Gemma Atkinson on mum life, taking on haters & keeping things hot with Gorka

WHEN Gemma Atkinson and her Spanish dance-pro boyfriend Gorka Márquez slip between the sheets, the radio host and fitness icon is intent on one thing – getting stuck into a new chapter of a gripping crime thriller.

“We put Mia to bed about 7.30pm, have our dinner then get into bed. Gorka loves watching a Spanish series, I love reading my murder mystery books and we look at each other and laugh. It’s like we’re an old married couple but we’re in our 30s!” says Gemma.

It’s 15 months since the couple, who fell for each other after meeting on the 2017 series of Strictly Come Dancing, welcomed their daughter Mia Louise into the world. They conceived just nine months after a flirtatious friendship blossomed into romance during the subsequent Strictly tour.

“People have said to us that after having a baby the passion goes, but I don’t think the passion for him could ever go,” confides Gemma, 35.

“It’s still there, just sometimes it’s not a priority because you’re tired and you’ve got a baby. If we’ve got a night free and Real Madrid are playing, Gorka goes into the spare room and speaks to his Spanish mates on FaceTime while the game’s on, and I love that because I can put some Epsom salts in a bath and relax.

Some people try to force the fact that they’ve got a night free so have to be intimate… but if that’s forced, it’s not worthwhile anyway. We’re at such a comfortable stage whereby I can do the whole sexy underwear thing and it’ll be great, but equally I can also come in with baby sick on a baggy T-shirt and greasy hair and it’ll still be fine.”

As sincere and fuss-free as they come, the former star of Hollyoaks, Emmerdale and Casualty refuses to sugar-coat any aspect of her life. She also never sidesteps a question, today tackling the most personal of topics with good humour.

It’s probably why, from her days as a lads’ mag favourite to today, she’s never alienated other women. This in-it-together sisterhood stems from her northern roots, she says, and the quiet life she shares with Gorka, 30, and Mia in Bury, the Greater Manchester town in which she was born and raised.

“I’ve grown up with a really strong group of women around – my mum, sister and auntie, and I’ve had the same five girl mates since school. We’re all from Manchester and it’s not as if after Hollyoaks I moved to London and did this whole big showbizzy lifestyle.

“It’s hard enough for women as it is. Why would you, as a woman, make another woman feel bad? It’s hard enough when guys treat us badly. You don’t want women doing the same thing.”

It’s hard enough for women as it is. Why would you, as a woman, make another woman feel bad?

With 1.5 million Instagram followers, Gemma is serious about her responsibility as a role model. She keeps it real with her pictures, going make-up-free in the gym and posting less-than-flattering images of mum-life, including one during the early days of motherhood when she was “so exhausted” she looked like she had “been on a bender for three days”.

Finding the right balance on social media, showing that life is not perfect while avoiding grumbling is, she notes, crucial.

“Motherhood’s a gift denied to so many women who are so deserving of babies, so whenever I feel like I need a good whinge, I remind myself how lucky I am to even be a mum.”

Sadly, though, Gemma is no stranger to online abuse. In the months after Mia’s birth in July 2019, she was judged for many decisions she made as a new parent, including her choice of pram, allowing Mia to be around her pet dogs and dressing her in a hat when the weather was (apparently) not cold enough.

Within two months of giving birth, an exasperated Gemma at the end of her tether wrote on Instagram: ”On your marks, get set, go f**k yourself”.

She says today: “It baffles me why, just because someone would do something different to yourself, it instantly makes it wrong. It’s the whole two plus two equals four but so does three plus one. It’s the same end result, but people do the maths differently. If a mum chooses to breastfeed, that’s great. If she chooses not to, that’s great. It’s what’s best for her and her baby.”

Gemma reckons that women have two options when dealing with the online mum shamers: either bow down and quit (“Which I ain’t going to do”) or carry on regardless.

“Post you, do you and if people don’t like it, it’s on them,” she insists. “Even more so since being a mum, I’ve got more of a backbone with the decisions I make because you can’t pretend to be someone else or to enjoy or dislike something just to fit in with the crowd.”

According to Gemma, Mia is – like her – very “boisterous” and independent and she hopes to enhance this by inspiring her daughter to be unstoppable in life.

“I want her to know that she can get stuff done, that she doesn’t need to rely on anything other than herself,” she explains. “I wouldn’t want her to be afraid to try something because of failing. Growing up, I held back a lot in fear of looking silly or thinking I wouldn’t make it. If the teacher said: ‘Come and stand at the front of the class and read this poem’, I’d be like: ‘Oh my god’. I was quite within myself.”

Gemma’s confidence soared after being cast in Hollyoaks as Lisa Hunter in 2001, “because it was the first audition that I’d done and I thought: wow, I can do this.” But she admits that motherhood has sparked some anxieties in her.

During Mia’s first flight to Spain to meet Gorka’s parents last Christmas, Gemma became worked up about the plane journey. And when Mia started sleeping through the night, she was troubled about cot death and woke repeatedly to “put my finger under her nose in sheer panic”.

There’s also the very real anxiety over something happening to her or Gorka.

Growing up, I held back a lot in fear of looking silly or thinking I wouldn’t make it.

“That’s a worry because I lost my dad so young. I was only 17,” says Gemma of her father David, who died suddenly from heart disease at the age of 52.

“It sounds silly but if I was to do a job where I had to fly somewhere, I’d be thinking: ‘Oh my God, I don’t want to get on the plane without Mia’. That makes me feel vulnerable.”

At the end of lockdown, after Gorka had spent five months at home following months on the road performing his Here Come The Boys show with fellow Strictly dancers Aljaž Škorjanec and Giovanni Pernice, Gemma found herself fretting about coping without him. By the time we speak, Gorka has been in London for two weeks out of four rehearsing for Strictly. And after a few weeks back home, he will disappear again for the duration of the series.

