Maybe it’s because she’s been on Britain’s biggest telly show for over a decade, but Tess Daly has a knack of making you feel like you already know her. ‘Come in, sit down!’ she says, patting a bum-parking place on the sofa and sorting out drinks for our chat. (Builders’ tea for Tess, like a good northern lass, and she’s not slow to pop in some sugar either.)
‘I’ve got a schizophrenic sweet tooth,’ she laughs. ‘And I’m never going to give up chocolate, that’s a love affair that’s never going to end.’
Despite a taste for the sweet things in life, Tess still has the model figure of her 20s, and you’d wager she burns a fair few calories just through all the smiling she does. ‘I’m a cup half-full kind of girl,’ she beams. ‘I like to smell the roses and count my blessings.’
Of which there are plenty. She’s co-presented the almighty Strictly Come Dancing for the past 14 years, first with the late Sir Bruce Forsyth and now with Claudia Winkleman, famously making them the first female presenting duo on Saturday night telly.
Next weekend is Strictly’s finale, then she’ll be back in our living rooms on Christmas Day for the festive special.
Off-screen she leads a ‘very down-to-earth’ existence in Buckinghamshire with her presenter husband Vernon Kay and their two girls Phoebe, 14, and Amber, nine.
‘I was pregnant with my eldest the first year of Strictly, now she’s a young woman who’s as tall as me,’ she muses. ‘I can’t believe it.’
It’s also hard to believe that Tess is 50 next year. She might protest she’s ‘very wrinkly’ (she’s not), but she’s actually blessed with the glowing skin of someone a decade younger.
In fact, the only thing that might give away her age is the sort of pragmatic attitude that only comes with time.
‘I don’t define myself by others’ opinions of me,’ she says. ‘My life is defined by how I feel. I honestly really couldn’t care less about my age as long as I can jump out of bed with enthusiasm and be a fit, active mum for my kids.
‘That’s what really matters.’
It’s a big birthday next year, are you looking forward to it?
I’m just grateful to be alive, frankly. I’ve had friends who’ve died in their 30s and 40s from cancer, so who am I to complain about getting older?
It’s a luxury. I hope I keep getting older. It’s sad that in this day and age women are still judged on their age.
Men don’t have to defend their right to still be working in their 40s or 50s.
It’s ridiculous because I feel I’m just coming into my stride. It’s the point where you’re more worldly wise, you’ve got more life experiences and you’re peaking as a woman.
Tess feels more confident than ever
How do you look after yourself?
I work out twice a week with a trainer who’s brilliant with me because I’m not a person who likes to sweat.
I always go into it clock watching, thinking ‘I can’t wait for this to be over’ then halfway through I’m like ‘This isn’t so bad’ and once it’s done I fly through the day on an endorphin rush.
I skip at home too, that’s fun and it doesn’t feel like a workout. I’ve got the whole family doing it actually, I bought ropes for everyone.
I eat healthily and I take my Wellwoman supplements – I think vitamins are so important for immunity because you can easily get run down.
Are you still resolved to keep your looks 100% natural?
I could probably use a lot of help! I’ve got a lot of wrinkles these days. But you know what, I’ve earned those laughter lines, I’ve had fun getting them.
People have grown up watching me on the telly and suddenly they might feel like they don’t know me anymore if looked like a different version of myself.
Christmas is nearly upon us – what’s it like at your house?
I love it, I’m like a big kid. Ever since I became a mum, Christmas has taken on a whole new meaning.
My little one asks from October how many sleeps there are until Christmas. The tree’s always up literally on December 1, and I go over the top with decorations.
We have sequin Bambis, glitter wreaths and a big light-up snowman at the front door. I try to stick to a colour theme – I’ve gone neon this year – but then I incorporate all the other decorations I’ve already got. So it ends up being totally chaotic.
Low-key isn’t your festive style, then?
Even the dogs get dressed up. They have their own Christmas jumpers.
This year I got them little Christmas antlers for the annual family photo. I actually have a box of dress-up Christmas props I wheel out every year, with things like turkey hats and light-up Santa beards.
Everyone gets involved. Vernon is totally up for wearing a comedy turkey on his head. He’s the one leading the conga round the kitchen with the turkey hat on.
Tess with Vernon
What are your favourite family traditions?
