Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

20.56 9 Sep 2020


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British journalist and broadcaster Esther Rantzen says she hopes she'll be able to cuddle her grandchildren again by Christmas.

She says hugs are "wonderfully precious" - but stressed she'll continue to follow the public health advice, even if that means no cuddles.

It comes after UK health secretary Matt Hancock urged young people not to infect their grandparents with COVID-19.

Ms Rantzen - who is also the founder of ChildLine and Silver Line charities - is one of the many grandparents around the world who've been advised not to cuddle their grandchildren in recent months.

She told The Hard Shoulder being a grandmother has 'transformed her life'.

'Cuddles are precious' - Esther Rantzen on hoping to hug her grandchildren at Christmas

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She observed: "Someone defined it as loving your children, but falling in love with your grandchildren - it is a bit like an infatuation.

"I find my day is made if some little person... comes rushing towards you, calling your name and flinging their arms around your neck.

"I don't want for a moment to say I would flout the rules, because I won't and I don't: I socially distance myself, and I socially isolate myself. I think we owe it to our families and to the community to follow the rules.

"But the fact is those cuddles are wonderfully precious, and I do hope we have a cuddly Christmas. If they say I can't, then I can't."

Ms Rantzen said she never understood her friends' boasting about their grandchildren before she had some herself.

She recalled: "I remember a friend of mine talking about how brilliantly intelligent her granddaughter was at 18 months, being able to open her kitchen cupboards and throw everything out on the floor. I think I may have said 'I don't think that's necessarily proof of Einstein'.

"But I'm much, much worse. I put their pictures up on the wall; I boast about them to my friend; I dance with them... whatever they tell me to do, I instantly obey. I think it put a spring in my step, and made me feel about 50 years older.

"They don't call me granny or grandma - they call me Etta, which is the name they invented for me."

'Radical change'

Beyond grandchildren, Ms Rantzen said the pandemic has meant "a very radical change" to her whole lifestyle.

She told Kieran: "I haven't worn high heels since March 14th. I'm sitting her in jeans, with a certain amount of make-up because Zoom can be quite unforgiving... but I think I'm a better person really.

"I quite like the old Esther Rantzen - I thought she was quite funny. But I'm more comfortable in my skin now, I think.

"Those four hour board meetings with curling sandwiches that we were allowed five minutes to eat in the middle of the day... did I like that? Or going to quite nice restaurants... I haven't eaten a restaurant meal since March, and I don't mind. I quite like it."

She said her own 80th birthday celebrations over Zoom were "hysterical" - including one with around 60 of her That's Life! colleagues "saying terribly rude things about me".

Kieran also asked whether she believes people will look back on the dramatic response to the pandemic and feel it was over-the-top.

Ms Rantzen responded: "We may find in England that the Cheltenham Festival and the various pop concerts and the football match... I had isolated myself by then... I was very lucky to have a house [in the country. I did that by March 14th.

"I don't think Boris imposed a lockdown for 10 days in England - I think we may look back at that and think why we were so slow off the mark.

"I think that's why England's got such a terrible death rate, and also our economy hasn't escaped damaged. We haven't done brilliantly, have we?"

Main image: Esther Rantzen. Picture by: Jonathan Brady/PA Archive/PA Images

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