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Alison Hammond: ‘I knew very little about my own Black history in Britain’

The TV presenter talks about childhood influences, her mum’s recipes, and the immense satisfaction of writing a book.

Alison Hammond, the presenter on ITV’s This Morning and actress with the most infectious laugh in television, was born and raised in Birmingham alongside two siblings by a Jamaican immigrant who worked several jobs to support the family. From an early age, Hammond knew she wanted to perform in some way, but it was her appearance on Big Brother in 2002 that launched her television career. She has since appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, Loose Women, Stars in Their Eyes (as Nina Simone), and currently presents This Morning alongside Dermot O’Leary.

In her Letter To My Younger Self, the 47-year-old tells Adrian Lobb about famous childhood friends, her upcoming book on Black history, and how her mum has always been her biggest hero.

My mum got a brand new council house when I was one because she then had three kids and she was a single parent. It was in a place called Kingstanding in Birmingham. To us this little three-bedroomed house was like a palace. We had a front and back garden. There was a drive and a garage. It was like we had landed.  

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We were in a predominantly white area with quite a bit of racism around. There was a lot of National Front around, but we seemed to be OK. I think it’s because all the community absolutely loved my mum because she was a Tupperware manager. She would bring the Tupperware to their house and do parties and stuff. I had a pretty happy childhood. If someone called me nasty names, it would be like water off a duck’s back because my mum would always say “You’re amazing” or “You’re wonderful.” And what she said was much more important to me. 

With her mum Maria in London in 2005
Photo: Julian Makey/Shutterstock

As a teenager, I was really into dancing. I did tap, ballet, modern and I used to go to a drama school called the Central Television Workshop. It was wonderful. I got to act and learned all the techniques of acting and TV and theatre, and found out what goes on behind the scenes. My mum was really encouraging. She used to do extra work on films and TV shows and would get quite a few non-speaking parts. Whenever she could she’d get me and my brother in on it too. I did a film with Sting called Artemis 81 when I was six, which was incredible. So she pushed for me to be in the industry, but I think it was mainly to get me off the streets so I didn’t fall in with the wrong crowd. 

As you can probably tell, my mum was one of my heroes. She had to do three jobs to make sure we were all OK. There was nothing we didn’t have. If I wanted rollerskates or my sister wanted a doll’s house, we’d get it. My brother wanted to become a drummer and she bought him a drumkit. Even at the time I could see how hard she worked, how tired she was when she got home. She was everything to me, my mum. As I grew up, I took on a bit of her work ethic – although I’m trying to wind things down now. 

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UB40 and Aswad were really prominent bands when I was a teenager. And my mum was really good friends with Patrick and Junior [Waite] from Musical Youth’s mum. So we had access to their concerts, we went to their house and I’d be mixing with Kelvin and Michael [Grant] and Dennis [Seaton] and Patrick and Junior. They were really good role models. It was like when my mum was on television – we would crowd around the TV and be so excited.

I thought my future would be in the police force. I’m good with people, so I like to think I would have been a really good police officer. But destiny had other ideas. I certainly never thought I would be a TV presenter. If anything, acting felt more likely. But doing Big Brother [in 2002] made me go in a completely different direction.  

I have always gone with my gut with any opportunity that has come along, but I’ve had to ignore the negative voices. So I would tell my younger self to push on through, give things a go. What’s the worst that could happen? We are not here on this planet for long. Sometimes, when you feel most fearful you end up being most successful. When I was asked to do This Morning, I didn’t want to do it. I was so scared. But it was only fear holding me back, and look at me now. I think my younger self would be proud of me… Would young Alison listen to older Alison? Of course. She absolutely would. She’d be all over me, calling me every five minutes for advice!

On the Strictly Come Dancing live tour with Aljaž Škorjanec in 2015 Photo: Tony Woolliscroft/WireImage

My younger self would love to know she will be on television. And if she knew she would meet Britney Spears or Beyoncé or George Clooney or the James Bond actors she would be absolutely over the moon. But she would probably think going on Strictly Come Dancing was normal. Just because I used to dance in front of the mirror all the time.

If I could relive one day from my life it would be when my son was born. He has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t even comprehend. Parenthood is very difficult – you have ups and downs because you love them so much. And then you have the other pressures of teenage years, them going in their own direction. I would definitely warn my younger self about parenthood and just say, listen sweetheart, just
be careful, try to navigate it, be kinder, be wiser. 

I was deeply affected by George Floyd’s death. It made me think a lot of things about my own son and my family. It made me turn to my own education and learn more about Black history. I wanted to know more positive role models – I realised I knew very little about my own Black history in Britain. So I decided it’s never too late to learn. The only time I was interested in that stuff as a young person was when my mum took me to see a play called Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame. It was the first time I’d seen Black figures in history, and that was the first time I even thought about it at age 12. We went back the next night, because it was so amazing.  

Seeing people who look like you on screen, in books, gives you a sense of belonging. It’s so true that you can’t be what you can’t see – and that’s why I wanted to write this book, Black in Time, so that youngsters can see themselves and see their stories in the history of Britain. A book like this would have allowed my younger self to understand that she was part of history. But she would be totally shocked and not believe in a billion years that she would ever actually write a book. She’d be proud of it, though. I feel very blessed to have this platform and to be able to do something that feels so important.  

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My mum passing away [in 2020] has also shaped me. She’s not here but there’s still a spiritual relationship between me and her, and I feel her there with me. I’ve got a brilliant brother and sister and my son’s very intelligent – he’s very up on the whole social media side of things. He guides me. And I’ve got nice, nice friends, including my gay best friend and his dog, who live with me. 

If I could have one last conversation with anyone, it would be with my mum. It would be sitting down talking about boys, talking about life, talking about books, talking about food. This would be the conversation: Mum, how do you make your ackee and saltfish? Because you didn’t tell me these recipes. And I really would love those. Because food can take you back in time, when you taste your past. 

Black in Time by Alison Hammond is released on June 9 (Penguin Random House, £7.99)

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