By Jack White
Since she joined the Loose Women panel in January, a new audience is getting to know more of Charlene White, with her straight-talking presenting style and opinions on everything from mental health to taking up netball.
She shifts seamlessly from hosting the more laidback Loose Women panel to her regular role as ITV news anchor, while still finding time to develop and present other shows, such as her recent documentary with Sir Trevor McDonald - Has George Floyd Changed Britain. Although she regularly earns rave reviews from the critics, it’s Charlene’s warmth and sense of relatability that her viewers, Twitter and Instagram followers love.
Ours is the very first magazine shoot Lewisham-born Charlene, 41, has appeared in and she says, 'I can’t believe it. You’ve all made this such a fantastic experience.’ But, with her star ascending as it is, we’re sure it’ll be the first of many.
Charlene White: The woman&home interview
I have a short attention span - it was on all my school reports. If I’m doing lots of things I’ll never get bored because that’s when my brain is being stretched and that’s when I’m at my happiest. My fingers are constantly in lots of pies because in my personal life I’m not just one dimensional. I like a range of music, I’ve got a range of friends, I've got a range of likes and dislikes - so for me to be one dimensional in my work life feels very unnatural to me. I get to the studio for Loose Women at 8.30 and I can be on ITV News at Ten on the same day.
After graduating in journalism, I did an apprenticeship at ITV and I even did some sports reporting. I was the person sitting in a caravan updating the scores for basketball live on air for ITV Sport! I always wanted to be a broadcast journalist and when I heard about the launch of Radio 1xtra - then codenamed Network X - I emailed all twelve of the people recruiting for the project and eventually got a job with them. I was so determined!
I was at Radio 1xtra for six years and I had no idea at the time how ethnically diverse it was. Black journalists, Asian journalists - the most wonderful mixture of people. I didn’t realise that it wasn’t like this everywhere. It was an amazing time. I'd be sitting in the studio doing a news bulletin and Kanye West and John Legend would be sitting across from me - I threw John Legend out of my chair because my news bulletin was going to be late! I was used to seeing screaming girls outside the offices because Beyonce or Jay-Z were in the building and I’d just walk past them in the corridor without it being a big thing.
I’m a mum of toddlers, my son Alfie is 4 and my daughter Florence will be 2 in October, so on average, I get about 4.5 hours of sleep a night, if that. I do everything everyone tells you you shouldn’t do; last thing at night I watch my iPad because it’s the only time of day when the kids aren’t around, it’s my ‘ahhh’ moment when I can catch up on what everyone else has been watching on TV. But within an hour one of the two children will be up for some reason. I do the thing the parenting experts say you should never do, if Alfie comes into the bedroom I let him climb in bed with me. When I started doing Loose in January I thought, ‘we can’t have this’ and I kept getting up and putting them back to bed but actually I was more exhausted doing that and working full time than if I’d just let them lie in the bed. It’s nice to have the cuddles too!
My Sundays are where I prepare for the week. It’s the one day I have to try and make sure there’s enough food in the house, to make sure the children have got clean clothes and to sort out anything needed at nursery. Beyond that, I try not to worry. The way I see it is that anything else will just get done somehow and I refuse to be kept awake by stuff that I have to do. My younger sister Carina is great at stepping in to babysit so that always helps but the way I see it, as long as my kids are fed, watered and happy, everything else can work itself out. I don’t get stressed because I don’t see the point.
Despite my hectic schedule, I think my friends would say that I try to be there for them. It may not necessarily be phone calls or meet-ups but it can be gifts. If someone knows I don’t have the time for long conversations, I want them to know that they are still in my thoughts. My friend Jen who lives in Norwich for example, has a daughter with a dairy intolerance so during lockdown I sent them dairy-free vegan donuts. I don’t need to have a conversation with them about it, the present will just appear on their doorstep. Friends know that if my brain is all over the shop with home and work and all sorts, I’ll send something or send a text just to let them know they’re in my thoughts.
There are things I don’t share and things that are very private to me. My two kids and my other half, Andrew, are for me and I like to keep that to myself. I’m not an open book but there are things I don’t mind sharing. My immediate family are just for me but my brother and sister? They’re fair game! We chat daily on our family Whatsapp group and they gang up on me routinely - we’re a unit.
My hard and fast rule is that if I’ve shared something online then I don’t mind sharing it on TV. The rules are the same for me, they’re just funny stories about what makes me who I am and made me who I am so I don’t mind.
My mum Dorrett was a social worker and she fought for the rights of ordinary people - she would talk to us about how privileged we were, to have two parents who cared for and loved us. She always made us aware we were in a very privileged position. Both my mum and my auntie, who was a teacher, were trying to speak up for the voiceless and improve the lives of the people they were there to help. It meant that I grew up wanting to do a job that would change the world for the better in some way. I too wanted a job where I could tell the stories of those whose voices aren’t heard and that’s why I do the job that I do and choose the projects that I do – all of them have an element of that.
