■ The TV presenter, 53, praises Chris Evans, recalls her horrible Harrods job and explains her new shopping and panel shows
Your new Channel 5 series, Shop Smart: Save Money, starts today. What are you doing in it?
We’re taking the hassle out of shopping. Each show is themed and it’s very up-to-the-minute. We make it two days before it goes out. I’m also doing my comedy panel show, Gaby’s Talking Pictures, on Radio 4, which features the genius voices of Alistair McGowan and Ronni Ancona. I’m very proud of it. The premise came from an idea of mine when I was at Alistair’s house for supper and thought it would be funny if he voiced different films as different celebrities. We did a pilot last year that had an incredible reaction and now we’ve done six episodes.
What’s your favourite film?
I can’t choose just one but When Harry Met Sally is in my top ten.
Is there any genre you don’t like?
I’m not a huge fan of war films but I’ll watch the classics again and again. The Great Escape was on at Christmas. My ten-year-old daughter said she wasn’t interested but we sat down and watched it together and when it finished she said she wanted to watch it again. I want her to see Thor: Ragnarok, which I loved as well, but it’s nice to see she enjoys the classics.
How can you stand out in the overcrowded world of panel shows?
Pictures is completely new. It was extraordinary the last time we did it. One broadsheet described it as ‘Have I Got News For You but for movies and without any cynicism’. We have the most brilliant teams that come on. We’ve got people such as Lucy Porter, Iain Lee and Sally Lindsay. It’s a great cross section and brings some new voices to Radio 4 — my dad was a newsreader on Radio 4 but I never thought I’d be on the station. I’m thrilled.
Sounds like you’re keeping busy…
I create my own stuff constantly. I’ve got two TV shows in development. I walk everywhere — I do between seven and 15 miles a day. There was something in the British Medical Journal recently saying walking is not only good for your heart, it stimulates your mind. I get extraordinary ideas. I had an idea for a TV show at the top of Primrose Hill and had the pitch formulated by the time I reached the bottom. I’ve been in this business for 32 years and I’m lucky I’m still working. And I’ve always said the most important thing for me is to learn — and when I’m not learning new things I leave a show. Everyone was shocked when I left City Hospital, which was the first show to be live broadcast daily from a hospital, but I couldn’t learn any more. I don’t ever want to get blasé.
How have things changed over the course of your career?
There are a lot more channels. And things change all the time. I do a big entertainment show on Sunday afternoons on BBC Radio London — it’s tremendous fun and we have big stars such as Julianne Moore on. We now put it out on Instagram Live as well. You have to embrace new technology. But I still love TV now as much as I did when I was three and decided I wanted to be a TV presenter.
Who have you learned the most from?
Chris Evans. Working with him on The Big Breakfast was a joy from start to finish. I adore him and get very upset when people say anything horrible about him. I learned to just go with the flow from him. You just have to go with whatever happens and we broke the fourth wall a lot on The Big Breakfast, so if I fall over or make a mistake I’ll tell everyone I’ve done it. When I did the BBC’s millennium celebration broadcast it was 28 and a half hours of live television and, 15 minutes in, the autocue broke. I just got on with it.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Working in Harrods when I was a drama student, I didn’t know where to train to become a TV presenter. My dad had gone to Rada to train to be a broadcaster and went on to be a newsreader on Radio 4. I was on the men’s aftershave counter spraying people. I hated it. A lot of the people there didn’t like the fact I wanted to be a TV presenter. So then I got a job in ladies’ fashion at Selfridges, which was much better. If you’re shy, as I was, working in a shop is a great way to overcome it as you have to learn to talk to people.
What lessons has your career in showbiz taught you?
To stay strong and keep following your dreams — but those dreams will change. I’d dreamed of presenting a Saturday morning show since the age of 12, then I got to present Motormouth, then I decided I wanted to do it every day and got The Big Breakfast. So your ambitions will change but don’t give up.
Shop Smart: Save Money starts on Channel 5 tonight at 8pm. For our Money section, see page 20