Gemma Atkinson on how CBeebies got her through lockdown as a new mum, and being herself on Instagram
The offer to join CBeebies series The Toddler Club was perfect timing for Gemma Atkinson.
“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,” recalls the actress and presenter, 37, who welcomed daughter Mia in July 2019 with her fiancé, Strictly professional dancer Gorka Márquez.
“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? 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 Atkinson 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, Atkinson, who rose to fame on Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks and is now also a drive time host for Hits Radio, says she loved that The Baby Club “wasn’t patronising at all” – something she hoped to replicate for toddlers.
“I learned so much just from being on set with all the toddlers,” says the Greater Manchester-born mum, who reached the Strictly Come Dancing final in 2017 (partnered with Aljaz Skorjanec). “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 realise how much pressure parents put on themselves.”
That pressure is something Atkinson 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 socialise might affect Mia’s development and social skills. “My mum was like, ‘Don’t worry about it, this is the situation for everybody, just do what you can with what you have’.
“Thankfully, in the long run, it’s not affected Mia at all. 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,” she adds. “Every parent gets tired and stressed, and every toddler has their moments.”
Atkinson’s career has moved into influencer territory in recent years, particularly around fitness (her new book, The Ultimate Body Plan For New Mums, is out on April 14). How does she keep the balance with social media?
“It’s definitely a double-edged sword. It’s a great tool for being yourself and showing your true self, which I know not a lot of people do,” she says, adding she unfollowed a lot of accounts that didn’t make her feel good. “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 [Atkinson used to be 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”.
However, Atkinson is glad social media wasn’t around when she was in her teens and early 20s: “I could live my life and work and do what I wanted without all that judgement.
“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. 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 prioritise, not a stranger on the internet.”
Gemma Atkinson co-presents The Toddler Club, which can be seen on weekdays on CBeebies and CBeebies iPlayer.
The best videos delivered daily
Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox