Kay Burley. Where to start? I love the Sky broadcaster, but I am also a little bit afraid of her. Not for nothing is she known as the toughest woman on British television.
‘What’s the plan?’ she says briskly, when we meet. ‘Let’s do it,’ she says, after ten seconds of my blabbering.
‘Good effort,’ she says, when a question is put to her that she doesn’t want to answer.
But actually, Kay is pretty upfront and candid about everything, including her menopause, her facelift, her cancer scares, her recent death threats, you name it.
The twice-married divorcee just doesn’t want to talk about her love life, which is fine by me. For whom 58-year-old Kay may or may not be dating is perhaps the least interesting thing about her.
After all, here is a woman who has just climbed Ben Nevis in winter and recently had a terrifying- sounding skin-tightening treatment in New York. ‘I am not going to be mugged off by Mother Nature,’ she says, drumming her shellac nails on the table like a Bond villainess.
Sky broadcaster Kay Burley, 58, (pictured) who recently climbed Ben Nevis, revealed how menopause influenced her decision to conquer the mountain
See what I mean? Who cares about the men, the aspirant suitors, the wan moons to her blazing sun?
‘Well, I find myself in a position where men of all ages are attracted to me, which is very flattering,’ she purrs. ‘They chat me up. I am always getting asked out. I say: “How lovely, thank you.” Sometimes I say yes, but mostly I say no.’
What she really wants to talk about today is the last taboo, the great unmentionable that is the menopause.
For as long as anyone can remember, Kay has been holding back the years with ferocity. She had her eye bags removed when she was 40 and a £10,000 lower face lift in 2011. Two years ago, she did 18 months on a sugar-free diet, losing 20lb in the process.
‘I didn’t want to go into chubby, menopausal middle age with bad skin,’ she says.
Burley is also super fit, with a routine that includes multi-squats holding a 15kg weight, and daily workouts.
Her on-air working uniform of sleeveless Michael Kors dresses display her ostrich-egg biceps and sculpted body to perfection; all testament to her discipline and perseverance.
‘I don’t do it for TV, although I like looking good on telly,’ she says. ‘I do it because I enjoy my life. And I like being in control of what I look like.’
Then the menopause struck — one wonders how it dared — plunging Kay and Mother Nature into a whole new battle of wills.
For the past year and in particular the past six months, she has been suffering dreadfully. ‘It has been rather challenging,’ she admits.
It has affected her work, her sleek bobbed hairdo, her emotions and anxiety levels.
Of course, the onset of the climacteric is an ordeal for most women, but it must be particularly onerous for someone who fronts The Kay Burley Show four times a week: a high-wire solo act involving 12 hours of live television under the unforgiving appraisal of millions of viewers and the ruthless scrutiny of High Definition cameras.
Kay (pictured) presents a live show four times a week, she revealed her team are responsible for fixing her make-up in between breaks when hot sweats cause it to cake
‘I get my make-up on, get my hair done and then it comes from my toes, swish. My hair sticks to my head and I get sweaty lips, then absolutely drenched in hot sweats.’ She makes herself sound like a wet coconut!
‘Fine if I am in the make-up room, but if it happens when I am on air, ugh! They have to rush and fix me during the break.’
The process sounds like a pit stop in a Formula One race, only with a Burley instead of a Ferrari receiving fevered, high-speed administrations to the crippled chassis.
At the first sign of hot-flush trouble, a permanently tooled-up SWAT team swoops into the studio when the adverts roll.
Kay holds a hairdryer to blow cool air onto her face, as concrete-strength setting lotions are spritzed onto her hair and two pre-heated hot brushes power back the bounce.
Long-serving make-up assistant Kirsty gets to work on her peeling eyeshadow, bleeding lip line and the outbreaks of moisture on her face, all without using too much powder.
The average number of years women experience menopausal symptoms
‘It cakes into the lines. So, she brings a big brush and tries to wipe all the sweat away,’ says Kay.
Then the team flee into the shadows as the show continues. ‘Welcome back,’ says the unflappable, lightly powdered, newly sugar-frosted Burley. ‘And now over to Westminster.’
Who would envy her, living on this hormonal broadcasting knife edge?
