Natasha Kaplinsky OBE, 49, is best known for her long-standing career as a news anchor for Sky News, BBC News, Channel 5 and ITV News. She was the first ever winner of Strictly Come Dancing in 2004, and now lives on a farm in East Sussex with her husband, Justin Bower, and their two children.
Kaplinsky has been an active ambassador for Save the Children for over a decade, and became the President of Barnardo’s in 2019, a role previously held by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall. She launched eco-friendly mother, babycare and beauty brand Mum & You in 2017.
Best childhood experience?
When I was eight, we moved from the UK to a remote Kenyan village outside Nairobi called Kikuyu. We were the only white family and we were made so welcome: we’d go on safari in the bush, speak Swahili and walk along the beautiful, endless sands of Mombasa. My father was a South African political refugee who was given sanctuary in the UK. We moved there partly because he missed Africa so much. After that, we came back to East Sussex, where I had been born.
Best day of your life?
I struggled to get pregnant and to become a mum. For years, I found it hard to talk about. The best day of my life was the day I became a mother. It was a difficult journey and I promised myself that if I ever had a baby I would use my voice to encourage other women going through treatment and multiple miscarriages [Kaplisnky shared her story in Channel 5 documentary Miscarriage: Our Story, available to watch online]. My son Arlo is now 13 and my daughter, Angelica, who everyone calls Kika, is 12. They are the absolute centre of my life.
Best part of your day?
We have a lot of animals, and I’m first up to be greeted by them in the morning, while everyone else is still asleep. I’m obsessed with animals. When my husband is away I often sneak in another pet. It’s chaos.
Currently we have six dogs, two cats, eight alpacas, chickens, ducks, a Highland cow called Mabel, and four sheep – Stella, Bella, Ella and Cookie. If anyone’s ever having a difficult moment, I always think the answer is to get a puppy. Alpacas are my therapy. They’re the most incredible, gentle creatures.
Best decision you’ve ever made?
Moving to the countryside. I lived in the hubbub of London for years, working early mornings on BBC Breakfast. Once we had children, I found it really quite stressful having to avoid them getting run over on the way to the park four times a day. Unpacking the boxes, I thought, why didn’t we do this before? You can’t get a cappuccino or a blow-dry for miles, but it’s worth the sacrifice. Now, my favourite days begin in wellingtons on the farm and end in stilettos in London.
I’m very instinctive. The moment I saw my husband Justin across the room I knew I was going to marry him. I haven’t eaten meat since I was 11, and I can’t drink because I’m allergic to alcohol, so I’m a very cheap date. Justin proposed to me after five weeks and I think that was because he knew that I could drive him home after a boozy night out, and that I wouldn’t drink his expensive wine.
Worst day of your life?
Four years ago, we were on a boat in Corfu and something dreadful happened. There was a leak in the fuel pipe and out of nowhere, it exploded. My husband, our children and my parents were on the boat; Kika, my father and I were severely burnt. We were treading water for 45 minutes, trying to keep calm before anybody found us. My father can’t swim, so I’m very thankful for his life vest. We were then airlifted back to England.
We’ve all had a lot of therapy, including EMDR, designed for war veterans with post-traumatic stress, and we’ve tried to use the experience positively. We were very fortunate. It’s left emotional scars, but physically we’ve all recovered.
Worst thing about ‘Strictly?’
I was first on the dance floor with a cha-cha, and nobody knew whether Strictly would be a huge success or a flop. It was a bubble of sequins and pressure, and I had no idea if it would go down well or destroy my career. It opened me up to unprecedented press attention, and I discovered eight years later that post-Strictly, my phone had been hacked. One day on holiday I woke up to hear I was on the front pages, wearing a bikini in Bora Bora, having been followed there. My overriding desire was for a public apology. It was later settled with damages.
Worst story you’ve covered?
In 2014, when David Cameron was prime minister, I was asked to be part of the Holocaust Commission. Over a period of 15 months I volunteered pro bono and interviewed 112 survivors of the Holocaust. They’d never shared their stories before, even with their own families. It was a huge privilege, but unbelievably harrowing and hard to process. The chief rabbi at the time said it was a sacred task, and it felt that way. I was deeply honoured to be awarded an OBE for services to Holocaust Commemoration, but it was a glimpse of the worst of humanity.
I always thought the BBC show Who Do You Think You Are? was a conceit, and that people knew what they were going to discover, but my experience was genuine. I didn’t know my father’s family were from Belarus. I went to Slonim with my cousin, and discovered photographs of relatives who’d been brutally killed by the Nazis. Confronted with that, I was overwhelmed. Human beings are capable of such evil.
Worst thing facing refugees?
I registered to give a home to a Ukrainian family straight away. I’m from a family of refugees and enormously privileged to have the space, so it was my responsibility to step up.
When I collected the four of them, a father who is partially blind and so couldn’t fight, a mother, a 12-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl, they had just a small suitcase.
They’re the most wonderful family and so grateful, but they just want to be at home. They FaceTime friends and family in Ukraine every day. The worst thing for them is that they can’t go home.
Natasha Kaplinsky is an ambassador for the charity Freedom from Torture, which provides therapeutic care for survivors of torture who seek protection in the UK.