Carol Vorderman is happier in her 50s than she’s ever been. She talks to Kate Whiting ahead of her global solo flight
Carol Vorderman is sitting on the floor, her grey suede platforms and linen flare-clad legs crossed, demonstrating why she never unwinds with a little meditation.
“I was in this place in Austria about four years ago trying yoga with a German instructor. We’re sitting like this and he says, ‘I want you to put your hands like zis... now close your eyes’.
“I closed my eyes. And he goes, ‘Now fuckyus... fuckyus and breathe’. In my head, I was going, ‘What’s he talking about? ‘Fuckyus’?... Oh! Focus!’ and my shoulders were shaking and I was thinking, ‘Please don’t open your eyes, please don’t look at me’. You know, this very serious health spa... it was terrible! So no, I don’t meditate for that very reason,” she says, giggling.
Vorderman is a ball of energy, her bleached blonde locks bouncing as she gets engrossed in each subject she feels passionate about. First up it’s Victoria.co.uk, a new website for women over 50 she’s helping to launch - aimed at reclaiming the phrase ‘women of a certain age’, to mean being sure about who you are and what you want in life.
And the former Countdown co-host and mum-of-two, who turned 55 in December, is ‘certain’ in spades.
Take the possibility of marrying for a third time: “Why would I? Sell it to me!”
She describes herself as “happily single” now after an on-off relationship with pilot Graham Duff.
“I love being single. There was a survey not long ago, of women my age, that found less than a quarter want to get married again, why do we? About three quarters of men our age want to get married again because they want someone to look after them, don’t they? Well, we’re going, ‘Ohhhhh, done that! I’ve brought up the kids...’ not in a selfish way.
“A lot of my female buddies, we have a better time when we go out with the girls. We send the men off to play golf. Women love being with women and they’re able to be with women more than they ever were. They enjoy each other’s company, you get much more comfortable with who you want to be with a why.
“If people want to [get married], brilliant, if people want to live together, that’s brilliant. One of the things my friends say about me is I’m so live and let live, I don’t judge. If that suits you, that’s fantastic. There’s no, ‘You should, you shouldn’t’.”
You get the feeling Vorderman is currently the happiest she’s ever been. Her children, Katie and Cameron, with second husband Patrick King have left home, she’s just put her Somerset mansion (complete with treadmill in the pool house gym which she fell off while working out naked last year) on the market for £2.6 million, and she’s about to fly solo around the world.
From her mid-40s, she says, she’s felt more sexy in her skin, more powerful and self-assured.
“You worry less about things, your goal is you live more for now rather than worrying about this, that and the other. And interestingly, you see girls in their 20s whose skin’s great, but who worry more than women in their 50s. It’s what happens in your head.
“But it’s almost like going back to your 20s, so all the dreams I had then, I’m now doing; wearing my lovely uniform and being part of the RAF with the air cadets and flying.
“I work a lot with NASA. I’m living my dream, but it’s a dream I couldn’t have had in my 20s because I didn’t have the imagination to think that was even possible. So I’m very, very lucky.
“!We as a generation of women - the baby boomers - are so much luckier than the generation above. And I’m hoping that social media doesn’t cock it up for the generation below.”
Vorderman’s biggest childhood dream was to be a pilot, but the RAF didn’t take women and her family couldn’t afford flying lessons. But, after years of training and passing gruelling exams, this summer she’s hoping to become the ninth woman in history to circumnavigate the globe, stopping in about 30 countries and all while being filmed for a three-part Channel 5 documentary.
“I have to take off in the summer because I have to get through a lot of very cold places, including Greenland,” she says. “Two months it will take, but I have to land before the winter comes. I’m hoping that by the time I get to China, I’ll be feeling a little more confident than I am today!”
It’s an extraordinary feat, but then Vorderman loves a challenge and has fought hard all her life. Her parents split just weeks after she was born and she was brought up by her mum in North Wales.
“I went to Cambridge when I was 17, a northern comprehensive girl - unheard of! That was like you’re fighting a system. Then worked underground with 2,000 men, no women, in civil engineering. Again, you’re kicking back.
“I always wanted to fly and I have to have a target, I have the lowest boredom threshold. I get told off by instructors because I’m always pressing buttons. ‘Carol, just leave it, everything’s perfect’. So it’s to have a project.”
If she could revisit her 17-year-old self, on the brink of starting university, what would she say to her?
“I would say life is in chapters, nothing is forever, so enjoy the chapter. All we have is right now.”