Previously, women of Burley’s vintage were phased off the news screens like a bunch of wilting blooms — while leathery male counterparts continued on into their baggy-eyed dotage.
We live in more evolved, less sexist times now, thank goodness. Yet the menopause is clearly still a hurdle for someone in her high-profile position.
‘I did worry about it, I must admit. I am probably the oldest female newsreader in the country but you still have to crack on.
‘The demands of live television are not going to stop just because I’ve got a hot sweat coming. So I decided to embrace it and talk openly about it.’
Hormone replacement therapy might alleviate some of her symptoms, but she has a very high risk of breast cancer following the death of her mother, grandmother and an aunt from the disease. ‘So I don’t go anywhere near it.’
Kay (pictured) is one of the highest paid broadcasters on British television, she revealed her career began with working for a local newspaper
Elsewhere, there is the new torture of terrible headaches and sleepless nights. ‘Migraines. My eyes start to flicker, I know what is coming. I know to drink a pint of lemonade and have three Ibuprofen or whatever. The sugar helps a lot.’
She used to be able to ‘sleep on a clothes line’ because of her breakfast television hours. Now she wakes up two or three times a night. Nettle tea helps, but she finds it exhausting.
Then, almost worst of all, after a lifetime of running, her hamstrings went last year, which put paid to her favourite sporting pastime. Against this backdrop, she needed a new challenge.
‘I thought this bloody menopause is like climbing a mountain, so I decided to climb a mountain for real,’ she says.
Kay being Kay, she opted to climb Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. She began training in November and started her climb early on a cold morning this January, wearing a head torch to light the way through the swirling snow.
‘Failure was not an option,’ she says now. ‘I am a bit of a nutter. If I embark on something, I am not going to stop until I get there. I’m not one for half measures.’
With her own show four times a week, La Burley is one of the highest paid broadcasters on British television, a woman at the peak of her career. How did she get there? Amazingly, her life is like the plot of a Catherine Cookson novel.
Kay McGurrin grew up in a council house in Wigan, where her parents worked in a cardboard factory. After leaving school with five O-levels, she worked for the local newspaper where her first job was reporting on a vegetable competition.
She would hang around the newsdesk while the men went to the pub. ‘It was the only way to get exclusives.’
She married at 19, to a Mr Burley, but left him and most of her Lancashire accent behind when she later moved south.
Kay (pictured) who has a family history of breast cancer revealed she’s had ‘many frights’ and now has six-monthly mammogram and ultrasound checks
After standing in for Anne Diamond at TV-am, she moved to new station Sky in 1988. ‘I am going to make sure they get their money’s worth,’ she said at the time. She was always hard-boiled, shimmering with ambition, and why not?
There was a second husband, the father of her only child, Alexander, 25. They split up after 18 months and he left his pet crocodile behind in their shed.
Today, she is not in a long-term exclusive relationship. Instead, she has a revolving circle of male friends whom she dates depending on social needs. ‘If I am meeting royalty, if it’s a nightclub situation,’ she explains.
She never worked for the BBC. ‘I didn’t have the education the BBC were interested in,’ she says, but they probably couldn’t afford her anyway.
With a home in London and a £3 million weekend retreat in the Cotswolds, she roars to the studios in her Porsche Macan SUV (‘a gorgeous little thing’), and checks the time on her £15,000 Audemars Piguet rose gold watch; a present to herself last November to celebrate her 30th anniversary at Sky.
I like that she takes such pleasure in the spoils of her success, with Tiffany diamonds at her ears and a Twenties cocktail ring, complete with 52 baguette diamonds, sparkling on her right hand.
She bought it from the Previously Cherished section of John Lewis in London’s Oxford Street. ‘I had to. It glistened at me every time I walked through the store.’
When we meet, she is ‘rocking a beige look’ in a Karen Millen jumper and Joseph trousers, her nails painted a neutral colour called Field Fox.
‘I have to be practical. It goes with everything. And even when I climbed Ben Nevis, it didn’t chip,’ she says.
She has a reputation of being tough and never showing emotion on air, but come on, that is the essence of her job.
Off-screen she is funnier and warmer and at the mercy of emotions, just like everyone else. No stranger to tears, she cried over a recent cancer scare.
