One Show host Alex Jones opens up about the struggles of getting pregnant and becoming a mum in her late 30s in new book, Winging It! Ella Walker finds out why she wrote it, and why Wales will always be home
In the last couple of years, life has changed dramatically for Welsh-born One Show presenter Alex Jones.
Best known for sitting on the BBC’s green sofa at 7pm every weeknight, alongside co-host Matt Baker, the 41-year-old is used to being in control, whether she’s interviewing celebrities or grappling with the problems that come with working on a live TV chat show.
“Two years ago, things were completely different, I had a grip on everything,” she explains. “But if you throw a baby into the mix, suddenly there’s no pattern, there are no definites. Everything you think you can organise is out the window, because a little tiny human can create absolute chaos – all you can do is wing it!”
The baby in question is her one-year-old, Edward Alun Burrell Thomson, or Teddy for short, who she and insurance broker husband Charlie, welcomed in January 2017. It was the experience of becoming a mother, particularly as it was later in life, that has inspired Alex’s debut book, Winging It!
The title is one she nabbed from a sweatshirt emblazoned with the phrase, which her sister and a friend both bought her, unbeknown to each other. “I thought, ‘They’ve obviously made their mind up as to how this is going to go’, and they were so spot on.”
She says it was a “big decision” as to whether she’d chart her and Charlie’s journey on paper, as having a baby is “a very intimate and private experience,” but was eventually persuaded to write it when she realised how little information there was available to people in a similar position to her – Alex was 39 when she gave birth to Teddy.
“I didn’t feel there was a book out there that spoke to me as somebody who was having a baby in their 30s, who had a full on job to manage at the same time, and, like many couples living in a city, where we didn’t have help on our doorstep in terms of parents, and where we turning more to friends and peers for support and advice,” she explains. “I wanted to address a few things.”
She also thought the process of recording everything – from trying to get pregnant, myths around fertility, to people touching your bump, the birth itself and the tumultuous aftermath of meeting your baby, getting to grips with breastfeeding, finding a nanny and not losing sight of your marriage – would also leave her with “a good record for us as a family” that they could look back at, and that would “take us right back to that time in years to come”.
Alex calls it a support book (“not a manual”) and notes she’s in no position to give advice considering she was experiencing parenthood for the first time herself while writing it. Hence why it’s packed with other voices, of people sharing their own stories and trials. “I wanted to open it up and for it to become a conversation,” she explains.
In fact, Alex wrote the book “right in the middle of learning to become a mum, as it was happening”. She’d get home from the One Show at about 8.15pm, eat supper really quickly and then start writing at about 9pm, tapping out her thoughts and feelings until 1am. “I’m a heart on my sleeve kind of girl and that’s what the book is,” she says. “It’s very honest.”
Although she says the process of writing it was therapeutic, if quite exposing, she’s been more nervous about the people who know her best reading it. “Charlie’s obviously read it because he had to sign some bits off, and mum’s read bits of it but not as a whole, so for me, that’s the more scary thing,” she muses. “Because some of the scenarios and moments in there you wouldn’t necessarily discuss, even with your friends.”
She might have written a book on the subject, but ask her if she feels any more prepared regarding motherhood and she practically shouts: “Oh god no! And that’s the thing, having a baby is a leveller. It doesn’t matter how old you are – if you’re the Duchess of Cambridge, or somebody who’s 14 having a baby, or a woman in her 30s – it’s the biggest leveller there is.
“Nobody knows what to expect that first time around, it’s a minefield, and that was the biggest shock to me.”
So, is she still winging it? “Oh daily – I mean, beyond daily.”
He might have only turned one in January, but when it comes to how Welsh Teddy is, Alex confirms he’s already learning the language.
“It’s part of my heritage,” she says. “We speak to him in both languages. I don’t know if he’s bilingual because, obviously, he’s not spoken yet, but he does hear both languages at home. For me, knowing both, it helps with other languages too – when you can flip your brain, it makes others a lot easier to get your head around.”
She admits that she can’t help but miss Wales, particularly as it’s where her parents are still based.
“They’re not on our doorstep,” she explains, “but these days mum and dad come to London at any opportunity to see Teddy.”
And Alex, who grew up in Ammanford in Carmarthenshire, still comes back whenever she can. “It’s not even about the place for me, it’s about the people. My closest friends and family are there, and as soon as I’ve driven over the Severn Bridge, I just feel like a weight has been taken off. It’s like right, here I am, home.”
Winging It!: Parenting in the Middle of Life! by Alex Jones is published by Lagom, priced £14.99 (ebook £6.47). Available from April 5.