Need a lockdown lift? As we prepare to get back out into Essex once again, local TV presenter Hayley Sparkes shows why we should all try to look on the bright side of life
It may nearly be summer, but as I am talking to Hayley Sparkes, hailstones are slamming into my window. At the time of writing, uncertainty around overseas travel this year remains, so to cheer ourselves up, the conversation moves on to some of the amazing destination the Essex local has visited during her TV career to date.
“I did a documentary series in Taiwan and that did blow me away,” Sparkes says, instantly warming me up. “I also went on a travel influencer trip to Mauritius and I have to say that probably tops everything so far. It’s amazing there. They call themselves the ‘Rainbow Nation’ because of the different nationalities and religions there, who all worship and mix alongside each other and everyone lives in peace. You don’t see any poverty and the wildlife is amazing… It’s just stunning.”
For now, Mauritius and its ilk remain a distant dream, but Sparkes is ever an optimist and believes this side of her career will soon be up and running again. “A lot of my work is travel-based and live events, so pretty much 95% of my work in 2020 disappeared due to COVID,” she sighs. “My life completely changed. I was renting in Epping and I gave that place up to come and bubble up with my family. Then my Instagram got hacked. I had about 24,000 followers and I was bribed, so it was a really horrible situation.”
Despite all this, positivity is never far away when talking to Sparkes. “My sister had a baby just before we went into lockdown, so it was lovely to be together and live under the same roof. Watching him grow up every day has been something very positive and lovely to focus on while I was not able to work. I owned a property on the Suffolk/Essex border, which I decided to sell, and now we are busy looking at properties in Hatfield Peverel. So it’s been a rollercoaster of a year!”
Perhaps her sunny outlook on life has something to do with health issues she suffered when young. She was diagnosed with the inflammatory bowel disease Ulcerative Colitis aged seven, and it became so bad that she nearly lost her life at 14, going on to have a life-saving operation and two corrective surgeries. “I always feel indebted to the help that I got from the NHS,” she says on that time. “The amount of emails [I receive] or number of people who contact me to say they are about to undergo surgery like I did, that they have been worried, but they are inspired in seeing how well I am… Being able to support somebody else is one of the good things about social media – for all the negative, you can actually use it for the positive.”
It’s why, mixed amongst the TV presenting and writing gigs, you will see plenty of charitable work associated with her. “I just feel so lucky to be in an industry that I love so much,” she says. “Also, when you are in this industry, you do get spoilt a lot of the time with lovely clothes, experiences, travel and the suchlike, and I think it’s only right if you have any kind of platform, connections or network that you use it in a positive way to give back and help others. I am aware that I am not doing a job like our amazing nurses: presenting is very much about promoting yourself. To balance that out I like to do my charity work. I am genuinely passionate about it and I get a lot of pleasure being involved in positive projects.”
For over a decade, Sparkes has certainly been building those platforms. You will see her on TV covering a whole host of genres including travel, music, fashion, entertainment, lifestyle, property and beauty, the latter of which has led to her being a regular on ITV’s This Morning. “I always wanted to be a TV presenter, but I had an interest in fashion and beauty, and I felt that having expertise in those areas would be a great way to get into the industry,” she says on the diverse nature of her career. “There are so many people who want to be presenters, so I thought to have skills and expertise in one area would be a good way in. I did my degree in fashion, worked as a fashion stylist and qualified in make-up, which gave me a foot in the door when I worked at This Morning, which was a good launchpad for my presenting career. Then I have been really lucky I guess. I have other interests in property and travel and I have ended up working in all the areas that I am really passionate about.”
With some kind of normality, hopefully, on the horizon, Sparkes is very much looking to the future. “Because I was so poorly when I was younger, I was at the point eventually where I was bed bound, so I couldn’t do simple things like walk to the shops. So to start off your life being incredibly restricted and not able to go anywhere, and to then have the next chapter of your life with a career with so much variety, so much travel, meeting people, is something I appreciate and embrace. I am a bit of a butterfly, I love variety, I get bored easily so I love doing all these things. I do pinch myself because I enjoy my days at work more than my days off.” A ray of sunshine in what has been a very dark time.
Hayley Sparkes is now modelling for Janet Reger as their model representing “Confident Beauty Undressed”