I was 16 when I found out my mum had bowel cancer, we were in the kitchen, cooking together when she told me. She said, ‘I’ll be having treatment but there’s nothing to worry about." At that point my brother Josh was only three and my parents gradually gave me more responsibility for him because they had no idea how long she was going to be around for. It wasn’t an early diagnosis and the average lifespan at that point was five years, maximum. The school I went to was very accommodating, they allowed me to miss morning assembly so that I could drop my brother to nursery first and I’d make it into class for the first lesson. It was very normal for me as I was doing things like going to my brother’s parents’ evening with my dad and in place of mum. It was just something I did, along with doing homework on my mum’s bed at Greenwich hospital - we used to take in our portable tv and plonk it on the table so she could watch Corrie and EastEnders whilst doing our homework.
I’m lucky that I had a mum for the whole of my childhood because my brother and sister didn’t. She passed away when I was 21. My brother was only eight when she died and so his influences of being raised are my dad, my step mum and me. I did the telling off! When my brother was younger, my dad would threaten to call me in! I do a very good job of telling off. I’m quite a disciplinarian. I don’t have to tell my son twice, I can be a fun mum but when they need telling off they get a telling off.
I find myself repeating my mum’s sayings to my children, if Alfie is talking in a way he shouldn’t be, as if I’m his friend rather than his mum I’ll say: ‘Alfie Dunn, you and me are not size’ which is a very Jamaican saying which means ‘I’m not your friend, do not talk to me like that’. My mum would say: ‘Do not do that or you and I will fall out, Charlene’. There’s a kids song she would always sing to my brother Joshua when he was tiny and I sing it to my children. One of the sweetest things is hearing Florence sing it to herself and I love that. I just remember my mum singing it to us so clearly.
There’s been a big shift over the past year or so in terms of the media landscape. I feel a lot of people had conversations about race and equality that perhaps that they’ve not felt comfortable or brave enough to talk about before. I felt as if for the first time people felt empowered to talk about their experiences. And for a lot of people in the UK, hearing this for the first time, it was really surprising. They didn’t realise what the realities of some other people’s lives can be and for a lot of my friends it was cathartic to speak honestly about their experiences.
In terms of tangible change, these things take longer than a year but what’s important is that we have a younger generation of kids who don’t want to take the softly softly approach when it comes to change. They’re very much like, ‘Well why can’t things be equal in terms of your sexuality or your race or disability?' I think that’s really beautiful and a lot of that has to do with young people feeling empowered by social media and wanting things now. And I think that’s pretty cool to be honest.
We have a situation now, irrespective of whether you’re print, broadcast or digital media that you have to reflect the audience. For my kids’ generation, if ‘A’ isn’t giving them what they want they’ll quite simply turn to ‘B’ or ‘C’ because we are living in an era now where all those options are available to them.
I see Loose as being an extension of the news. I’m the same person as I am doing interviews for ITV Lunchtime News as I am interviewing someone on Loose, I do my interviews in the same way. For me, doing Loose is taking a breath. Ok, we know that everyone has been dealing with some awful things over this past year, but we’re also going to give you some elements of joy and laughter and fun… for me it’s the perfect combination of light and dark which suits me down to the ground.
If you look at my Instagram you’ll see how much I’m loving having someone else dressing me for Loose Women! What’s been wonderful is working with a team who gets that I love colour. By the nature of having darker skin, colour just pops on me. I’ve never worked with a wardrobe team before and they’re amazing. Have a look at their Instagram for inspiration, they’re called @mothershoppers. One of the things I’ve been adamant about since I’ve been at Loose is that I want to use it as a platform to highlight independent female entrepreneurs and especially indie black female designers. I love doing that because I think it’s a great platform to be able to highlight new talent.
Good health and looking after your body is something I have shouted from the rooftops for almost 20 years. I boxed until I was 7 months pregnant and found it such a great stress reliever and I’m about to restart that. I also try to run twice a week. My tip for staying power on a run is to listen to podcasts instead of music. I find if I’m listening to a podcast, I want to hear the end of it so I have to keep going! I can highly recommend my sister’s podcast Black Mums Upfront, they’re working with Nike and have various athletes talking about motherhood on there, absolutely fascinating to hear the likes of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the Olympic champion sprinter talking about motherhood.
Jack is Celebrity Content Director at Future PLC, working across the Women's Lifestyle brands such as Woman&Home, Woman, Woman's Own, Women's Weekly and GoodtoKnow.
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