Chapters In My Life: Emma Forbes

Chapters In My Life: Emma Forbes

If you had children or teens in the 80s and 90s you will no doubt recognise Emma Forbes. A prolific TV and radio host, her face was synonymous with kids’ shows of that era, with regular runs on programmes like Live & Kicking and Speakeasy. Now a well-known podcast host and mother of two, she shares memories and anecdotes from her life and career…

Chapter One: Childhood Years

“I was born just outside London in a place called Virginia Water. We lived right on the edge of a golf course – not that either of my parents (film director Bryan Forbes and actress Nanette Newman) ever played or even set foot on it – and I grew up there until I left home. My parents stayed on for 58 years until my dad died – he owned a bookshop in the area and served, among other things, as president of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain and the Beatrix Potter Society. 

“America played a big part in our family’s life growing up, especially my early childhood. My dad was a prolific film director and screenwriter (Whistle Down The Wind, The Angry Silence, The League Of Gentlemen) and novelist, and my mother starred in multiple films – nine of which my dad directed, including International Velvet in 1978 and The Raging Moon in 1971; she won prestigious acting awards for both. When my dad was directing The Stepford Wives in the mid-70s (another film my mother acted in) we lived in Connecticut for 18 months, LA for a year and France for a year after that – so moving around was pretty normal.

“I remember our house as busy – we always hosted big Sunday lunches and people were constantly coming and going. With my sister (long-time journalist and screenwriter Sarah Standing) being six years older than me, however, it meant she left home far earlier – which left me feeling like an only child most of the time. But I also remember my wonderful nanny, who helped look after me until the age of eight. Sadly, she died during the pandemic – not of Covid-19, but at the grand old age of 101.”

Chapter Two: The Age Of Innocence

“My formative years were pretty innocent – bike rides, playing outside and I was completely oblivious to what my parents actually did for a living. Though they were busy, my parents kept us all together as a unit, so when they needed to travel, the entire motley crew went with them. Although it was different from my friends’ lives, I really wasn’t fazed by it. We would be home one week, then the next my dad would get a new job and we’d be off – but it all seemed completely normal to me.

“School was also extremely fun. I loved it – not so much the work but because it was small it had a certain charm – everyone knew everything going on and I could do what I loved, i.e. a lot of ballet and dancing. From there, I went straight to ballet school in London.”

Chapter Three: Finding My Feet

“I had all sorts of career aspirations but, no surprise, my dream was to become a ballerina. It was my obsession from about the age of ten until 16. I got into the Urdang Academy (having failed to get into the Ballet Rambert and the Royal Ballet School) and I owe a lot to an amazing teacher called Mr Etheridge. He made me realise (in the nicest way) that ballet was my passion rather than my destiny! I was good, but just not quite good enough. In short, I was destined to be the swan at the back of the stage and I didn’t want that. After that, I sort of ‘fell’ into different jobs until I discovered the world of live television.

“I was actually extremely shy as a child – strange considering that I love talking more than anything now! It wasn’t until I got to about 16 years old that everything changed. I was adamant to do something different and craved the adrenaline rush that went with television presenting.”

Chapter Four: The Big Break

“My big break came when I got a job working as an assistant to the fashion editor at the Daily Mail. I was mainly tasked with getting the coffees, but I soon became a permanent fixture. Then, one day, the editor said he was buying into satellite TV and asked whether anyone was interested in becoming a presenter. I jumped at the chance and got a gig on a show on a lifestyle TV channel that I don’t think had a single viewer. 

“It was funny, really – I did a beauty slot with zero beauty experience and used to make things like face masks in a Magimix which I lugged into the studio on the tube. But it was a start – and, crucially, enough to give me a showreel. After relentlessly asking the editor of Going Live (the Saturday morning kids’ BBC show) for an opportunity for a year, he finally caved and met with me. I remember that day like it was yesterday and thinking I would do anything to work here. He asked what I could bring to the show and off the top of my head I said ‘cookery’. The following Saturday I presented my first six-minute live slot with Phillip Schofield. As the weeks went on, the segment took off.”

Chapter Five: Alive & Kicking

“Around this time, I was offered a job at The Big Breakfast with Chris Evans, but turned it down in the hope that, post Going Live, I’d be up for the next big Saturday morning show. It was a gamble that paid off. Without sounding sickly, being on Live & Kicking were some of the happiest days of my life. I loved everything about it – from the Fridays spent in the office sorting through the fan mail to eating baked potatoes in the BBC canteen, not to mention the team and general camaraderie.