I just love the way Christmas brings everyone together at home. We’ll argue over Uno and feast until we fall asleep on the sofa. And I love the sweetness of it, just seeing the kids’ faces as they open their presents.
Are you organised or a last-minute shopper?
I’ll have done about 85% of it by Christmas weekend, and then I’ll go panic shopping.
I try to be organised every year, I start shopping for gifts in October. I like to keep my eye out for something I think will be perfect for that person in my life.
But then I do that thing where I think, ‘Oh no, that’s not enough, I need to get something else’, and dash off to Westfield. Nobody notices me there, I’m head down, woman on a mission.
Are you easy to buy presents for?
I’d like to think so, but my husband might tell you different! I’m girlie – I like shoes, bags, candles, makeup. But you know what I’ve done for the past few years?
I’ve treated myself to a couple of things I’ve really wanted, to avoid disappointment on Christmas Day. Merry Christmas to me! I’m going to gift myself those metallic Converse!
But this year I’ve decided that defeats the whole object and I haven’t bought myself anything. Actually, I do quite well at Christmas. I might say, ‘Oh, don’t buy me anything,’ but Vernon’s never taken me at my word.
Do you overdo it on the festive food?
God, yes. I’ve got a fridge/freezer in the garage that literally only gets turned on at Christmas for all the extra food. If my overflow fridge isn’t full, I panic we don’t have enough food. I’m a feeder when I’m in hostess mode.
So who does the Christmas cooking round at yours?
We share it. Vernon is quite territorial about the turkey. He picks it out, he buys it, he does the whole hunter-gatherer thing.
Then he cooks it his way – turning it, basting it, sticking a thermometer in, covering it in bacon. It’s my favourite meal of the whole year. I do the veg and make the table look pretty.
Do you throw a good Christmas party?
I’ll always invite friends over before Christmas, and it usually turns into a kitchen disco.
I haven’t got a glitter ball hanging from the ceiling, but I have got one of those little portable ones, so that’ll be on.
I’ll ply everyone with champagne and cocktails, and put on any songs that make me want to throw my hands in the air and dance with wild abandon. The kids are mortified when we start dancing.
Who is more embarrassing – you or Vernon?
Whoever is doing the most extreme moves. Probably Vernon, although I can give him a run for his money.
You must throw a few shapes at the Strictly Christmas party too…
The season wrap party is so much fun. It’s got that ‘end of term’ feeling, and everyone lets off steam. The moves are pretty impressive.
We’ve got a room full of professional dancers twirling everyone around, and we’re usually up on the tables by the end of the night. It’s probably me and Claudia up there first.
But it never gets too messy. I’ll get tiddly, but I can’t do hangovers now I’ve got kids.
Tess with her co-star Claudia
How would you describe your partnership with Claudia?
Claudia is hilarious. She regularly makes me spit out my tea in meetings.
She’s fab, she’s the type of girl you want as a girlfriend. It doesn’t feel like work when you get to hang out with someone you genuinely get on with.
The show’s been such a big part of my life, I’ve grown up on Strictly. It’s a feel-good show to watch and it’s a feel-good show to work on. It’s a gift of a job and I’ll never take it for granted.
How do you balance Strictly and family?
The kids give up their mum on Saturdays for five months, but I make up for it. On Sundays I’m über mum on steroids. I’ve got a list! What are we doing today?!
And I’m around the rest of the year, I’m there for 90% of dinner times and school pick-ups. I’ve never wanted a full-time nanny because I love being a mum and I’m all too aware that soon my eldest will have left home.
I want to make the most of the girls being there. Nothing makes me happier than when my little girl puts her arms around me at the end of the day and says ‘I love you Mummy’.
That unconditional love is so overwhelming, I live for that.
Do you and Vernon fit in quality couple time too?
We’ll try a new restaurant and that’s a treat. But my teenager is a bit of a foodie, so she’ll say, ‘Can I come?’ Of course, honey. The more the merrier.
What are your ambitions now?
I’m thinking about a course in interior design. Kelly Hoppen is a friend of mine, she’s mentored me a bit, and I love that world. I get excited about a new cushion. I can’t get enough of house porn. That’s how I wind down in the evening, looking at Rightmove. Sad, isn’t it?
Tess is the face of Wellwoman, the UK’s leading women’s multivitamin supplement brand. Visit Vitabiotics.com.