Life at 50 is proving to be better than ever for This Morning‘s soap expert and scriptwriter, Sharon Marshall, writes Ellie Stott.
For some women — and especially those under the critical eye of TV viewers — turning 50 might not seem like much cause for celebration. But for This Morning’s Sharon Marshall, it’s been a revelation.
With a longed-for daughter, Betsey, and a wedding pending to her partner of nearly ten years, she has two jobs she adores and is feeling at the top of her game. She celebrated her 50th birthday on holiday in Greece with fiancé Paul and Betsey, getting up early to watch the sunrise.
“I am so much happier at 50 than I was at 40,” she says with feeling. “A decade ago, my first marriage had literally just ended and I was facing the prospect that I’d probably never have children, even though I’d always wanted them. If you’d told me then that ten years later I’d have found a wonderful partner and have a beautiful daughter, I genuinely wouldn’t have believed you.
“Looking back, I do have a tendency to change my life every ten years. At 30, I was a tabloid journalist on the News Of The World. Ten years later, I gave that up to follow a dream to write scripts for the soaps.” (She’s a regular writer on Emmerdale and has written for EastEnders, too).
“Every new decade is an opportunity to embrace change.”
The reality is that Sharon’s 40s were “mostly spent feeling very ill” as she endured six failed rounds of IVF, a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy. When she found out the news that she was finally pregnant with Betsey while sitting in the clinic, she didn’t even dare tell her mum on the phone, knowing she was surrounded by other women receiving less positive news. “Like a sort of survivor guilt, I suppose,” she says now.
She’s since used her TV profile as a platform to talk about the harsh reality of the IVF process and the need for support and counselling for women going through it. “I got literally a million messages through social media as a result of talking about the subject; it was overwhelming,” she says.
Sharon with daughter Betsey.
“And although I was outspoken about some of the lack of follow-up care shown by professionals to women whose IVF has been unsuccessful, none tried to contradict me.”
The irony is that Sharon didn’t seek counselling for her own experiences until colleague Amanda Holden encouraged her to. “There was a segment on This Morning about beautiful babies and I had to beg Amanda just as we were about to run it, saying ‘Please don’t hand me a baby or I’ll cry my eyes out on national TV’ and then explain why. I’m a Lancashire lass and we’re a stubborn breed — very much of the ‘put your game face on, put your lipstick on, and get on with it’ attitude, which was sometimes to my detriment.
If you’d told me then that ten years later I’d have found a wonderful partner and have a beautiful daughter, I genuinely wouldn’t have believed you.
“My support network had always been my friends, which is as it should be, but I found that professional guidance really helped me find some coping mechanisms and I would recommend it to anyone. And we also had some funny moments, like Paul and I downloading a podcast and lying on the floor chanting together ‘I have a strong, positive uterus’..!
“At around 30, I was incredibly unhealthy; I smoked, I drank, I’d been living a terrible lifestyle as a journalist, even though it was a lot of fun. I ended up on Celebrity Fit Club with Russell Grant and being weighed on screen by Dale Winton,” she says.
“Since then, so much has changed. About six months before I started IVF I hired a personal trainer to get me fit, and I now run — well, lollop, really — around the park for half an hour every day, I do weights, and go to dance classes at the Pineapple Studio which I adore. I also have a rescue dog, Lily, and as any dog owner will tell you, they don’t let you lie around under the duvet for long.
“But I’ll never be a skinny influencer. I’m happy at around a size 12-14 with just enough room in my clothes to fit in a couple of cocktails. I would rather that my ‘influence’ is to show people you can be a normal size on TV and that success is about knowing your subject, not fitting into a skirt.”
Sharon’s been on the programme for an incredible 18 years. “My first slot was supposed to be a one-off. But they sent a car for me and did my make-up and I thought ‘Oh, I like this!” and just stayed on the sofa. “I’m under no illusion it will last forever, but it’s a job I take very seriously. Tabloid journalism taught me to know my subject, so I watch every single second of every single soap and I produce my own slot and I’m very proud of that.”