The Chase star Anne Hegerty recently unveiled a dramatic transformation on the red carpet of the National Television Awards, looking a world away from her harsh character on the popular quiz show.
But she insists that being conventionally attractive has never been important to her – and even claims it can jeopardise women’s careers in media when they’re in their 50s and 60s.
Insisting she has no plans to slow down any time soon, the 59-year-old star told Starts at 60 she’s not too worried about her career ending in the near future because she didn’t rely on her looks to break into the limelight. And rather than setting herself a retirement age, she hopes to continue filming for a long time to come.
“I do think it’s never too late,” she said in an exclusive chat. “There’s an awful lot of women who start out young, and then they get older and find they’re less in demand. It’s very unfair, but it’s because there always was a slight element of them being attractive, and looking after themselves, and that’s not a thing I’ve ever done, to put it bluntly!”
Before finding fame on the game show, Hegerty explains that she’d spend hours each day in her spare room at home, editing academic texts, so her looks were never important for her career. Now, she hopes her down-to-earth looks help viewers at home relate to her more.
“I hope, for me, looks are not relevant,” she added. “It was never any part of how I got work in the first place, so I just kind of keep going. If you’re doing a job that doesn’t depend on your looks in the first place, then I think just keep going.
“It is unfair for women, when they get to middle age and certainly in the media business, how many people just aren’t interested anymore. Game shows are largely watched by older women, so they see someone that looks like them. It can have a powerful effect.”
It’s not been an easy road to success for the star, though and she admits that high intelligence runs in her family so she had to battle to stand out among her siblings. She grew up in a house full of books, thanks to a family member being a publisher, and soon discovered she could “memorise chunks of Shakespeare in primary school”.
Despite her academic abilities, though, she recalls that it was soon clear she was different to other children her age – but no-one, including her social-worker mother, knew what it was.
“I was always a weird kid, and nobody could work out why I was such a troubled child,” Hegerty remembers. “When I was about 12 they worked out I was, what they used to call, ‘maladjusted’,” she said. “The psychiatrist was happy to say ‘we’re not sure what her special needs are, but we know she’s got some’!”
Her mother soon worked out the family could use special needs legislation to help them fund Hegerty’s education in a boarding school – which was one of her wishes at the time – and she ended up going there for five years.
“It was very good for me. It gave me some structure, and challenged me academically in ways that I hadn’t been before, so I did rather thrive,” she adds.
While Hegerty attended therapy sessions for several years, it wasn’t until 2003 that she was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s. She came to the conclusion herself after reading about it and watching TV shows on the syndrome.
“It suddenly made sense,” she recalled. “I remember writing in my diary ‘I think I’ve made the most important discovery of my life’. It was mega. Part of me wonders if it would have been better to get the diagnosis earlier, then part of me thinks ‘but would people have had lower expectations of me? Would people have been a bit protective, and given me longer in exams?’ I’m not sure that would have been healthy.”
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