the start of the menopause than the age thing, because I still feel like I’m 18,’ she confides. 

But Ulrika, you have four kids (famously, as if she can ever forget it, by four fathers). She has trouble with this too. ‘I still think, “Gosh, how did those four children happen? How did they grow up so fast?”’

Her oldest, Cameron, will be 23 next month – the age she was when she first got married. One of her biggest sources of pride, she tells me, is that all her children have ‘really healthy attitudes to relationships’. 

Cameron is ‘in a lovely relationship with a beautiful lovely girl’. She highlights the irony, before anyone else can. ‘I say, “My God, I was getting married at the age you are now” and he says, “That’s insane. It shouldn’t be allowed.”’

Anyway, it’s glorious to have her back in the spotlight, although the setting of her return is rather surreal. Ulrika has been appearing on Celebrity MasterChef. Who knew she was a natural in the kitchen, even if nerves have threatened to get the better of her? She admits the experience has inspired ‘absolute terror’. 

She’s done well so far, although she did serve up raw lamb once. Yes, it’s supposed to be pink, but hers was practically still bleating and the judges refused to eat it. Amazingly she went through to the next round and is now the favourite to win after making it through to the final week.

I joke about a cookery book being in the offing, and she doesn’t shout me down. In a sense she’s chiding herself that she didn’t lay her culinary credentials on the table sooner, since every celeb seems to have done so. 

lrika has been appearing on Celebrity MasterChef and she admits the experience has inspired ¿absolute terror¿

lrika has been appearing on Celebrity MasterChef and she admits the experience has inspired ‘absolute terror’

‘It was different before,’ she says. ‘People didn’t venture out of their “boxes”. If you were a TV presenter, you didn’t write a cookery book. Now everyone’s a bloody cook! Everyone’s a clean-eater and all that c**p. I’d have been too embarrassed to think, “I should put a cookery book out”, but it’s a different landscape now.’

It so is. Back in the day, Ulrika was the glossiest of TV presenters, a woman whose wide smile and easy manner saw her shift from fronting the weather into hosting the primetime juggernaut Gladiators and being a team captain on Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s surreal panel show Shooting Stars.

But gradually she became more famous for her complicated personal life. Her first marriage, to cameraman John Turnbull, lasted from 1990-95, and ended badly. ‘I was so young,’ she says today. ‘I didn’t know myself. I did some not very nice things. I was unfaithful, which is more than not nice.’

When she was still a secretary, she’d been romantically linked to Prince Edward after being photographed with him. Years later she denied it had been a sexual relationship, but said there had been a bit of ‘slap and tickle’. 

An unfortunate choice of words, perhaps, given her controversial later relationship with footballer Stan Collymore, who issued a public apology after an argument between them in a Paris bar turned violent. It was during the 1998 World Cup when Collymore lashed out, allegedly hitting and kicking Ulrika. 

Ulrika (pictured in 1999) said that she didn't 'want to feel like a dried-up old has-been at the age of 43 or 44'

Ulrika (pictured in 1999) said that she didn’t ‘want to feel like a dried-up old has-been at the age of 43 or 44’

He was never charged, but his reputation was left in tatters, not helped by his assertion that he hit her once, with an open hand. This version was denied by witnesses.

Then came a doomed relationship with German hotel boss Marcus Kempen, who walked out on her when their daughter Bo was just a few weeks old. Husband number two was Lance Gerrard-Wright, who was supposed to be the prize for the female contestants on Mr Right, a 2002 TV dating show she presented. Ulrika married him in 2003. She had their daughter Martha in 2004 and they separated in 2005.

In between, of course, there was that jaw-dropping affair with then England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, and a disturbing chapter when she revealed in her autobiography that she’d been raped early in her TV career. 

Presenter John Leslie was (apparently accidentally) named as the alleged perpetrator, and while she made no public comment on his naming, and he was never charged with the offence, his career never recovered. Leslie urged Ulrika to either clear his name, or name him herself, so that he could defend himself against the allegations. She’s always refused to do so, but she has since blamed the incident on her inability to assert herself properly.

Quite when her career hit the skids is hard to say. Did the job offers dry up, or did she take herself out of the public eye? Even she isn’t sure. ‘It was part self-imposed, but not entirely. I haven’t been offered the sort of work I’ve wanted. I wanted to do documentaries.’ Was there a sense of no one knowing what to do with her? 

