Thanks to her stay on the sofa of This Morning, 62 year old Fern Britton remains very loved as a reassuring ‘safe’ figure, mummy.
At the center of her life was her marriage to Phil Vickery, the television chef who swept her away.
When the couple reunited in 1999 – she is a divorced mother and in her forties with three young children, he is a handsome bachelor four years younger – she couldn’t believe her luck.
Some friends believe that the division was scheduled so that Fern and Phil don’t have to face a 20th anniversary party. Others suggest that the couple waited to see their daughter until adulthood
Although she wasn’t sure Phil wanted to commit, she couldn’t have made more mistakes.
He said to her, ‘Well, it’s a recipe, isn’t it? Just add water: instant family. If I want you – and I do – I get the rest.
When I interviewed Fern after their wedding the following year, she cried while telling me how lucky she felt with Phil, her knight in the chef’s shining whites.
“It is the great love of my life, a husband, a partner, a truly extraordinary friend.”
No wonder, therefore, that his fans were stunned by the announcement of the couple – via synchronized tweets – who must separate after almost 20 years of marriage.
Fern said in interviews that she and Phil, 58, had “humdinger” arguments on a number of issues, not least a late tattoo she had nailed two years ago after a “spiritual awakening”. “He’ll get over it,” she said with a shrug
In a Twitter statement, Fern said: ‘After more than 20 happy years together, Phil and I have decided to go their separate ways. We will always share a great friendship and our adorable children. “
Behind the scenes, however, their friends are less surprised.
A television source said yesterday: ‘I have seen Fern and Phil together and I have never seen that funny chemistry they had on the screen.
Fern has completely changed. She has become very assertive and it has been obvious from Phil that he is very grieved and tense under all.
One thing is clear Fern is a darker and more complex figure than his welcoming TV personality suggests. Her struggles for depression are well known, but when she entered her 60s, further turmoil appears to have followed.
Her beloved mother Ruth, who raised her alone after Fern’s actor, father Tony Britton, left when she was young, died in 2018, leaving her daughter “foolish” in pain.
Her father died a month ago.
Fern also almost died after contracting sepsis after a fibroid surgery in 2016.
And, perhaps more seriously for the wedding, he experienced a “re-powering” while his nest emptied of raising children.
Fern claims to have discovered the woman he was before family life responsibilities took over.
With her younger daughter Winnie who is now 18, she is looking to a future that feels happier when faced with a solo.
“I’m at a point in my life where if I want to grow a mustache and a beard, I will do it,” Fern told Prima magazine in 2018.
A passion he discovered was for the bicycle. Phil used to dismiss her epic girls-only bike rides for charity like “vacations”, but she was actually discovering herself.
In an interview after such an adventure, he noted: ‘It was changing the lives of all of us. A girl went home and divorced her husband!
Industry insiders believe that the seeds of Fern’s heaviest person were sown at the time of his departure in 2009 from ITV’s flagship breakfast program, This Morning.
A television source said yesterday: ‘After leaving the show, she became another personality and everyone noticed it. Besides, it was odd for everyone that Phil stayed this morning when his departure had been so acute. Nobody ever understood.
Fern is pictured above with her first husband Clive Jones. Fern separated from television executive Clive Jones when their third daughter, daughter Grace, was only five months old. At the time, they also had three-year-old twins, born through in vitro fertilization when Fern was 37 years old
There was amazement when Fern ‘retired’ from This Morning – she was one of the highest paid and most loved women on television at the time, earning £ 750,000 a year.
He said he wanted to spend more time with his four young children and pursue other interests.
Behind the scenes sources insist that it fell badly with its co-host Phillip Schofield, who he found “unbearable”. He was paid £ 2 million a year.
A source said: ‘It was terribly sad. On the last day they played clips of her and Phillip laughing and joking and at that point they were not talking.
‘She was furious with him and with ITV, she felt she had been rejected. She was terribly angry. “
Talking to Hello! Last year, Fern insisted that he simply felt it was time to call him one day: ‘I was ten years old and I loved that show – I can’t tell you how much I liked it. But after ten years I felt it was right to quit. “
Now, after nearly 20 years, the same thing seems to have happened at her wedding.
Some friends believe that the division was scheduled so that Fern and Phil don’t have to face a 20th anniversary party. Others suggest that the couple waited to see their daughter until adulthood.
There were indications that not everything was going well for a while.
Fern said in interviews that she and Phil, 58, had “humdinger” arguments on a number of issues, not least a late tattoo she had nailed two years ago after a “spiritual awakening”. “He’ll get over it,” she said with a shrug.
There was amazement when Fern ‘retired’ from This Morning – she was one of the highest paid and most loved women on television at the time, earning £ 750,000 a year. Behind the scenes sources insist that it had fallen badly with its co-host Phillip Schofield, who he found “unbearable”
Likewise he was numb when he had spray tans to appear rigorously in 2012 and Phil was so ‘sensitive’ to the smell that he retired to a vacant room for the duration, after a terrible line. “We haven’t talked for four days,” he said.
It was also noted that he did not once come to the studio to cheer on her during his six-week spell on the show. There was talk of an imminent separation even then.
Former agent Jon Roseman, who witnessed Fern’s career during his golden years at This Morning, said yesterday: “I have great love for Phil and he has always been very devoted to her.
