The more Chloe Madeley cares about a topic, the more she swears. And she cares a lot about getting women into weightlifting.
“Everybody should be f—— doing this,” she says through a mouthful of chicken and broccoli. “Everything from staving off cancer, diabetes, dementia, osteoporosis, arthritis… it’s just the f—— best thing you can do for your body, and it’s maddening that women are under the impression that it’s not for them.”
We are sitting in a private drawing room at a London hotel chatting about her latest book, Transform Your Body with Weights. Despite already having a couple of best-sellers under her belt, Madeley, the daughter of daytime television legends Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, had to fight with her publisher to get the book out. They thought that women would not be interested in building muscle.
A flick through Madeley’s Instagram account, where she has 213,000 followers, shows this is not the case: there is picture after picture of her vascular frame, interspersed with pictures of her husband James Haskell, the former rugby international.
Madeley, 32, came to weightlifting in her mid-20s after suffering from a bout of extreme anxiety and panic attacks, due in part to the scrutiny of growing up in the public eye.
In her childhood and teenage years, she adored having as parents Richard and Judy, who presented Britain’s This Morning from 1998 to 2001 and their eponymous show from then until 2009. She readily accompanied them to film premieres and loved meeting their celebrity friends. She was frequently pictured on the red carpet with them throughout the noughties, while her three brothers, Jack, Tom and Dan, shied away from the spotlight and stayed at home.
But having Richard and Judy as parents became a problem later on. “One of the downsides was that I developed in my 20s quite bad anxiety issues based on what other people thought of me,” she says. “I became incredibly anxious, I started having panic attacks, my self-esteem was on the floor.”
She thought that a career in television was what was expected of her, so got a job behind the scenes as a researcher on The Alan Titchmarsh Show, and then stints in front of the camera presenting for a Big Brother spin-off show and on her parents’ show. These early successes were ironically disastrous for her self-confidence: “People were saying ‘Who is she? She’s only famous for being Richard and Judy’s daughter’,” she recalls.
The feeling of “loads of people judging me” led her to be “desperately unhappy”; a feeling that she tried to mask with alcohol and partying. There were various embarrassing incidents, including one boozy night when she flipped her car after crashing into a parked Mini near her parents’ home in Hampstead, north London. A breathalyser test found she was nearly twice the legal limit, and she was fined and given a 20-month driving ban.
She drew more and more attention to herself, modelling for underwear brand Ultimo and posing for lads’ magazines. But nothing helped; her 2011 performance on Dancing on Ice piled the stress even higher, and led to her first panic attack.
Fellow contestant Denise Welch “pulled me aside after the show and said: ‘You need to go to CBT [Cognitive Behavioural Therapy]’.” So Madeley did, for a few months, which was enough to get her through the show and the subsequent tour.
This helped, but only so much – as did one therapist’s suggestion of extreme sports to force her to “be in the moment”. It was only at the age of 25 that she realised weightlifting was a much more sustainable means of dealing with her issues. “It just immediately clicked with me and I fell madly in love with it, and I thought: ‘I’m going to keep weightlifting now for the rest of my life’.”
It has had a profound effect on her mental health, and has helped to keep her anxiety at bay.
“It forces you to be present,” she says, because carrying heavy weights can be dangerous if you’re not focused on the task in hand. There was no space to worry about anything else. “It gave me self-respect, self-worth, self-discipline, and it completely saved me.”
She felt like she had found her calling in life, so threw in the towel with television, and studied to be a personal trainer. Her career has grown in the years since, bolstered by her following on social media, where she shares tips for getting in shape alongside impassioned rants about the benefits of exercise.
A few years into her fitness journey, Madeley met her now-husband James Haskell, the former England rugby player who last week was the fourth contestant to be voted off I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. After their first date in 2014, they haven’t spent more than 48 hours apart at a time.
“It’s probably super unhealthy, we’re mega joined at the hip,” she says. “We do nothing but laugh. He’s 34 and I’m 32; we still play-wrestle like [children]”. They married in December of last year, surrounded by Haskell’s old teammates.
The occasional wobble still makes itself known: she stays away from reality TV (though not, one assumes, I’m a Celebrity) and maintains a strict training regime, going to the gym at least four times a week. Even taking a week off for her honeymoon to Fiji was difficult, she says.
“By the last few days, I was acting a little bit weird, a bit insecure. I just started to notice that demons were coming back.” She says she believes that a lot of the reason that weightlifting is so beneficial for her is the way it rebalances her body’s adrenaline and stress hormones.
There is just one thing which could lure Madeley back in front of the camera: being part of a presenting duo with her husband James. Yes, that’s right, an on-screen husband and wife pair, just like her parents.