"My baby"s the reward for giving up booze": Zoe Ball tells how she"s bounced back with a new child (and a little help from her…

'My baby's the reward for giving up booze': Zoe Ball tells how she's bounced back with a new child (and a little help from her dad)

Richard Barber


00:52 GMT, 19 October 2012



00:56 GMT, 19 October 2012

She may be used to drying the tears of evicted contestants from Strictly Come Dancing when they turn up on her It Takes Two comfy couch on BBC2, but on Monday this was different. Not only had Zoe Ball’s father, Johnny, been voted off the dance floor 24 hours earlier but, humiliatingly, he was the first to go.

Zoe was disappointed for him, but also gamely philosophical. ‘I’d been terrified for him each time he stepped out on the dance floor’, she tells me. ‘It’s not nice for any daughter to have to watch her dad going through an ordeal — and Strictly is tough.

‘I knew, too, that he could never be accused of not trying hard enough, because he throws himself into everything he does. I am extremely proud of my dad. He’s a real gentleman. But now I know how my family felt when I took part in 2005.

Zoe Ball says she's more calmer these days after having a 'stock-take' of her life

Zoe Ball says she's more calmer these days after having a 'stock-take' of her life

‘I thought he did really well. He has so much energy. I’ve been bowled over by the number of people asking after him. There’s so much love for Dad out there. It’s fantastic.’

Scroll back to her Uncle Paul’s 60th birthday earlier this year when Zoe was discreetly summoned into his study. ‘I’ve got something to tell you about your father,’ he said. ‘It’s something I’ve been wanting to share with you for ages but I haven’t be able to.’

‘My first thought, of course, was that Dad had some sort of terminal illness. I asked if he’d been diagnosed with something terrible. “Far worse,” said Uncle Paul, straight-faced. “He’s accepted the invitation to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing.” ’ All these weeks later, Zoe hoots with happy laughter.

‘I was so excited for him. My dad’s from an old-school world of entertainment. He cut his teeth in working men’s clubs and as a Butlins Redcoat. He’s always loved an audience. I told him he’d come alive on that dance floor.’ Pause. ‘What I didn’t know is whether his dancing would turn out to be any good.’

Well, yes. Breaking his dance partner Aliona Vilani’s foot wasn’t a great start to their partnership. Zoe all but leaps out of her seat. ‘He didn’t break her foot!’ she protests. ‘Her foot turned over as they were rehearsing, which resulted in a hairline fracture.’

For a couple of days, Johnny Ball then
got to dance with Zoe’s old Strictly partner, Ian Waite. ‘That was
quite special,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t help wishing they might actually
dance on the show together but he was given a new partner in Iveta
Lukosiute, an award-winning Lithuanian dancer, and completely adorable.’

Iveta’s advice to Johnny,
according to his daughter, was that he should be like James Bond. ‘A
slightly older Bond, admittedly, because while at 74 he can’t be a sex
god, he can certainly play the distinguished gentleman.’

41, has been married to DJ Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, since 1999.
The couple live in Hove, Sussex, with their son Woody and daughter

Zoe Ball, seen with her daughter Nelly, says she's better at juggling demands and has become organised since having children

Zoe Ball, seen with her daughter Nelly, says she's better at juggling demands and has become organised since having children

In 2005’s Strictly, Zoe came third behind winner Darren Gough and athlete Colin Jackson. ‘We were lucky to get to the final, but it was such fun,’ — which why she’s so pleased to be back hosting It Takes Two.

‘I love it. Claudia Winkleman used to front the show, but she’s busy with her film programme and her Radio 2 show, and, of course, she does the results programme with Tess Daly.

‘My husband loves Claudia. In fact, he
has a signed photograph of her above his desk, complete with a message
too rude to repeat in a family newspaper. Anyway, it’s great I get to do
ITT for the second year.’

She still fills in for Ken Bruce on his Radio 2 morning show, and recently she stood in at breakfast time for Chris Evans.

‘That was a blast,’ she says. ‘It was
like waking up in a time warp. The only difference is that I’m so much
better behaved these days than when I was doing the Radio 1 Breakfast

Zoe gave up drinking almost four years ago, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it has transformed her life.

meant I was on time for Chris’s show and I never had a hangover. I
haven’t touched a drop since January 2009, although I do have a boozy
dessert now and again.

‘The problem was that if I opened a
bottle of wine, I couldn’t have just one, or maybe two, glasses. I had
the whole bottle. It got to the point when it was easier not to drink
anything at all.’

