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Interview - Mary Nightingale: I haven't been well and now I've got to give up the best job on television; Ill health and missing her husband are two of the reasons Mary Nightingale has eased back on her workload.

Byline: Karen Hockney

It's one of the hottest days of the year but you wouldn't know it to look at Mary Nightingale. She cuts an elegant figure as she strides across the lobby of the ITN building in Holborn to meet me between presenting news bulletins.

As always, Mary is immaculately turned out in a navy pinstripe trouser suit and high-heeled black sandals. Her short blonde hair is perfectly styled and she is sporting a light tan. Her cool appearance belies the fact that she's currently holding down three full-time jobs. She's working alongside Dermot Murnaghan on the daily ITN news to cover for Kirsty Young while she's on maternity leave, and is also presenting Wish You Were Here...? and the ITV series, Find Your Family, which starts this week.

But the relentless workload has taken its toll in the last 12 months. While she refuses to be drawn on rumours that she suffered a miscarriage, Mary admits that her health has taken a battering and after much agonising, the 37-year-old TV favourite has finally decided to quit Wish You Were Here...?

"When I started, I said I'd do it for two years and then I'd see," says Mary. "I've done those two years now, and this week is my last shoot in Blackpool. I'm sad about it because I've had the most fantastic time. I've met some great people and been to wonderful places but I just can't do it any more," she explains.

"I don't know how Judith Chalmers managed it for all that time. I'm away for 120 days a year and it's an immense amount. Everyone envies you, although they just see the edited highlights, not the slogging around and waiting in airports. But I can't believe I'm sitting here saying I'm going to give it up because it's the best job in telly."

One of the factors in Mary's decision is the time spent apart from her husband, Paul Fenwick, a TV producer and director. "It's hard not being with your family and friends," she says. "I only got married a year ago, and I hardly see my husband at some times of the year. It's not right, really. Even when you're at home between shoots, you might as well not be there because that couple of days is spent getting ready for the next trip, packing and unpacking, trying to do your washing and dry cleaning."

Jumping on and off planes for four months of the year has also played havoc with Mary's health. She had a spell in hospital at the end of last year and says that her recent problems have made her realise that it's time to slow down. "I wasn't very well for quite a lot of the time," she admits. "I think all the travelling hasn't helped. I'm sure that going on planes so often messes up your body.

"I feel absolutely fine now, all I need is a holiday and a bit of a rest and I'll be back on track. I've been doing so much since November, when I started at ITN. I've done Rat Trap, covering the General Election and now I'm doing Find Your Family.

"I had a lot more on my plate this year and something has got to give. I was talking to my boss at Wish You Were Here...? only this morning. They've been very nice to me, and have said they'll miss me but they now have an opportunity to get someone else with all the energy I had when I came to it, plus a bit more."

Mary admits that her husband has also been worried about her and urged her to give up the popular travel series and scale down her work commitments. "Paul said, `Enough, it's tiring you out'. I've got to the stage where all I've been doing is working, and that's no way to live. You end up having a separate life to everyone you know. I love my work, if I didn't it would be awful, and I'm always reluctant to turn anything down.

"They always say be careful what you pray for because it might happen and in the last two years, I've had the most amazing time professionally.

"I've had Wish You Were Here...? and I've come back to news. It's such a buzz. I had really missed it and I couldn't say no when ITN asked me to stand in for Kirsty. My husband said, `You're taking another job, are you sure?', because I was still going off to do conferences and charity work too.

"Friends ring up and ask when I'm going to be back in the country, but when I'm home I just feel like not seeing anyone. I want to sit in front of the telly and eat a boiled egg, and not talk to anyone - not be lively and tell jokes.

"I long not to have to dry my hair and put on make-up. Now I'm just looking forward to the end of July when Kirsty comes back, and I'll be able to relax and take some time out.

"I'll be working weekends and lunchtimes at ITN, bits and pieces but not every day, and that will do me a lot of good. August and September is my time to chill out.

"I'll miss working with Dermot because we get on really well. That's important when you're sitting beside someone every day, and we have an understanding and a similar approach. He's not a big ego, jostling for position. We support each other."

Meanwhile, Mary is busy filming Find Your Family, a six-part series which helps people track down long lost-loved ones and trace their family history. "It's a great idea because we're all interested in our ancestors and where we came from," says Mary.

"In modern life, it's easy to lose contact and go your separate ways. One story is about a girl who wanted to find her father, and hadn't seen him since she was four.

"She's 29 now and we traced her story and filmed her meeting her dad for the first time. I watched it with Paul at home and cried. Everyone who's seen it so far has been choked.

"There's another story about twins who were adopted at birth. Neither of them knew they had a brother and when both met up after 67 years, they were wearing the same clothes.

"I've always been curious about my surname. Everyone asks if I'm related to Florence Nightingale and I don't know. I'm probably not but it would be nice to find out."

When she finishes the series, Mary is looking forward to relaxing with Paul. The pair married in New York in April last year, after 15 years together. They recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary with a romantic meal at top restaurant, Clarke's.

"We thought about going back to New York but I didn't fancy getting on a plane again," says Mary with a laugh. "I can't wait to have some time at home. I'm going away on holiday, and I might spend some time with my sister and her children. I went for lunch with my mum yesterday and it was the first time I'd seen her for six weeks or so."

Mary is also hoping to put the finishing touches to the home she and Paul have been doing up in West London. "We've had the builders in for the past eight months and my kitchen still isn't finished. My builders are fantastic but it's all taking so long. We had nowhere to cook for six months so Paul and I would end up eating pizza, sitting on the bed.

"On my first day at ITN, the house was covered in six inches of dust and I pulled out a suit to wear and dusted it down and came into ITN feeling completely grubby. I couldn't even find my hairdryer."

There are other projects in line for Mary later this year but she says, "I'm going to hold myself back from it, be cool and have a breather. It's very important to me to do it right. People don't want to see you do the job badly, even if you are doing three other jobs and you're shattered. Why should people make allowances for you? I'm quite hard on myself. If I make a mistake in a news bulletin, I get really angry."

As for starting a family, Mary is loath to make any pronouncements on what the future might have in store.

"It's not like I'm thinking I'm desperate to have children but then it is another aspect of my life that I've had to put on hold, having been away so much of the time. I'm a very cautious person.

"I'd never say, that's it, I'm going to have children. I would never presume that because there are so many people who have problems. If it happens, it will be great and if it doesn't, I just have to live with that.

"I'm a bit fatalistic. I think you can't have everything you want in life. Maybe there has to be a payback.

"I'm not religious but I think things even themselves out. I've been so lucky in so many aspects of my life.

"I've got a wonderful husband and a lovely home and job. You kind of think, well, maybe not. Lots of people are in the same boat.

"In the end, I just want to have fun, see my husband and my friends and calm down a little."

l Find Your Family, Thursday, ITV, 7.30pm


FINDER'S KEEPER: Mary's latest role; TOGETHER: Mary and husband Paul
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 7, 2001
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