Gemma Hunt on family, faith and her children’s book series

Gemma Hunt

by Lorna White |
Published on

If you’re anything like us, CBeebies is a constant in your household, and those songs are on repeat in your head 24/7. Over the years, we’ve become very familiar with the presenters on CBeebies, including the lovely Gemma Hunt who you’ll definitely recognise from Swashbuckle.

It’s hard to believe, but Gemma’s been on our screens for over 20 years, working on both CBBC and Cbeebies, entertaining kids of all ages. And now, she’s turning her hand to writing children’s books in her book series, See, Let’s Be, which is all about imitative behaviour.

Gemma Hunt Swashbuckle

“That's something that we are always told an awful lot about working at Cbeebies and CBBC, that our viewers will imitate what we do, so we need to be good role models.” Says Gemma.

“I've really taken that seriously, yet, being a mum to my daughter who is now seven, I look at children's literature and think, I don't see our family represented in books.”

Gemma’s mum is Jamaican and both her dad and her husband are English and her daughter is mixed race, and Gemma was worried a family unit like theirs wasn’t shown in books and on TV.

“For her, our family is her normal, but she's got a black skinned grandmother, a brown skinned mum, and a white skinned dad. I wanted for her to feel like she was seen and that, that was the norm for her and for countless other children.”

Not only was it important to Gemma that she was representing mixed race families in her books, but she also wanted her faith to be a running theme throughout the books.

“I wanted to have Bible stories to read to my daughter that didn't show Jesus as this blue eyed, blonde haired white guy, because he wouldn't look like that being from where he came from. I wanted to take the characteristics and the traits of the person of Jesus, rather than get fixed upon what he actually looked like, and then translate that into different characters. The whole series is all about trying to imitate Christ-like characters, but through modern day family characters.”

The characters in the books are inspired by Gemma’s own family including her husband, daughter, mum and dad, and for the sake of the book, they’ve adopted a son into their family who is actually the son of some friends of Gemma’s.

The first book, See! Let's Be A Good Friend, is all about trying to encourage children to be a good friend.

“It’s based on the five different Bible stories that have been rewritten into a modern day setting, to help children deal with things like love and sharing kindness.”

Gemma’s second book is called See, Let's Be Me, which is all about how children can be the best versions of themselves, covering how to deal with emotions and feelings and different points of view.

See! Let's Be Me!

Rrp: $13.99

Price: $10.99

See Lets be a good friend
Price: $11.99

“These books came out of the pandemic. I think so many of us have become better educated in terms of talking about our mental wellbeing since lockdown, yet children still find it difficult to articulate. Sometimes it's just a case of feeling sad, or feeling happy or feeling cross, and they don't know how to really verbalise anything in between without outbursts. The books are all about trying to give them a way of actually articulating what it is that they're feeling by seeing some of their peers go through the same thing as them.”

As well as helping our children deal with their emotions and feelings and encouraging important conversations between family members, faith is an important theme throughout Gemma’s books.

“My faith is my backbone and the air that I breathe. It's everything that I am and I don't know how to do life without it. And so in those moments of difficulty and trauma, or even celebration, joy, I've got something else I can look out to. I love the fact that I can rely and depend on Jesus, I can ask for help from God to get through the things that I'm going through. I don't know how other people do it. Even like yesterday, I had a real wobble about something that happened with my daughter at school, so I text the family Whatsapp group, like can you just pray for her? I just need that support and encouragement, that comfort in that moment. After praying, I just felt so much lighter and freer.”

Although Gemma is a regular on our screens, she keeps her personal life underwraps, so you might not realise that Gemma has a daughter of her own, and since having her own child, it’s made her appreciate her job even more, understanding the true value of children’s programmes.

“I feel like we're making really good quality content that I'm happy for my child to learn from, and to enjoy and take delight in. I love the fact that I had the privilege of being a part of people's memories, part of their childhood, at such important times when they are formulating their opinions, their ideas about themselves in the world. We get to be a part of that. And it's such a privilege. I don't take it for granted at all.”

We can’t imagine how excited our kids would be if their mum was a Cbeebies legend, so it’s no surprise Gemma’s daughter is proud as punch of her mum.

“She takes the books into school and very proudly shows them for show and tell. And then when it's World Book Day, she just goes as herself.”

Gemma Hunt books

As well as working on her books, Gemma’s been working hard in the background filming Songs of Praise as well as the legendary Cbeebies Pantomime. This year, it’s Robin Hood, and it will premiere on Cbeebies on December 9th, 2023 at 9.25am.

“They’re so much fun, myself and a couple of the other mum presenters call it our working mum's holiday. We're working. We're away from home, but we don't have any parental responsibilities, so it's kind of like a holiday because we really are best friends.”

As a child, it was Saturday Morning Television and the family friendly evening shows she grew up watching that made Gemma want to be a presenter herself.

“I think those kinds of family viewing shows, which I now sit down and watch with my daughter are great. Today’s equivalents are Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Britain's Got Talent. They're a great way to bring people together. And although I think we spend too much time on screens, if we can do it collectively, I feel like that's still spending time together because you've got a common interest in that moment. So watching things together and getting excited about it together is really lovely. We're currently watching Strictly again this year, and my daughter is a massive fan. Every week we sit and we watch it together and she dances around the living room and it's just fun. We've got a lot of score paddles that we hold up and we score alongside the judges.”

Despite being a huge fan of Strictly Come Dancing, it’s not something Gemma would want to take part in herself.

“Even if you offered to pay off the mortgages of everybody that I knew, it’s not going to happen. I'll just enjoy it from the television.”

It’s hard to believe with Gemma having such a long and successful career on TV that she’d ever get nervous, but one of the reasons she would avoid taking part in Strictly is down to her own battles with anxiety.

“I've battled with anxiety for years working in television, the amount of times I've thrown up before doing a job, the nerves are massive for me. I got to a point where it was so bad that I had terrible acne as well because I just couldn't cope. It’s another reason why I'm not doing Christmas Panto this year.”

Anxiety can impact us in many different ways, and as soon as you become a parent, that anxiety can often be much harder to deal with, and it’s definitely something Gemma has had to learn to let go of.

Gemma Hunt TV presenter

“Because I go away quite a lot, I've had to learn to let go of the mummy guilt. If I didn’t I think that would become all-consuming and I wouldn't be able to do the job that I'm doing to provide for and take care of my daughter. I need to know that I've put all the provisions in place such as childcare, making sure we've got people picking her up, making sure that she knows what she's doing and what clubs are happening and lunches and you know, all that stuff is in place so that when I go away, I just have to trust that my tribe of family and friends that are supporting me and helping me have got it. And I can't feel guilty for doing a job that I love that I know I'm good at and that ultimately is providing for my daughter. I've been able to share that with her along the way as well so she knows that mummy has to go away so that we can keep the heating on so that I can get you some new school shoes.

We can imagine having a very famous mum in the playground must get difficult at times for Gemma’s daughter, but it sounds like she takes it in her stride.

“She'll always step to the side and let the kid come over and run up and hug me or have a photograph with me. But we have a little thing where I just give her a wink and she winks back and she knows that I get to go home with her. So she's cool. There will come a time where she'll say ‘Mum, would you stop putting on that bandana?’

Lorna White is the Senior Digital Writer for Mother&Baby. After running the Yours magazine website, specialising in content about caring for kids and grandchildren, Lorna brought her expertise to Mother&Baby in 2020. She has a keen interest in a range of topics from potty training and nutrition to baby names and early development and has a wide range of experienced medical experts and professionals at her fingertips. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her two young sisters, dog walking and enjoying the outdoors with her family.

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