“I remember once meeting for a drink to talk about Fern’s weight, as it was rumored that he wasn’t happy this morning and that he was really worried.”
Fern, who continued to lose five stones, got caught in a row by her weight when she didn’t reveal that her slimmer figure was due in large part to a gastric band that she had settled in 2006.
He admitted the band only two years after it was created, initially claiming to have lost pounds by eating healthier food and riding a bicycle to work.
However, Jon Roseman remembers them as a close-knit family. “They spent a lot of time as a couple and as a family,” he said. ‘When I go to dinner, it tends to be just the two of them.
‘She was very close to her mother, but above all it was she, Phil and the children and it seemed that way. It’s sad when people stop smoking after so many years. ‘
The romance began with fireworks on the Ready Steady Cook set. Fern separated from television executive Clive Jones when their third daughter, daughter Grace, was only five months old. At the time, they also had three-year-old twins, born through in vitro fertilization when Fern was 37 years old.
He suffered from a terrible depression and had suicidal thoughts.
‘I remember very clearly when they were all small and sitting around the table, all with shiny faces and dinner, and I thought,’ Well, you have everything you want. Beautiful! Now I go upstairs and kill myself. “
He said he was meeting Phil: “The boys were four; Grace hadn’t even started young children. I remember thinking at the time that no one would take a 40-year-old with three children.
‘Then, one day at work, someone said’ you like Phil Vickery ‘. And I said ‘Remind me. Who is he?
‘In the end, I kidnapped him, put him and his dirty laundry – he was single at the time – in my car and brought it home. The next day he prepared me his irresistible gooseberry crumble. “
They married in May 2000 at a registered office in High Wycombe, shortly after the divorce from Clive Jones. Their witnesses were torn from the street and there were no relatives, friends or photographers in sight.
Phil said, ‘We planned it a long time ago but we hadn’t set a date. Yesterday it seemed right, so we went out and did it.
Their daughter Winnie was born the following year.
The pair appeared regularly on This Morning, which Fern has faced for a decade since 1999, and Phil joined as chef in 2006.
After this morning, his professional life changed completely. There have been some appearances as guests or stand-in guests. He presented Fern Britton Meets, a series of interviews, from 2009 to 2017.
It was hoped that a turn on Strictly Come Dancing in 2012 could help her be seen in a less “mummy” light.
The fact that Fern wore his wedding ring only once, for his first cha-cha-cha, fueled speculation.
What were their problems? Well, Phil said he was against the conflict, an “obedient person who is very good at being told what to do”. He added: “I said at the beginning of our relationship that I didn’t want to discuss – I can’t worry about it.
“At first we both had an agreement that we would not row, that we would always discuss our concerns, and I kept my part of the agreement.” But Fern found this “boring” consent. He spoke openly about “humdinger” topics, adding: “But then we are normal. It’s nice that children see it: this is a real relationship.
Fern claims to have discovered the woman he was before family life responsibilities took over. With her younger daughter Winnie who is now 18, she is looking to a future that feels happier when faced with a solo. It is pictured above with Phil
“You hear people say,” Thirty years and not a crossword. “I’m sorry, I just don’t believe it. But if it’s true, how boring.
In the years that followed, Fern built a successful second career as a writer of light novels set in Cornwall.
From time to time he went out on TV to promote his books and also toured the music production of Calendar Girls, which led to long separations.
Fern insisted last year that it didn’t matter if they were separated for months.
“He has always been my best friend and he always says that I am also his best friend, which is fantastic,” he said, adding: “Sex is fantastic but a cup of tea is also fantastic. There is nothing nicer than going to bed with a cup.
“Lust is fantastic, but when you really love someone and trust the other, and you’re in bed together drinking tea and chatting, it’s a real relationship.”
However, in truth, their paths had long diverged quite radically.
Phil continued this morning, writing cookbooks and going to festivals, looking after his pigs and his orchard at their home in Buckinghamshire. Fern said: ‘We left each other free. He is a man who must always meet a man on a dog. It says “I’ll be half an hour”. It could be a couple of days. We don’t pile up on each other and we’re happy about it. ‘
Fern had started a health kick. She pedaled from John O’Groats to Land’s End for charity, which made her feel “invincible”.
He said: ‘Age has given me confidence. I feel more carefree, I suppose. Plus, I’m fine and incredibly fit because exercise, cycling and weight training are part of my life and it’s been the past ten years.
“Everyone says it’s the key to helping ward off depression, and it really helped me a lot.”
Her depression meant that she felt “somewhere below the midline all the time”. He had therapy once a week and took antidepressants for many years.
He thought the disease could have its roots in the fact that his father would leave the family when he was young.
The death of his mother, at the age of 94, was a serious blow. He said last year: ‘The pain hit me the day his ashes were scattered. As soon as I finished, I thought, “I just want to sit down and drink gin and go to bed,” and that’s what I did. I did some nasty things in the immediate aftermath.
‘I booked a cruise on Queen Mary 2, alone. I cried a lot in those two weeks but I also wrote a lot and found it very relaxing.
In an interview last year, she claimed that she finally felt free and happy. ‘I talk to many of my friends who are between 50 and 60 and we all feel the same.
“Children are sorting out and we can stop being so responsible as adults.”
Regardless of where the next chapter of life takes her, Fern seems willing to do it alone.