Does the
current Zoe remember the Zoe of the ladette years ‘Well, I’m the same
person but I’m slightly calmer these days; more chilled out and happier.
I feel I’ve grown up quite a lot. I can still be very silly when needs
be. I think my children sometimes look at me and wonder who’s the adult
in this relationship.’

that she was always a tearaway. ‘I was a very well-behaved teenager. In
fact, I was a bit of a geek, if I’m honest. It seems as though I was
saving it all for my 20s when I went a little crackers. But, towards the
end of my 30s, the time came for a bit of a stock-take.’

Zoe says she was proud of her father Johnny who took part in Strictly Come Dancing

Zoe says she was proud of her father Johnny who took part in Strictly Come Dancing

During her ladette days, she had little contact with her father for three years. ‘I lost her,’ Johnny said later. ‘We couldn’t communicate and I didn’t know what was going on in her life, and she needed to work things out for herself.’

But when she decided to turn her life around, Johnny was there for her.

‘He was a fantastic support’, she says. ‘He still is. No matter what I’ve done, in all the ups and downs, he’s never been judgmental, he’s just been a super dad and grandad.’

There had been a well-publicised fling a few years into her marriage when Zoe left Fatboy for fellow DJ Dan Peppe. The affair over, the couple tried to cement their reconciliation by trying for a brother or sister for Woody.

‘But nothing happened,’ says Zoe. Then she and Norman went teetotal — and Nelly was born in January 2010.

‘The truth is, she came along when we both stopped drinking. I’m sure that’s the reason.

‘The fact we hadn’t managed to have another child for all those years and then Nelly was conceived when we gave up the booze must be linked. It felt like our reward. Very much so.

‘Now, I’m really enjoying having hit my 40s. There’s a feeling of relief that I can take life at a slightly slower pace. I’ve also come to understand the joy you get from your kids. It’s wonderful watching them grow and discover the world. It feels like a good time at the moment.’

But she dismisses the suggestion that she might have regrets. ‘No, not at all. You can’t waste time regretting. You just have to try to be kind to the people you love, the ones you’re close to. Relationships are tricky and life can be tough. We’re all under strains and pressures. All you can do is your best.’

These days, she’s much better, she says, at juggling the demands of home and work. ‘It’s certainly true that the busier I am, the more organised I become. I have to be.

‘But Norman and I are careful about the work we accept. He works through the summer full-out with festivals and so on. Then, come autumn, it’s my time for Strictly all the way through to Christmas.’

Meanwhile, Zoe is spearheading a new Disney initiative to get more parents to read to their children on a regular basis.

‘Disney did some research into how many parents read their children bedtime stories and were quite surprised by what they discovered. The majority of parents haven’t got the time or the energy to read to their kids at the end of a busy day. That’s further complicated by the fact that a growing number of children spend far too much time on social media.

‘I’ve always read to Woody — but he’s going to be 12 in December. I saved a lot of his favourite books which I’m now starting to get out to read to Nelly, who’ll be three in January.

‘But she’s going through a phase when she prefers Daddy reading to her. I recently bought Frog And Toad, which my dad used to read to me but I think she finds them a bit boring. Then I realised I had to put a bit more into it.’

She smiles. ‘What on earth did I do before I had children I must have spent half my life in the pub. Oh yes, come to think of it, I did!’

Ten years from now, she says, it would be nice still to be working — ‘although heaven knows what work will be around. Will Strictly still be going in 2022 I hope so. Norman and I were chatting just the other day about how both our careers aren’t really long-term.

‘He’s 50 next year. He’s doing fine right now, but he knows full well he can’t carry on being a DJ for ever.

‘We decided when it all comes to a halt, we’re going to run a pub, a pet shop or a post office. Or open a B&B.

‘We live in a lovely big house by the sea. We’ve had a few musicians come through recently. Paul Heaton [ex-Beautiful South] was on tour and his band came to stay. I really enjoyed that. I rather fancy the idea of doing big fry-ups for breakfast and putting a chocolate on each pillow in the evening.’

Is working with your husband a good idea ‘Hmm, the only time Norman and I ever worked together professionally was on Live And Kicking and he mentioned he sometimes wore my pants, which was really embarrassing.

‘In 2022, Woody will be at university, I hope, studying law. He’s clever and he works really hard. At the moment, he wants to design computer games. He’s also started making little films. So who knows

‘I just hope both the kids will be happy and doing well and I’ll be better at cooking and maybe Norman will be retired. Good grief!’ She screeches to a standstill.

Who’s going to win Strictly She pulls a face. ‘Well, it’s quite a line-up this year. Actually, we always play the game of who’ll be in the final three. You have to put the names in an envelope before you see any of them dance.’

Her chosen three ‘Nicky Byrne, Kimberley Walsh and — my tip to win — Louis Smith.’

■ For more details about Zoe’s reading initiative, visit disney.co.uk/winniethepooh/storytelling