Gemma Atkinson has opened up about the struggles she felt when raising her toddler during lockdown. The mum-of-one feared the isolation would have a long-term impact on her daughter de ella Mia, who she welcomed in July 2019 with her fiancé de ella, Strictly Come Dancing professional Gorka Márquez.
The actress leaned on her mum for reassurance, but also found help with a CBeebies show, which she was later offered to work on as a presenter. Joining The Toddler Club was perfect timing for Gemma.
Gemma said: “I was very excited because the first show they did was The Baby Club. And when I had Mia, we only got to do two sensory sessions and then the world shut for lockdown. So as a first-time mum, it was quite daunting wondering if it would affect her not being around other babies, or will I not be as good a mum from not being around other mums?
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“We stumbled across The Baby Club on telly and it was brilliant. It was very fun for Mia to watch, but also very educational from a parent’s point of view.”
The Toddler Club follows the same format as The Baby Club – except it’s for slightly older tots – with Gemma and fellow host Nigel Clarke presenting on alternate days. Each 14-minute episode sees them joined in the studio by families from across the country for play, storytelling and songs.
When Mia was little, Gemma, who rose to fame on Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks and is also now a drive time host for Hits Radio, says she loved that The Baby Club “wasn’t patronizing at all” – something she hoped to replicate for toddlers. The Bury-born star said: “I learned so much just from being on set with all the toddlers.
“You don’t feel so alone as a parent, because we’re adamant we wanted to capture every single aspect of toddler life. So, if one of them is having a breakdown and they’re crying, we kept that in; if one of them is full of snot, we kept that in; if one of them is just running around, not listening to me…
“There were a few parents who came up to me before filming and said, ‘Oh I really hope so-and-so behaves, because they didn’t sleep very well and I’m so nervous they’re going to play up’ . I said to them, ‘Listen, it doesn’t matter, if that’s what they do, that’s what they do’.
“They’re toddlers, not actors, it’s fine! But just having that conversation made me realize how much pressure parents put on themselves.”
The pressure is something Gemma, who reached the Strictly Come Dancing final in 2017, partnered with Aljaz Skorjanec, can relate to. She says she “leaned” on her own mum a lot for reassurance during lockdown, admitting she worried how not being able to socialize might affect Mia’s development and social skills de ella.
“My mum was like, ‘Don’t worry about it, this is the situation for everybody, just do what you can with what you have,'” the star continued. “Thankfully, in the long run, it’s not affected Mia at there.
“She’s almost three now and she’s just so bright, she’s thriving at everything. But for people who had babies during lockdown, I imagine it was so frightening – some women had to give birth on their own, when you need and want someone with you – I do feel for them.
“I just hope that with shows like The Toddler Club, they can feel like they’re not on their own, and be reassured they’re doing great. Every parent gets tired and stressed, and every toddler has their moments.”
In recent years, Gemma’s career has moved into influencer territory, particularly around fitness. She says being on social media is a ‘double-edged sword’.
The gym bunny, who has a new book out on April 14 – The Ultimate Body Plan For New Mums – said: “It’s a great tool for being yourself and showing your true self, which I know not a lot of people do. I used to follow a lot of make-up tutorial pages, and I used to just feel crap that I’d watch these girls do a full face of make-up in less than 10 minutes, and I struggled to put eyeliner on straight.
“So I was like, no – I don’t want that in my life! For me, the great thing about it has been people getting to know me as a person, because I think if they look at my career over the years, they see I’ve done lads’ mags back in the day [as a glamour model]which I had the best time doing – but I think people pre-empt or prejudge what they think you’re going to be like, and we’re all guilty of that.”
She says Instagram is great for letting people “see what you’re like, but at the same time, for people who only post filtered pictures, it can be very negative if you’re the type of person who buys into that”. Over the years, she has learned to care less about people’s opinions of her.
“I don’t know if it’s an age thing, or the fact I’ve had Mia now, but since being a mum, I care a lot less about what strangers think of me,” she added. “My mum always says, if someone doesn’t know you personally, why on earth would you take what they say personally? That’s just stuck with me, and it’s true… I’ve got a family to prioritize, not a stranger on the Internet.”
Gemma Atkinson co-presents The Toddler Club, which can be seen on weekdays on CBeebies and CBeebies iPlayer.