Ulrika, then 20, at the theatre in London with Prince Edward in 1987

Ulrika, then 20, at the theatre in London with Prince Edward in 1987

‘It could be that; I wasn’t leading the most straightforward life. Whether it was because I was getting older, and there were younger people coming up, I don’t know.’

She points out that she needed to escape the spotlight too – even if she’d always seemed to crave it. ‘At the time I was still finding out who I was. Some people shoot out of the womb and know exactly who they are. I didn’t. 

‘And mine was a highly charged life. I was a celebrity and the main – well, the only – breadwinner in the family. It was hard to take time out and ask, “What do I really want?” 

‘I was bouncing from job to job, relationship to relationship, marriage, children. In the business too, everything was changing. Suddenly everyone could be a celebrity. I wasn’t sure what my place was in the world of TV.’

Now she’s convinced that she needed some time off to ‘re-group’. At the time, though, she struggled. ‘I never got angry, but there were times when I was frustrated by the fact I felt I still had so much to give. I’d be thinking, “I’m really good at what I do, and this is crazy.” 

‘I didn’t want to feel like I was a dried-up old has-been at the age of 43 or 44. I wasn’t angry, no, but there was definitely a period of consolidation, I guess you’d call it, where I found it hard to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t the main breadwinner, I wasn’t bringing in money to the family. That was the hardest thing for me.’

Throw as many accusations as you like at Ulrika – and my goodness everyone has – but you can’t fault her determination to support her children. ‘I’ve never depended on a man, or been with anyone who earned more than me.’ What, even Stan or Sven? ‘Well, I don’t know exactly what anyone earned but I never accepted money from any man. I was very independent. I didn’t feel I was hanging on to anyone because of that. It’s tricky to navigate, though, when you aren’t earning.’

As the years passed, however, she realised that being a stay-at-home mum was a blessing rather than a curse. 

‘It was the making of me,’ she says. ‘I love being at home and being there for the kids. I find it hilarious that I can spend all day planning what to make them for dinner. Actually, I think they need you more as they get older. There are school and friendship issues, boyfriends and life decisions.’

How does Ulrika – a woman who holds her hands up to her own disastrous decisions – possibly offer that sort of advice? By being honest about her own failings. ‘I say, “Listen, this is what I did, or this is what happened. I want to tell you about certain things because I want you not to make some mistakes that I’ve made, but you are going to make your own mistakes.” 

‘And they will, because that’s life. But at the moment they all have very healthy attitudes to relationships.’

You could understand if she adopted an ‘all men are b*****ds’ mentality, given some of her associations, but she says she ‘absolutely doesn’t hate men’. 

‘With my daughters it’s about trying to empower them by making them feel aware of who they are, what they might need. It’s not about bad or nasty men. I don’t have that attitude. I stand by the choices I made.’

She’s still sensitive about the attitude of some commentators to her ‘4×4’ lifestyle – having four children by four different fathers. But she’s unrepentant. 

‘I never understood what the big deal was. I don’t mean that in a flippant way. On paper it looks bad, but it wasn’t as insane as it sounds. I mean, they were spaced out. I didn’t charge into it thinking, “Quick, I must have another baby.” 

‘The thing I really object to is that this sort of criticism is always levelled at the woman. Why? I never abandoned my children. I’ve always cared for them, financed them, however crudely you want to put it. 

‘Men in a similar position don’t get that abuse. Rod Stewart has eight kids by five women or something. We let him off much more lightly than we would a woman.’

What of husband number three? She married American advertising executive Brian Monet in 2008, and their son Malcolm arrived that year. Their marriage sounds perfectly normal, in that they have to work at it. ‘He gets on my nerves and I get on his, but I feel that I can be myself with him and I’ve never felt that with anyone.’

Launching a new chapter of a media career at the age of 50 is unconventional, to put it mildly. 

‘I know I’ve changed, and the menopause has been to blame for some of that, but that’s how it is, isn’t it? I can’t stop time.’ What does a woman who was so feted for her looks feel when she surveys the youngsters coming up behind her? ‘When I look at younger people I think, “Ha-ha, your time will come too.”’  

The Celebrity MasterChef finals are on Wednesday at 8pm and Friday at 8.30pm on BBC1.


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