“It was lovely to have the help, but it’s also made me realise I can do stuff on my own,” smiles Gemma. “I feel bad now for him that he’s having to be away. He’s missing Mia so badly.”

Yet being apart from Gorka – or Gorks, as she calls him – does have its upsides. 

“We miss each other so much but when we’re not together that strengthens us. It’s helped keep the [honeymoon period] alive because it keeps us on our toes.”

Ensuring her professional commitments work seamlessly around Mia is a priority for Gemma, who took six months’ maternity leave from her weekday Hits Radio drive-time show before returning full-time in January. 

The week we catch-up, Gemma debuts on Steph McGovern’s new Channel 4 daytime show Steph’s Packed Lunch and a mum-focused follow-up to her December 2018 fitness book The Ultimate Body Plan is due out next year. But something had to give and Gemma, who is also an ambassador for plastic-free baby wipe brand Pura, says acting is now off the agenda for the foreseeable.

“I would never see Mia and I know I wouldn’t do the job justice because I’d constantly be wishing I was at home,” she says.

“Some people give themselves such a hard time over going back to work, but I wanted to have a balance. Ultimately, you were someone before you were a mum, and you’re still someone now.”

So have she and Gorka discussed adding a second child to the mix?

“We would love another baby because I’d love to give Mia a sibling. I don’t want to leave it too long so they’ve nothing in common when it comes to playing, but I want it to be long enough so I can say to Mia: ‘Give me two minutes while I do this,’ and she’ll understand.”

A wedding wouldn’t make us more committed because we are 100% committed – we’ve got a child!

Then referring to her traumatic labour, in which she haemorrhaged after an emergency C-section and required a team of doctors to save her life, Gemma adds: “It’s weird. If I fell pregnant in a few years and the doctor said to me: ‘It’s going to be exactly the same thing that happened to you last time,’ I’d think it was fine because I got through it. Because I know having a sibling, a little buddy, is going to benefit Mia, I’d do it all again tomorrow.”

Until she met Gorka, Gemma had zero desire to make babies, despite pressure from “loads of people” insisting her body clock was tick-tocking.

“I wasn’t very maternal and it was only when I got into the relationship, I thought: ‘I can really see myself having a family with him’. I remember broaching the subject and he said…”

Gemma adopts a thick Spanish accent.“‘Yeah, absolutely, yeah, yeah’. From then on, we were saying: ‘Let’s just have fun, enjoy our relationship and when we both feel ready, we’ll hopefully have a baby.’”

Is it the same story with marriage?

“I think we will one day, absolutely,” she nods. “A wedding wouldn’t make us more committed because we are 100% committed – we’ve got a child! I’ve never wanted a big, fancy do. It would just be nice to take a few people abroad, go and do it then come home – and when Mia’s old enough to be involved.”

Gemma loves Mia “pottering around” her and Gorka’s home gym while they complete tough conditioning training circuits – she resumed proper training 16 weeks after her C-section, building up her efforts slowly. Gemma insists she was not motivated by aesthetic gain, but the challenge of seeing what her body could achieve.

“I didn’t think I needed to be a certain weight or shape for the ‘Gram. I don’t see it as getting back into shape, I see it as getting strong, rebuilding your core. For me, that was a biggie, trying to improve my core strength, not just lose body fat.

In the beauty chair with Gemma

What is your make-up routine?

Minimal and simple. I don’t like to wear make-up when I’m not working.

What are the essentials in your make-up bag?

My go-to is IT Cosmetics CC+ Foundation and Under-Eye Concealer in Medium. It’s fab coverage, hydrating and cruelty-free. I then use a bronzer from Bare Minerals and the Lip Conditioner from Tropic in Rosewood. I finish with Milk Make-Up Kush Mascara.

How has your relationship with make-up changed over the years?

The only thing I’ve changed is the conscious effort to go cruelty-free with my products. So many brands are making the switch, which I love! 

Beauty icon?Kate Hudson – she always looks so fresh-faced. I’m not into the big lips and eyebrows
that a lot of people have now.

“I lost quite a bit of muscle mass when I first had Mia because, obviously, I wasn’t lifting a lot of weights and my hips went a bit wider, which I loved because I felt a bit like J.Lo for a few weeks!

That’s the remarkable thing about your body. It changes, it alters then goes back, and then it can change again. I find it fascinating.”

These days, her diet is a combination of 80% what her body needs and 20% of what she craves, which is not meat. She stopped eating red meat a decade ago and turned completely vegetarian once Mia was born after Gorka told it to her straight.

“I just felt terrible eating animals and Gorka said: ‘Either eat the chicken and forget about it or become veggie because every time you eat a bit of chicken, you’re remorseful for hours,’” she says. “I feel amazing for it.”

I lost quite a bit of muscle mass when I first had Mia because, obviously, I wasn’t lifting a lot of weights and my hips went a bit wider, which I loved because I felt a bit like J.Lo for a few weeks!

She looks it, too. She’s the same dress size as pre-pregnancy – a 12 up top and 10 below – and says she feels more confident than ever.

“I think that’s because of knowing I’m a mum and Mia’s watching,” she explains.

“I don’t ever want to be on the beach and her to say: ‘Let’s go swimming,’ and me say: ‘Just let me cover myself up.’ I’m going to say: ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ I won’t be all toned, tanned and cellulite-free, it’ll just be me and Mia playing in the sea.”

She adds: “I have so much more energy if I’ve trained. I get so much more done, I’m more patient, I’m better at work – and I’m better for Mia and Gorka.” 

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