TV presenter and actress Janet Ellis talks to Melanie Goose about juggling her work and being a hands-on mum and grandma
Janet Ellis is probably best known for her presenting role on popular kids TV show Blue Peter in the 1980s, but she trained as an actress and that has always been her first love. This August was spent at the Edinburgh Fringe where she stared in Hell’s Bells by Lynne Truss, the author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, and she is currently ploughing through books as one of the judges for the Costa First Novel Award. Janet’s also mum to singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, 33, Jack, 25, and Martha, 21, plus grandma to Sophie’s three boys Ray, who was born in April, big brothers Sonny, eight, and Kit, three.
Like many grandparents, Janet is very happily involved with her family. She’s not alone. According to over-50s insurance provider RIAS’s 21st Century Grandparenting Report, 5.8 million (47 per cent) of UK grandparents provide childcare for their grandchildren. It also found that on average grandparents now devote 10 hours every week to looking after their grandchildren and spend about £1,620 a year on gifts, holidays and other expenses or treats such as pocket money for every grandchild.
This doesn’t surprise Janet, who sees a lot of her family. ‘I see the children whenever I can and am very involved in their lives,’ she says. ‘The other day I babysat for all three of them and it was so lovely. Sophie has Claire who looks after the children but sometimes I collect Sonny from school. He goes to the same one where Jack and Martha went and I love being able to pick him up.’
Janet was 23 when she had Sophie and went back to work just a few weeks later. Did she ever feel pressure to have it all regarding family and career? ‘I never felt that pressure from other women to either work full time or be at home full time,’ she says. ‘And I was never made to feel I wasn’t doing it well. I was a mum and I wanted to work, too. I don’t think this feeling of having to be perfect has come from women.’ Janet is also sure that having a career didn’t harm her kids. ‘They never missed out on too much because I was home when I wasn’t working, so they saw me a lot between work commitments. Your kids will never thank you for being at home or anything else really but they are always ready to tell you off about something when they want to! Rather quicker than they will be to appreciate all the sacrifices you make for them.’
Janet understands the importance of grandparents in the family dynamic. ‘I lost my mum when I was pregnant with Martha and that was hard because we were very close and I loved to chat to her,’ she says. ‘She lived quite nearby and if I was ever worried about the children not feeding or whatever I could always talk to her and get great advice, or just have her there to listen to me. That was a very tough time.’ Janet’s mum had cancer, as did her close friend Caron Keating, and she’s involved with Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres, a charity set up to help those with cancer but also to support their families. Janet is patron of the London centre and has just completed a fundraising London night hike for the charity.
She and her husband, TV producer John Leach, live near Sophie, who is married to Richard Jones (Bassist with The Feeling). They are still in the same area of London that they’ve lived in for more than 20 years. ‘We love being here, the house and the area really suit us,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t a mission to do it but we’ve always eaten together as a family when we can. I’ve tried to keep that going with whoever was at home.’ Janet also has a love of cooking and won Celebrity Come Dine with me in 2010. ‘I like trying new recipes and have often cooked with the kids. Actually all my kids can cook really well. Martha is fantastic at baking and while she was doing her A-levels she found it a great stress reliever so we ended up with huge amounts of delicious stuff in the kitchen, more than we could eat!’
All in all Janet is pretty happy with how life has panned out so far. ‘In this industry you can have whole periods of time that are very quiet, which isn’t great for the bank balance, but it does leave you time to see the family and do other things too. I love what I do and feel very fortunate with the career I’ve been able to have. It’s allowed me to do lots of different work.’
Janet Ellis is the ambassador of Yours Magazine and RIAS Grandparent of the Year Awards 2012. The winners, including Hero Gran, Granddad and Glam Gran, will be revealed on the RIAS website in November