Caron Keating might have been a novelty as a nationally-recognised Northern Irish-born television star when she first appeared on Blue Peter - had she not been following in the footsteps of her mother. The daughter of TV and radio star Gloria Hunniford and TV director and producer Don Keating, Caron was born in Hillsborough, Co. Down on 5 October, 1962. Back then, her mother was a singer, yet to make her broadcasting debut on local Northern Irish stations and her father was a humble cameraman. She and her two younger brothers, Michael and Paul, subsequently spent a lot of time in Belfast studios while her parents worked; all three later found careers in media.
Caron was educated at Methodist College, Belfast, but while there she made her TV debut on BBC Northern Ireland's youth programme Channel One1. She didn't neglect her studies or let TV take over and she earned a place at Bristol University, where she studied English and Drama.
Shortly after she graduated, Caron joined the BBC's flagship children's programme Blue Peter as their latest presenter. The show had recently lost two presenters, Simon Groom and Peter Duncan, who departed after long-running and very popular stints. Therefore Caron joined Blue Peter during a period of radical change; Caron's first appearance on the show coincided with the arrival of the energetic Mark Curry, and when Janet Ellis left soon after, she was replaced by Yvette Fielding2.
Since the early days of Peter Purves' time, there had always been stunt and action segments on the show. Traditionally this role had been filled by one or both of the male presenters. The recently-departed Peter Duncan was a particularly successful Blue Peter action hero (he was the first BP presenter to run the London marathon and was often the one who drew the short straw in being thrown down a stretch of rapids in a canoe or forced to learn the skills of a trapeze artist first-hand) and the producers felt he would be a hard act to follow. With two female presenters on the show Caron stepped up and became a female Duncan, doing a lot of daring stunts, such as jumping under freezing waterfalls, swimming with sharks and abseiling down cliffs and skyscrapers.
As a truly modern presenter, Caron's arrival marked the beginning of the show's attempt to move away from the cosiness of its past. But her dress sense was considered by some as a step too far - her distinctly casual wardrobe was at odds with the traditional, conservative, smart attire expected of BBC presenters. Unsurprisingly, Caron came in for a lot of criticism; she was after all a female in the 1980s (indeed, some of the tabloids attempted to label it as 'shabby chic'). The reason Caron gave for the trashy, grungy clothing she wore was that as a recent graduate she didn't have the time or (in the beginning at least) the money to buy new clothes for the required two outfits a week. Blue Peter has always been famous for its viewer competitions, asking the children to draw or design something (such as a stamp for the Royal Mail or a monster for Doctor Who). During Caron's time, the viewers were asked to turn their hands to fashion design to create an outfit for her; the winning design would be made and added to her wardrobe. The actual winning entry was not, perhaps the most practical of outfits - with strange insect-like creations orbiting her head on wires - but Caron diplomatically claimed to be thrilled with her new costume.
She left in 1990 to be replaced by Diane-Louise Jordan, the show's first non-white presenter.
Life After Blue Peter
Many children's TV presenters find it hard to make the transition to mainstream TV; they either get stuck in the kiddie schedules for life or simply fade away. But Caron managed to keep working yet avoid both pitfalls.
The year after she left Blue Peter she married her agent Russ Lindsay and introduced Fourth Dimension, a science programme on Channel 4. In 1992 she worked alongside Terry Wogan3 in presenting coverage of the Barcelona Olympics for Radio 5. She also became entertainment correspondent on London Tonight for Carton Television until 1994 when she took a sabbatical for the birth of her first son Charlie.
Her return to television came in 1996 when she stepped in as a co-presenter on This Morning whenever Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan4 were on holiday or as a stand-in if Judy was ill. In 1998, she became the host of a consumer affairs programme We Can Work It Out as well as Summer Scene. Alongside her mother she also appeared in Family Affairs5.
The Hand Dealt by Fate
1997, however, was a rollercoaster year for Caron and her family. Her father (who by then had divorced her mother) died of a massive heart attack only days before she gave birth to her second son, Gabriel. To complicate matters further, that same year she was first diagnosed with the breast cancer that would eventually claim her life. Her grandmother had died of the disease nine years earlier, but Caron was exceptionally young - only 34 years old - when she received this startling news. She initially attempted to get back into TV work with a Channel Five show Apparitions - however, she was too ill at that time to appear before TV cameras. It was reported that she was suffering from post-natal depression at the time; it was, however, the onset of a seven-year battle with breast cancer. She did eventually get back into TV, though in 2000 she retreated to the family home in Fowey, Cornwall, before moving to Australia in 2002. Her illness had one positive side in that it gave her an interest in relaxation therapies, and in 2002 she issued a DVD - Instant Calm. She went into remission for her cancer several times. All throughout this period, Caron kept this personal tragedy a secret and informed only a few close friends and family members.
On the day of Caron's death, her mother had, coincidentally, been due to follow in her daughter's footsteps as a two-day stand-in on This Morning. Obviously, with the state of Caron's health deteriorating, Gloria couldn't fulfil that role, and GMTV's Penny Smith was called at the last minute to step in.
Caron Keating's death was announced to a stunned world on the morning of 14 April, 2004.
Caron was buried on the 20 April, 2004, in the graveyard of St Peter's Church in the grounds of Hever Castle6. It was the same church where she and her husband Russ were married.
Caron Keating was a part of childhood for many people. She appeared every Monday and Thursday on Blue Peter in the days before the current three-days-a-week schedule. But she was also a deeply respected member of the entertainment profession.
Richard Marson, the editor of Blue Peter at the time of Caron's death said:
Caron Keating was an immensely popular and successful member of the Blue Peter team. She was famous for her fashion sense and one of the most popular competitions Blue Peter has ever run was for viewers to design an off-the-wall outfit for her.
Co-presenter Mark Curry said that Caron chose not to talk publicly about her cancer.
I knew one day I would get the call to say she had died but I kept hoping that day would never come. I am just devastated. Caron was such a special person.
Another fellow presenter Janet Ellis, at the time a regular guest on The Wright Stuff added:
Caron was enormous fun and full of vitality. I know she was brave and full of life right the way through her illness. She was a splendid mother and her children were lucky to have had her. This is just so terribly sad.
Terry Wogan, her co-host from the Olympic Games in Barcelona for Radio 5, said her death came as a 'terrible shock'. He added:
She had glorious qualities of charm and vivacity. It's hard to believe that someone with all these qualities, and still so young, has passed away.
Sir Cliff Richard, who is also a friend of the family said:
Caron was gifted, talented, wonderful with people and, to crown it all, she was beautiful and courageous to the end.
No doubt if there is an afterlife Caron will be getting out the sticky-backed plastic, washing-up bottles and old toilet roll holders to prepare an aprés vie Blue Peteresque make.