Zoe Ball: My precious moments
TV and radio presenter Zoe Ball talks about how life with her two children Woody and Nelly has taught her the importance of family – and of having a lie-in
Did you always plan to be a mum?
I did. When I was about 19 I was living in Manchester with a great lass called Vicky who was about 30. I remember her and my other housemate Alex talking about their biological clocks beginning to tick, and I thought, 'Really?' But sure enough, I married Norman when I was 29 and it completely kicked in. When I met him, I thought, 'I want to have babies with this man.'
Describe birth in one word
One word's impossible! I had to have C-sections with both of them and obviously there's fear, but then there's the joyous moment they pop out the sunroof and you hear them cry – that's amazing.
How did you choose your children's names?
Woody was named before he had even been conceived. I was a massive fan of Woody Allen and Woody Guthrie. Norm and I were lying in bed one morning and suddenly thought, 'Woody Cook – that's an amazing name.' When I was pregnant, we were saying, 'If it's a girl, we'll have to call her Woodwina.' Before we had Nelly, we'd been trying a long time. We'd just got to the point of deciding we weren't going to have any more kids and that three of us was perfect. Then we both gave up drinking and bang, that was it. She was a real gift of sobriety. Girls' names are all so pretty and flowery, and we wanted to avoid that. Norman had an Auntie Nelly, and I love Wuthering Heights, which has a Nelly in it, so we went for Nelly May Lois.
What's the best thing about being a mum?
I love Saturday morning cuddles when we don't have to get up for school. We all pile onto Woody's bed because it's the comfiest. Norman's always been very strong about not letting the kids sleep in our bed, but he's been away recently, and Nelly [who's nearly four] pads in at about 4am. I love waking and seeing her golden curls on the pillow and her little puffy face. I also love how clever they are. They make me laugh so much. They can drive me crackers, but they're such great company.
Who's your biggest parenting influence?
Norm and I both have remarried parents, so our kids have seven grandparents, and they've all influenced us. Norm's mum Ros is a teacher and child psychologist, so she's taught
us great things. His sister Lois brought up two kids on her own quite young, and they're great fun but also really well-behaved, so I think, 'You got it right.' My dad is daft, but very clever, and my mum is loving and patient.
What's your perfect family day?
We'd start with a weekend morning cuddle, then go over to the café across the road which Norm owns for a bacon sarnie. All our friends would be there with their children.
Because we live on the beach, whatever the weather we're usually out there with the kids running riot. We try to get them on a walk, but it has to be disguised because
walks are one of Woody's pet hates, along with roasts and weddings. Then we'll all watch films together. Even though Woody's 12, he'll quite happily sit through Toy Story, although obviously he hates Nelly's Princess Barbie-type films. He loves sci-fi, like The Avengers.
Best advice you've been given?
How to change tack, which I don't think I ever learned with Woody but I've really learned with Nelly. When she's having a little whinge about something, I'll just say, 'Oh, look what's over there,' and totally change the subject. I think Norm does it with me now!
What have you had to give up?
Lie-ins. Norm and I snuck off to the New Forest the other day to a little hotel. We were there less than 24 hours - all we wanted was to have a lie-in, read the newspaper and have a chat. It was great.
Biggest mistakes you've made?
When I've said, 'Yeah, you can stay up for a little bit longer', and then paid for it because they're completely hyper. And I'm often too lively and animated when I read bedtime stories. I do all these voices, which Nelly loves, but she ends up hysterical instead of sleepy.
What does Norman do better than you?
He can get the kids dressed, fed and out of the house at 7.40. With me, we never leave before 8am. I don't know what he does. When I'm trying to get Woody to brush his teeth, he just wanders off. Maybe Norm has more authority. He's also better at cooking. If I've made shepherd's pie, the kids are like, 'Oh no.'
What do you worry about?
Woody's going to be a teenager soon. He's already tall and his feet are bigger than mine. All those hormones – nightmare! He's at the age where he wants a bit more independence, so we've already had the first 'Right, your room, now' chat with him. Norm and I said afterwards, 'We're turning into our parents!'
Most embarrassing moment?
When Woody was young, he was really bad on planes, to the point where once air traffic control got in touch with the plane because they were concerned about the noise. They
thought there'd been an incident, but it was a screaming child. People would give me looks, but there's really not a lot you can do about it.
What is Christmas like for you?
We have three Christmases. A good 20 of Norm's family came over to watch the Strictly final and then we had a big Cooks Christmas, with secret Santa. We had the Balls on Christmas Day, and then we took my mum away on Boxing Day. I'm a traditionalist – we have the big tree and stockings – and Norman cooks. The kids will be over-excited and awake at 5am. It's lovely to have three generations of family together.
What would you like to pass on to your children?
When you get older and have children, you realise how important family is. Even though my family is really huge and complicated, and we've been through ups and downs, there's an awful lot of love there. So my biggest hope is that they'll always l look after each other.
What do mums have to accept?
You never have time to put on a full face of makeup, or brush all of your teeth, and you'll always have some form of chewed-up food over your clothes. You'll never get to finish a meal, or a book. But you've got years to do that later on when your kids have grown up. And the reward is unconditional love.
Zoe was chatting to Polly Dunbar at the Netflix for Families evening