During lockdown, Sara Cox managed to do something she’d been wanting for a very long time. She got a horse – and her “work-life balance has massively improved” as a result.
“I’d not had my own horse for 30 years, and I always wanted to get back round to it,” explains the BBC radio and TV host, who developed a life-long love for the animals whilst growing up on her dad’s farm near Bolton, Greater Manchester.
Cox rode as a child and even worked as a groom for a showjumping couple before moving to London to pursue modelling, then forging a broadcasting career.
Horses remained a side-love though, and she’s twice ridden in Goodwood charity race the Magnolia Cup over the years.
Even over the phone, she lights up talking about Nelly, her pandemic purchase. “The last 10 years, I’d really been thinking about it, and the last five years really, ‘Oh I’ve got to get onto this’, not just riding when I’m on holiday.
Lockdown really taught me you’ve got to seize life by the ears. So I got Nelly a year ago and she’s beautiful.
“She’s at a livery [a short drive from Cox’s North London home] so she gets looked after, but nobody else rides her, so I have to make the time to be up five days out of seven and riding her.
Fresh air and being out with the horizons and the sky, it’s lovely. We just had a little canter today. A little fox popped up, a little muntjac deer, there’s bunny rabbits and I’m trotting around. I’m going full-on Disney princess.”
It wasn’t all galloping in fields, however. Cox also managed to write another book in lockdown – this time a debut novel, Thrown, due out next May. It follows 2019’s Till The Cows Come Home: A Lancashire Childhood, her bestselling memoir which revealed a childhood full of countryside capers, a far cry from the London ‘ladette’ scene Cox and her pop culture peers – Zoe Ball, Denise van Outen and co – became famous for in the Nineties.
But whether partying, presenting, writing or pottering in stables, something that always seems to have been present is Cox’s easy wit and friendly, chatty charm. Today, she is also a mum of three – there’s Lola, 17 (from her first marriage to DJ Jon Carter) and Isaac, 13, and Renee, 11, with husband Ben Cyzer. They’re all, thankfully, recovering from the trials of homeschooling (“Arrgh, nightmare, just awful!”) and, despite the early mornings, Cox is glad Nelly has added another string to her wellbeing bow.
“Normally, I cycle into the radio and back most days, that’s a nice bit of endorphin, I’m all about the endorphins really. That’s how I look after myself mentally,” says Cox, who is also a fan of online yoga sessions.
They’ve installed a Peloton bike in the garage too. “So I’ll go and do a bit of that,” says Cox. “I’ve got my brother’s Iron Man T-shirt and medal there to inspire me, so I’ll look at that as I’m puffing and panting and going the colour of a plum.” Her brother, David Cox, died in late 2019 of an undiagnosed heart condition. He was only 56.
It’s clear Cox has a strong sense of taking care of herself, weaving exercise and relaxation into her day, along with ever-present humour and that refreshing knack of keeping things real.
Fortunately, unlike many, she didn’t lose her ability to concentrate on reading during the pandemic.
Just as well, as she had a lot of books to get through for BBC Two’s Between The Covers, the celeb panel show where she and a host of famous faces chat about favourite books.
The first series aired in 2020 and a third one’s on TV now. “I think there was research done on it – not by me obviously, I was too busy eating biscuits – but some people found it difficult to read, and some found even more escapism in books,” quips Cox, who says it’s “just the most lovely job to be given a big stack of books” and “be able to call it work”.
“I feel better when I read. I sleep better,” she says. “At night, if I’m not doing a food shop online, I often write the next day’s opening link, try and get a bit of content for the radio, and then I’ll fall into an Instagram hole and end up looking at Zoe Ball’s latest gardening antics or Fearne Cotton doing yoga – you know what I mean? You start looking at stuff and then you’re swallowed up and it’s nearly 11, which for me, is pretty late.
“If I read in bed, rather than looking at a screen, I also feel a bit smug. I’m like, ‘Well done, Saz, you distracted your little brain’, which can be like a flock of sparrows sometimes.
But you know, times are tough, because we’ve got Succession and The Morning Show… so it’s a struggle.”
Cox has always been a keen reader, but admits she’s “completely awe-struck by a good book” now she knows first-hand just how much work is involved.
“I’ve always admired authors, to be able to grab you by the scruff of your neck and drag you into a story and keep you there is a real skill.
And if anything, since writing more, I can find it quite intimidating reading some books and thinking, ‘Wow, this is incredible’.”
The idea of hosting Between The Covers left her a little intimidated initially: “I was like, ‘Oh God, can I sit in a room with four other people who are all going to be smarter and better read than me?’”
In the end though, she thought, “‘So what if they are?’ It really doesn’t matter.” Plus, that sense that something is going to “scare me a little” and “give me a bit of a fire in my belly” is something Cox has come to look for when choosing which projects to do.
“And if something gets me genuinely excited,” she says. “I’m not bothered about what will get me exposure, it’s not really about that. I feel like I’ve found a really good home on BBC Two.
I love the shows I do, and Love In The Countryside, that taps into my upbringing and with my dad being a farmer.” And she likes keeping a bit of live TV in the mix, as it’s “using a different bit of your brain” than writing and radio.
“I’m really lucky, there’s a nice range of work I’m doing at the moment,” Cox reflects. “It feels like the golden years.”
Watch Between The Covers with Sara Cox every Wednesday on BBC Two and iPlayer.