On air TV-am looked like a happy family, but it wasn’t, says Lizzie Webb

While viewers could always expect a smile and warm welcome from the TV-am sofa ­during the Eighties and Nineties, this did not reflect the experience of exercise guru Lizzie Webb behind the scenes.

The fitness instructor, who turns 75 on August 12, has just published her autobiography and says she is often told by people how they fondly remember her heyday on the ITV early morning show.

Sadly, she doesn’t remember it in quite the same way. In what could be a recent description of This Morning, she says: “On air it looked like the presenting team at TV-am was a happy family, but it wasn’t. The camaraderie didn’t exist in reality.

“Very quickly my fitness slot became popular and in about 1986 David Frost said that TV-am ratings and a survey showed I was the most popular presenter.

“So perhaps there was resentment towards me from those sitting on the sofa.

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“But Nick Owen and Mike Morris were absolutely lovely. I’d gone from teaching, where you worked together, and suddenly I was in the world of television with all these egos and people not speaking to you.”

Lizzie appeared on the show from 1983 to 1992 and her fitness slots at 6.50am and 9.18am enabled her to meet plenty of VIPs.

“I did various charity functions with Princess Diana,” she says. “She was fun and sparky and beautiful.

“She loved dance and told me, ‘After you’re on at 6.50, I go swimming.’”

To help her get the viewers exercising, Lizzie would choose music tracks she liked, and in 1987 those included George Harrison’s Got My Mind Set On You – which subsequently became a No2 hit thanks to her.

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“Radio stations weren’t playing it before I used it. George was so grateful that he rang me to thank me, and he invited me to tea at his amazing home,” the fitness guru says.

“That all seemed so unreal because I’d grown up during Beatlemania and he’d been my favourite.”

One of four sisters, Lizzie was born Elizabeth Beveridge in Barnet, North London, to mum Muriel, who worked for MI5 and at code-breaking HQ Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Dad Robert was a computer expert.

“My father was heavy-handed and thrashed us, particularly me,” says Lizzie.

“My mother couldn’t control him. So I was very afraid of him. But somehow I’ve had optimism throughout my life.” Partly due to her traumatic early experiences of her father, Lizzie has spent much of her life teaching children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

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As a youngster she attended dance and violin lessons, playing the latter so well she got a junior scholarship to the Guildhall School Of Music & Drama.

Lizzie went on to choreograph commercials for products like KP Discos and Quality Street and teach dance at the Italia Conti, Sylvia Young and Guildford stage schools.

At The Dance Centre in Covent Garden, one of her pupils was PA to Greg Dyke, the boss at TV-am. They recommended Lizzie as an on-screen fitness instructor to rival Diana Moran – “The Green Goddess” – on BBC Breakfast Time.

“Before we even met, Greg named me Mad Lizzie,” she recalls. “I was happy to be called that as teaching should be fun and I was totally different to other teachers.”

Following an ITV franchise auction, TV-am lost its licence in 1992 and was succeeded by GMTV.

Lizzie continued to work with Joggy Bear, a costumed character teaching children about keeping fit, whom she’d first teamed up with on Channel 4.

She didn’t seek to return as a regular TV exercise queen but taught troubled youngsters – the main inspiration for her memoir Mad About The Boys.

“You can’t compare doing something like that with the incredible joy of teaching kids from desperate backgrounds to read and giving them a purpose in life,” Lizzie says.

Son Ben, who she had with maths teacher first husband Andrew Webb, represented Great Britain in rowing at the 1996 Olympics and at several World Championships.

The marriage ended after nine years. Since 1985 she’s been with former pro golfer Dougie Cameron. They married in 2008.

The couple live in West Sussex, where Lizzie still gives exercise classes in a church hall, and she can still do the splits.

In their home are mementos of her stint in the spotlight, including a Gotcha Oscar from Noel’s House Party, framed discs for records she helped become hits, photos with the likes of George Harrison, and some of the exercise clothes she wore on TV.

Asked how she would like to be remembered, Lizzie replies: “As a really good teacher. I’d like to think I made a difference to people’s lives and inspired them to enjoy fitness.”

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