Emma Willis has signed up to join her friend Giovanna Fletcher on a gruelling 100km trek through the Highlands in aid of a cancer charity that is close to her heart, and she proudly declares that she has already started preparing for the challenge.
The 45-year-old presenter, who we are more used to seeing in heels on TV, tells me: “I’ve bought walking boots, which is a first in my life.”
Emma has until September to train for the challenge for the CoppaFeel! breast cancer awareness and education charity, which encourages people to check themselves regularly for signs.
She signed up after seeing at close hand how devastating the disease can be as she supported three friends whose mothers had breast cancer.
Emma says: “I’ve witnessed the effects that breast cancer has, not only on the person who is diagnosed but on their surrounding family and loved-ones, through the eyes of three of my closest friends, whose mums have all suffered from the disease.
“So I’ve seen it and how it affected them. So, I mean, it’s something that I’m always more than willing to do. I’ll do anything I can to help in any way.”
Giovanna, 36, the TV presenter, author, vlogger and winner of last year’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, is a patron of CoppaFeel! and has been taking part in treks to raise funds and awareness for the charity since 2017.
Emma, who fronts The Voice, The Circle and the Delivering Babies documentary series, had wanted to do something to help for some time, but had found it too hard to fit in with her busy work schedule and her home life with husband Matt and children Trixie, four, Ace, nine and Isabelle, 11.
But during the long days in lockdown this winter, Emma decided to commit to the CoppaFeel! challenge before her diary filled up again.
The big-hearted star says: “I think it’s nice that, hopefully, as we are coming out of a pretty full-on year where we haven’t been allowed to venture anywhere, the possibility of doing something like that for this reason actually feels pretty right.”
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One September 12, Emma and Giovanna will be joined by another 100 walkers when they set off on the Rob Roy Way, which runs from Drymen in Stirling to Pitlochry in Perth and Kinross.
They will camp out as they walk 100kms over five days, along the way climbing Ben Lawers, which at 3,982ft is the highest mountain in the southern Highlands.
Emma admits she is relishing the challenge. She says: “I think the feeling of completing a hundred kilometres in five days will be a massive relief.
“But what will be phenomenal hopefully is the amount of money that we can raise.
“Over the years, I’ve done bits and pieces for a couple of different breast cancer charities.
“As a woman, I mean I’m really paranoid as well.
“Your automatic default goes, ‘Well, I’m a woman and that could quite easily happen to me’. The reality is it can happen to anyone, male or female, and of any age.”
Emma has been inspired to take part in the CoppaFeel! challenge because she knows what a difference spotting the signs of cancer early can make, both to the prognosis and the treatment that will follow.
She says: “What I love about CoppaFeel! is that it’s all about education and educating people as young as you can, that it can happen to anyone at any point.
“And the best thing you can possibly do is to know the signs, find them early. That way you have hopefully a better chance of getting through it.”
Determined to prepare for the hike, she turned to seasoned walker Giovanna for advice. Emma says: “I was talking to Gi about this and I was like, ‘Do you train in the run-up to this trek? Like, what do I have to do?’ I train a couple of times a week anyway.
“She actually said that she trains by just walking. So Giovanna will just go on really, really long walks. So that’s what I’m going to do. And in the past year I’ve been walking more than ever.”
And, of course, she has those boots.
She says: “So, at least I’ve got some that are already worn in, because apparently that’s very important.
“I can’t run for love nor money. But I can definitely walk and I’m used to being on my feet.
“I love climbing. So, I was like, walking, I think I can probably do.”
She is looking forward to the physical challenge, but also to getting to know the other people on the challenge.
She says: “I’m really excited to meet all the people that are applying to go on the trek with us as well.
“Because I would imagine there will be people that either have experienced cancer personally or somewhere in their life with friends or family members.
“And then maybe some people that have no experience of breast cancer.
“I think it will be a really educational five days as well, hearing those different stories and connecting with people. So, I’m imagining a really informative, physically tiring, but incredibly uplifting experience.”
In the UK, one in seven women will be affected by breast cancer in their lifetime and around 400 men are diagnosed every year.
CoppaFeel! aims to ensure that all breast cancers are diagnosed as early as possible.
They aim to educate young people on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, encourage them to check themselves regularly and empower people to seek medical advice if they do notice anything unusual.
She says: “If you’re educated on it young enough, then you’ll grow up being used to those kinds of things.
“Checking ourselves in all areas of your body, whether you are male or you are female, it should be the normal really.
“Because, it can happen to anyone at any point.
“So knowing that you need to do that, I mean, it could literally save your life.”
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