Julia Bradbury: My best Christmas present? That I'm still here

Julia Bradbury had a mastectomy after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2021. Now she’s joining a host of stars to raise awareness in a very cheeky new show

  • UK TV star Julia Bradbury, 53, is performing on this year’s The Real Full Monty
  • READ MORE: Julia Bradbury says she’s been changed ‘forever’ by her breast cancer battle after ‘staring death in the face’

There’s one thing Julia Bradbury swore she’d never do in her long TV career – get her boobs out in public.

So it’s a huge surprise to see her almost naked, the Bradbury assets concealed behind a festive wreath, on television as she performs on this year’s The Real Full Monty, to raise awareness for life-saving cancer checks. 

‘Red line, biiiiiggggg red line, completely crossed,’ admits the presenter with a liberated grin.

Let us say here that Julia’s wreath is doing nothing like the heavy lifting of the two lollipops preserving the modesty of voluptuous TOWIE star Gemma Collins, or the baubles concealing royal butler Paul Burrell’s er, baubles, as they perform alongside her.

ITV’s Christmas two-parter launches on Monday in a swoon of gold lamé posing pouches, strategically placed hats and, for one night only, a stageful of naked celebrity bosoms and behinds.

Julia Bradbury, 53, who had a mastectomy following her cancer diagnosis two and a half years ago, is performing on this year’s The Real Full Monty to raise awareness for life-saving cancer checks

Having breast cancer and undergoing a life-saving mastectomy is what’s made 53-year-old Julia – best known for fronting shows such as Countryfile and Britain’s Best Walks – dare to bare. 

Once her body was her private property. Today she views it as a tool for raising cancer awareness and funds, protecting others from the diagnosis she faced two and a half years ago.

‘Cancer doesn’t define me but it shapes who I am today and it will do forever,’ Julia says. ‘When you hear the words, “You’ve got cancer,” what you hear is, “What kind of coffin would you like?” 

‘So to get a bunch of people who’ve had it, who’ve got it or whose lives have been touched by it, and to make a show that’s celebratory, uplifting and ultimately optimistic, then I think that’s a smart way of addressing something dark.

‘After I recovered from my mastectomy I climbed a hill in the Peak District, Mam Tor, one of the first places I walked as a child. Mam Tor means Mother Hill and it was an act of thanksgiving. 

‘I went with my partner Gerry, our children, my parents Michael and Chrissi, and my sister Gina. We held hands at the top and cheered.

‘For me, doing The Real Full Monty was also about looking for hope. It was another mountain to climb in my life after cancer.

‘I always said I’d never get my kit off on telly. The only time my boobs have been out in public was a wardrobe malfunction at an awards event when the zip on my strapless dress came down right in front of the paparazzi. I ended up on the front of the Sunday Sport under the headline “Julia Raspberry!”‘

It was July 2021 when Julia was told she had a 6.5cm cancerous tumour in her left milk duct. She had a single mastectomy and reconstruction the following October. 

The Top Gear and Watchdog veteran chronicled the emotional agonies of her diagnosis (including the moment she told her son Zeph, 12, and twin daughters Xanthe and Zena, eight, ‘Mummy has cancer’), and her slow physical rehabilitation in the award-winning documentary Julia Bradbury: Breast Cancer And Me.

‘I couldn’t have done The Real Full Monty if I hadn’t made my documentary first. Back then you see my mum examining my new breast, or my “mozzarella boob” as I lovingly call it today, because it has little creases on the side, like a mozzarella.’

Julia adds, ‘I couldn’t bear to look until the bruising and the swelling had died down, mostly because the real bruising and swelling was in my heart, and I needed to be stronger emotionally.

With just a festive wreath to conceal her assets, Julia, like the other celebrity participants, is almost naked on The Real Full Monty 

‘Now I’m comfortable with this different body. Doing the The Real Full Monty proves that. There’s a hugely positive currency to the programme, building awareness and showing people that as well as the sadness of cancer there can be life and happiness after it too. 

‘Mostly the show’s been joyous and light-hearted, with lots of jokes about The Nutcracker…’

Nevertheless, Julia was initially terrified. ‘I did get to the first rehearsal and think, “What am I doing?” I quit a cable TV job back in the 1990s after being told to present a risqué programme called The Sex Show, and yet here I was agreeing to strip for 1,300 people in a live audience with another three million at home.’ 

Did she think about them? ‘That,’ she shudders, ‘would have been a really bad idea.’

Among the viewers will be Gerry and her children, with whom she’ll be proudly watching, despite, as she says, ‘their mum usually being on the TV at Christmas in her cagoule and hiking boots doing a walking special’. 

Her own mother is ‘quietly accepting’ but her father is uncomfortable about his youngest daughter’s public strip, even if it is for a good cause.

‘I wouldn’t have agreed without discussing it with Gerry and the kids, because it impacts them and filters through the school gate. Dad was reticent, and remains so. He said, “You’re exposing yourself in all the wrong ways.” I hope he’ll come round.’