“It was an extraordinary opportunity to present for three and a quarter hours live with no auto cue and no script – that’s pretty much unheard of these days. I also got to interview incredible people who – at that time – stuck around for the whole morning. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I also made lifelong friends in Andi Peters and John Barrowman – I’m still very close to them today. 

“Certain aspects of being on television were very glamorous; I would be lying if I said otherwise. I loved getting my make-up done, having a wardrobe budget – there were a lot of upsides and I’m grateful to have been on TV when there wasn’t the added stress of paparazzi and social media. That said, I was quite naïve and had my parents to ground me. As my career grew, there were the inevitable stresses that came with the territory, such as the overwhelming anxiety that you were always ‘replaceable’. It was quite hard to deal with. 

“Plus, there were jobs I really wanted but missed out on, like the breakfast show at Capital radio. I also remember being told I was a shoo-in for This Morning and for the first time truly believing the publicity… only to realise I wasn’t actually in the running at all!”

Chapter Six: Time To Be A Radio Star

“Radio became a bigger part of my career later on – probably a result of having children. I got the Heart breakfast show with Jono Coleman and the working hours were ideal. I could leave in the morning, spend the rest of the day with my kids, put them to bed in the evenings and be off at weekends. It turned out I loved live radio as much as TV – I didn’t think that would be the case, but it felt intoxicating. It’s less glamorous for sure – and obviously zero clothing budget – but it was still the same authentic conversations I’d loved having on television. 

“I also worked at BBC Radio 2, standing in with Alan Carr for Steve Wright when he was on holiday. It was the dream scenario – and led to Alan and I landing our own Saturday night show. As you can imagine, there was never a dull moment. Alan was so fun to work with and it was a different style for me. There’s nothing better than working with someone who makes you laugh.”

Chapter Seven: The Man Of The Hour 

“My husband Graham and I have been married for almost 35 years. It’s crazy to think how quickly the time has passed. Initially, he was my best friend – which is always a good start – and we were roommates. I dated his best friend for three years while Graham was living in New York, but we regularly got together as a group. The irony was, I was always trying to find Graham a girlfriend. Then, at a time when we were both single, we realised there was more than just friendship between us. It was a whirlwind. We went out for three months, got engaged, got married three months later and the rest is history.

“The secret to our relationship, if you ask me, is that we met before either of us had any success in our careers. It can definitely go either way, but we’ve totally supported each other and are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. We also had a strong friendship first, so we were able to grow together. We also didn’t have children for the first ten years – we did lots of travelling and fun things as a couple. He’s always my voice of reason and was definitely my agent’s nightmare, as he would pick up on all the small details. I’m very lucky.” 

Chapter Eight: Family Life

“Without intending to, I did end up taking time out to have my children. Despite spending my first pregnancy telling people at the BBC I would probably be back after a couple of weeks, parenthood took me by surprise. I couldn’t bear not to be there – my children are and always will be my world. As a result, I became pickier about jobs which took me away from them. It drove my agent mad, because I went from chasing big jobs to being happier with the smaller stuff. 

“In the end, my career gave me up and I also gave it up. I did suffer from postnatal depression, too – I was exhausted, overwhelmed and never wanted to leave them. The upside was I was always honest about it – I wanted other mums to know they were not alone – and dealt with it through therapy to ensure I came out the other side. Deep down I knew the next part of my life would be happier as a full-time mum. It’s a decision I don’t regret.”

Chapter Nine: The Next Chapter

“Over the past few years, I’ve become much more involved in charity work – most recently when my sister Sarah got lymphoma, I rang a charity up and offered my help. It’s easy to feel useless when a family member has cancer. Charity is something I’ve been involved with in various ways over the years – if you have a voice and a platform (no matter the size) you should use it and give back.

“I’ve also just released the final episode of the podcast I started during lockdown, called Life & Soul. While I’ve loved chatting to my guests about the highs and lows of the past year, I’m looking forward to starting a new chapter now. I can’t reveal too much at the moment, but I’m currently in the planning phase of my next podcast where I will be interviewing some of America’s biggest names…so stay tuned.”
Visit and follow Emma on Instagram @EmmaForbesLifestyle and Twitter @EmmaForbes65. You can listen to the entire series of Life & Soul here.

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