Fiona Phillips has revealed how she was on the edge of a nervous breakdown
With her bright smiles, ready laughter and easy, insightful presenting manner, Fiona Phillips was a calming, gentle way to start the day.
But as she has now revealed, beneath the relaxed facade the GMTV presenter was in turmoil.
“That was the most stressful period I went through,” says Fiona, 56, who is back on TV this week presenting a new documentary about stress.
“It was absolute madness and I feared I was on the verge of massive depression and a breakdown. Eamonn Holmes [her GMTV co- presenter] used to say to me, ‘You’re clinically depressed and you need to get help.’ I’d say, ‘No, I’m fine.’
“I felt that if I admitted to it then everything would crumble and who would look after my mum and dad and the children?”
From 1997 to 2008 Fiona was the anchor for GMTV.
As well as coping with the stress of 3.30am starts and the pressure of presenting live television every morning, she also took part in Strictly Come Dancing, was a regular panellist on the popular TV show Loose Women and wrote a weekly newspaper column.
But if work was hectic, away from the cameras Fiona was facing a series of crises in her personal life.
In 2000 she discovered her mother Amy had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Fiona had just given birth to her first child Nathaniel – and was already struggling to cope with the pressures of looking after a new baby and continuing her career.
Worse was to come as her father Phil also began to succumb to the illness.
Fiona Phillips with her husband Martin Frizell
It was absolute madness and I feared I was on the verge of massive depression and a breakdown
“My dad would ring me up saying, ‘That bloody woman, you’ll never guess what she’s done now,’” she says.
“I thought it was their relationship falling apart but it was because she was really ill and we didn’t know. I felt as though my whole world was imploding because dad was behaving oddly.
“I took against him. I thought, ‘You cold, horrible man; this has brought out your true colours,’ but it turned out he was ill as well and we didn’t know.”
Yet more stress came with the birth of second child Mackenzie in 2002.
As a baby he suffered from severe eczema, needing to be wrapped in bandages to stop him bleeding.
Fiona is searingly honest about her own struggles
At the same time Fiona began to care for both her parents, bundling the children into the car every week for the five-hour drive to their home in Wales.
Her marriage to This Morning editor Martin Frizell, who at the time was working with her on GMTV, also began to suffer.
“Martin used to say, ‘You’ve got no time for me,’ and I would say, ‘No, I haven’t got time for you,’” she says.
“We’d have rows because we were both at the end of our tether.
“At the time I felt I was never doing a good job for anyone. But looking back I was split in so many directions I don’t know how I did it.
“I had things I had to go to but I couldn’t get out of bed. It was awful. I had so many people relying on me.”
Finally the pressure told. After her mother died in 2006 and her father was officially diagnosed with the disease, Fiona took action.
No longer prepared to try to disguise her incredible anxiety for the camera every morning, she quit her £300,000-a-year job at GMTV, declaring simply that she “couldn’t have it all”.
“I sat in my office one day. It was like Munch’s The Scream,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’m breaking down.’ When I look back, I do think I was severely depressed.”
She devoted herself to caring for her dad, who died in 2012 and, after writing a moving book on her experiences, Before I Forget: A Daughter’s Story, finally confronted the toll the pressures had taken on her own wellbeing. The result can be seen in a new BBC One documentary on Thursday.
In The Truth About Stress, Fiona discusses those years of struggle and how she recovered from her own “breakdown”.
The programme is a very personal investigation into a mental health condition that affects 12 million people in the UK and accounts for 11.7 million lost working days a year.
Fiona is searingly honest about her own struggles but also explores how different coping mechanisms can help before it’s too late.
It is a tentative return to the screen for one of the nation’s most missed presenters.
Fiona admits that – with both her children growing up, more time for her marriage and without the daily agony of seeing her parents suffer from Alzheimer’s – it may be the start of a whole new chapter for her.
In The Truth About Stress, Fiona discusses those years of struggle
But she recognises life is never going to be stress-free – for anyone.
“I have the stress that all women have: washing, thinking we’ve got nothing in the fridge.
“I still have responsibility for family life but I don’t have that stomach-lurching feeling that I used to , the emotion right in my throat where one more thing could send me over the edge.”