Owing to her family breast cancer history, Burley has six-monthly mammogram and ultrasound checks and has had ‘many frights’. Twenty years ago she had some non-malignant lumps removed and recently needed a 3D biopsy after doctors discovered some calcifications.
‘I thought, here we go. I was in complete shock driving home. I could feel the tears hitting the steering wheel and I was thinking about dying.
Kay (pictured) revealed she tries to surround herself with positivity, earlier this year she became the object of abuse while interviewing MP Anna Soubry at Westminster
‘Thinking about how I desperately wanted to see my grandchildren, and how my mother never got that opportunity because Alexander was eight months old when she died.’
In the end, the tests were negative and it is incidents such as these that make her count her blessings.
The older she gets, the less she can tolerate pessimism from others. ‘There is always someone who is worse off than you. My mother was dead at my age, so I try to surround myself with positivity.’
Given this, one wonders why she spends so much time on social media, where she is a prolific poster on both Twitter and Instagram.
Forever the creator of her own legend and keeper of her own flame — for who else is going to do it? — she says she enjoys a ‘good bundle’ on Twitter because ‘I am a Wigan street fighter’.
Burley was on the jihadi hit list of British news presenters, discovered in 2017 — ‘I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t been, frankly,’ she says.
Earlier this year, she was the object of abuse while interviewing MP Anna Soubry at Westminster. Like many high-profile women she is a target for trolls, in real life and cyberspace.
That is perhaps why she is highly trained in self-defence and survival techniques, and has beefed-up security at both her homes. ‘If someone came in here now trying to kill me, I’d give it a good go. I’d throw that coffee pot at them for a start,’ she says.
Kay (pictured) who appeared on the jihadi hit list of British news presenters says the Metropolitan Police have been monitoring her Twitter account as she’s been receiving death threats
The Metropolitan Police have recently been monitoring her Twitter account and drawn her attention to some troubling messages. ‘I have had death threats, yes. But I think of these men as keyboard warriors sitting in a basement with their balcony bellies, drinking White Stripe lager and waiting for their mum to call them for their tea. They don’t bother me.’
Of course they don’t bother her. After all, here is a street-fighting, table-dancing, big biceped gal who has faced down cancer, crocodiles, Ben Nevis and even the ghastly change of life.
‘I am not going to be bowed by the menopause,’ she says finally, and I don’t doubt it for a second. Look at her, climbing up the most treacherous slope of womanhood, clinging onto every rock with her foxy manicure intact. Unchipped. Unbowed. Unbelievable.
How to feel on top of the world — climb a mountain!
by KAY BURLEY
After almost five decades of running, my hamstrings were shot. However, just because I was going through the menopause didn’t mean I planned to put men on pause!
So, I came up with a physical challenge that works for me: I started to climb mountains.
It began when I swapped running for a stroll. Before I knew it, I was yomping 20km and decided to take on a bigger challenge: Ben Nevis.
Training was tough: I didn’t feel in control of my body and found it hard to be motivated. When I least expected it a hot sweat would leave me looking like a drowned rat. Nevertheless, I rallied together a small group of friends and we headed for the mountain.
Kay (pictured on Ben Nevis last month) who recently spent five hours climbing Ben Nevis revealed her next challenge is Scafell Pike
We set off for the peak while it was still dark, from the hut we’d climbed to the day before. It had snowed heavily and the winds were strong.
Using head torches to light the way, our guide roped us together and we began.
I tried not to think about the two people who had lost their lives on the mountain just weeks earlier — both younger and fitter than me.
In single file we climbed over rocks, using ice axes to reach for a better grip during an — at times — almost vertical climb. The fresh snow saw us scrabbling for traction, and there was a moment when I couldn’t go up or down.
But I thought of my dumbbell training and knew my arms were strong enough. I just needed to believe. I dug deep and reached for a firmer grip.
Five hours and several tearful moments later, we were at the summit. After photos, everyone was perishing cold and ready to head back down. Everyone but me. Hot flushes have their benefits, it seems.
I’m now preparing for my next challenge, Scafell Pike, the highest point in England, followed by Snowdon.
I can’t run, but I can put one foot in front of the other. Taking on the menopause no longer feels a mountain to climb.