In front of her fellow strippers she was unembarrassed. ‘We were encouraged to be naked in front of each other from an early stage, the men and the women. I’ve never been squeamish about nudity, so for me it wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was odd because we were strangers.’

Weeks of rehearsals and team bonding, including a cold-water swim and an eyebrow-raising theatre trip to see some real male strippers, turned the strangers into friends. With cameras following their every move, this was Julia’s first foray into reality TV. 

‘Apart from when I did Celebrity Come Dine With Me and made Christopher Biggins unwell with several aquavit shots and Champagne cocktails,’ she remembers.

She’s never had any formal dance training, but as she sashays on stage for the big reveal in a dark pencil skirt and gold sequinned bustier, flinging her jacket at a near-naked Paul Burrell to the strains of You Can Leave Your Hat On, her newbie’s nerves are clearly forgotten. 

Her fellow strippers, alongside hosts, choreographer Ashley Banjo and presenter Coleen Nolan, are giving it their all too.

The celebrities baring all in The Real Full Monty. L-R: Julia Bradbury, Pete Wicks, Vanessa Bauer, Ben Cohen, Colleen Nolan, Nick Collier, Victoria Ekanoye, Gemma Collins and Paul Burrell

There’s Gemma Collins, anxious about her ‘Bristols’, which she believes weigh more than a stone combined. ‘I hope they don’t knock out anyone in the audience,’ she confides to the camera. She’s performing for her mum who’s had breast cancer. 

Her TOWIE co-star Pete Wicks, who describes early rehearsals as ‘everyone dancing like a drunk uncle at a wedding’, is there for all the men too embarrassed to check their testicles.

Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s butler, was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer while the show was being filmed. Coronation Street star Victoria Ekanoye discovered a lump in her breast when she was feeding her newborn son Theo. Actress and former Loose Women presenter Sherrie Hewson lost her brother to a brain tumour. 

Dancing On Ice pro skater Vanessa Bauer’s dad died as her career went from strength to strength. Nick Collier, better known as Ella Vaday from RuPaul’s Drag Race, is doing it for his mum who has survived breast and thyroid cancer. Rugby legend Ben Cohen is there because bowel cancer has impacted his extended family.

Finally, there’s former Coventry City footballer Ashley Cain, who, when he speaks about his baby daughter Azaylia dying from leukaemia at just eight months old, is almost too broken to continue the show.

As you watch all these celebrities tell their stories in faltering voices, you understand how the disease punishes everyone it touches. Which makes their ability to have you howling with laughter, rooting for them and tapping your toes to Hot Chocolate’s You Sexy Thing, all the more of an achievement.

‘I’m doing this for my beautiful family because I’m grateful for every day here with you,’ says Julia to camera. ‘How am I doing?’

The answer is brilliantly, given the challenges of the last two years and, as she describes it, ‘the cascade of emotions’ unleashed by the show. ‘You think you’ve moved on, but reliving those first days, it’s visceral, the hurt.’

She’s tearful on screen at times, just as she was while recording the audio version of her recent best-selling book Walk Yourself Happy, and again doing a podcast for the NHS about handling a cancer diagnosis. 

‘It was the section on palliative care and planning your own funeral that got me,’ says Julia. But mostly she tries to look forward rather than back.

Right now she is planning Christmas with her parents and Gina, her best friend and her godchildren. ‘There’ll be lots of bickering about the cooking. Somebody will put the turkey in too late and we’ll say we’ll eat at 2pm and it’ll be closer to 4pm.’

She’s unlikely to have a glass of fizz since she’s chosen not to drink alcohol since her diagnosis. ‘Never say never. But not now. It’s too soon. I’ve been on a magazine cover at this time of year saying, “I’ll be on the choccies and Champagne by 9am!” I was always the last one standing after a Christmas party. But that was another life.’

As someone who has never been squeamish about nudity, Julia was unembarrassed in front of her fellow strippers. She did, however, find the experience ‘odd’ given that they were all strangers

There’ll still be silly hats, eco crackers and charades (Julia is terribly competitive), and at some point she’ll go for a walk in the park.

‘I swore in my life post-cancer I’d get outside every day to see the sky, hug the trees and feel Mother Nature all around me. I’ve overhauled my diet. I keep to a sleep regime. I exercise more. I practise meditation. I do whatever I can to stay well.’

Her quest for optimum health will continue into the New Year. ‘My New Year’s resolution will be to find more mental equilibrium. I’m in a good place physically. Next I’d like to explore my emotional recovery. How has my cancer diagnosis affected me? How has it affected my family? How do I continue this conversation with my partner and children?’

But that’s for 2024. First, it’s Christmas. Ask her what she wants and there’s only one thing on her list. ‘Just to be here.’

  • The Real Full Monty, Monday and Tuesday, 9pm, ITV1.

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