Davina McCall has a natural talent for connecting people, starting conversations, and encouraging us all to make the most of what we’ve got. Here she talks about bringing the ‘Glastonbury of Wellbeing’ to the UK, embracing her inner child, and living life to the fullest
Every generation seems to know, and love, Davina McCall. She’s one of just a handful of public figures who have such a broad appeal, and no wonder – she’s been a regular fixture on our screens for more than 20 years, bringing warmth, a little goofiness, and a large dollop of authenticity to every project she’s involved in. Whether she’s raising money for Sport Relief, supporting reunited siblings on Long Lost Family, or busting moves on The Masked Singer, Davina gives it her all.
Alongside her stellar television career, she’s also been shaking things up in homes up and down the country since 2004 with her exercise DVDs and online fitness programmes. Sharing is most definitely caring for Davina, and it all began, she explains, when she met husband-and-wife fitness duo, Mark and Jackie Wren.
“I started making exercise DVDs because Jackie and Mark changed my life,” she says. “And I thought: ‘I want to share that!’ The idea that through doing something I love, and that makes me feel better, that I can maybe help other people do something that will make them feel better, is just lovely.”
The emphasis on the mood-changing effect of exercise is central to everything for Davina, and she tries to incorporate it wherever she can, including when she’s out with her beloved dog. “In the summers, I run with Beau, and she loves it, but it’s so muddy at the moment it’s just turned into a really brisk walk,” she says. “But having a dog is amazing for my mental health and motivation, because she doesn’t care if it’s raining, she’s just got to go out!”
However, Davina understands that getting up and outside isn’t always as straightforward as that, especially when you are struggling mentally. “Exercise should never be a stick to beat yourself with,” she explains. “I know when you’ve got low self-esteem, everything is a stick to beat yourself with, and it’s so easy to turn working out and food into something to give yourself a hard time about.”
Her answer to this issue is to practise self-compassion and start small, but to harness the proven benefits of being out in the open. It’s a method she’s used herself time and again. “When I’ve felt a bit low, and particularly in winter – I find those cold dark mornings really hard – just getting outside, even if I’m only walking around the block, really helps.”
It’s almost difficult to believe that someone with the fitness levels Davina has, could ever struggle with motivation. But that is, she says, one of the biggest misconceptions about her. However, she swears by the advice her friend and trainer Jackie gave her years ago, which is to do some form of movement three times a week to keep physically and mentally healthy.
Davina continually champions the importance of supporting our brains as well as our bodies with exercise. “I think my interest in the mind comes from my recovery,” she reflects, referring to the drug addiction she lived through in her late teens and early 20s. “You know, getting clean and going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
“At NA we follow a programme – there’s 12 steps – and I’ve wondered a lot about how and why that works. It’s sort of trained me how to live...” Davina pauses. “I say that I don’t really have mental health struggles, but I don’t have mental health struggles now. I did before I got clean, that’s why I used drugs.”
Davina feels “so blessed” that she has been able to gain, and use, the 12-step knowledge, and says that she regularly contemplates how to deliver the programme’s benefits to the wider public. “It helped me, and it still helps me lead a better life,” she says seriously.
Exercise is the greatest gift you can give your body and your brain, and it will change your mindset
Holly, Davina’s oldest daughter, seems to have inherited her mum’s curiosity about the mind, and how humans connect. “She loves a deep philosophical chat, and she’s very opinionated, which I love,” Davina says.
She says that having teenage children means that she continues to learn and grow through their experiences and reactions to the world. “I learned something really amazing from all of my three kids actually,” she continues, smiling. “Which was not to be so judgemental of other people! I always used to say: ‘But why are they doing that, or putting that into their faces at 18?’ My kids would reply: ‘If they want to do it, they can do it, don’t be so judgy!’ That’s a really great lesson that they’ve taught me.”
Davina’s honest and open-book approach to life’s lessons is refreshing, and is perhaps one of the reasons she’s so popular. She’s relatable, and avoids airbrushing her ups, downs, moods, and mistakes. She’s the mate many of us would love to have.
Recently, Davina has shared even more of her own experiences and recommendations on her chatty podcast ‘Making the Cut’, co-hosted by long-term friend, hairdresser, and now partner, Michael Douglas. It’s clearly a project that brings her great joy.
“We’ve been doing this for 20 years, chatting about stuff, and you can hear what we’re like,” she says, and bursts out laughing. “Even things like a sofa, we can turn into a massive philosophical debate!”
Having the ability to chat about everything from big life ideas to the consistency of KFC gravy, is so important for Davina. “I need all my senses,” she enthuses. “I don’t want to be all serious, all exercise, all good eating, and a nun! I want to break out, I want to go clubbing, to listen to loud music. I want to laugh and cry...” Davina draws in a deep breath. “I really feel like I’m at a stage where I want to live life to the max.”
A picture she posted online earlier this year reminds her to continually embrace every part of her, and all of these needs. In it, a young girl stands, arms outstretched, laughing and soaked by the rain, with the caption ‘Remember her? She’s still there… inside you… waiting. Let’s go and get her.’
“I’m always thinking about that child in me, and how I shouldn’t ignore her,” Davina says. “I remember to have fun.”
Davina’s desire to feel and spread joy, her love of exercise and being outdoors, all look set to come together this year as she brings WellFest, an amazing wellbeing event, to the UK. After experiencing the festival atmosphere first-hand last year, she instinctively knew it was something she wanted to be involved in.
“When I went to WellFest in Ireland, I suddenly got a glimpse of what it must be like to play Glastonbury! There’s this really amazing feeling, seeing everybody moving in unison to music, doing something that we all love, and all for the same reason – to feel better.
“To look out from the stage and see mums, dads, kids and grannies all together and really enjoying something, it’s so special.”
The bubbling excitement Davina has become so well-known for is at its peak when she talks about Wellfest. She’s hugely passionate about the event and she hints at some of the people who look set to be leading classes and talking across the weekend. It sounds like a great line-up and she urges everyone to check out the website for the latest additions.
Davina also hopes that she can encourage people who are currently struggling to start exercising, to head down and enjoy the event’s friendly and supportive atmosphere. “Coming to something like Wellfest is an amazing idea. Be brave and try a new, huge workout with thousands of people.”
“That’s what I’d say to someone who is struggling,” she concludes. “Or just start some kind of outdoor movement, because exercise is the greatest gift you can give your body and your brain, and it will change your mindset.”
For more information about Wellfest visit wellfestuk.com