Last week Jo Whiley’s habitual aura of cheerful equanimity deserted her: ‘It’s been quite challenging,’ admits the Radio 2 DJ.

‘I can go along and feel absolutely great, then all of a sudden I want to lock myself in a dark cave and not do anything at all because I can’t face the world.

‘I’ll be doing fine then it hits me: low self-esteem, low confidence. I don’t feel like myself at all. It’s quite daunting. It happens every few months. I don’t want to see anyone. My eyes are very sore. I feel my tongue and mouth burn. I really get the wobbles.’

Jo’s is the intimate and warmly reassuring voice on the nation’s favourite radio station, piloting us through weekday evenings, the soundtrack to millions of lives. She has been a fixture at Glastonbury, presenting TV coverage of the festival — and many others — for the past three decades. Smiley and upbeat, she’s the sort of capable, energetic, multi-tasking, long-married mum-of-four who seems enviably in control.

Jo Whiley, 56, (pictured) said she began taking HRT after feeling a liability on the radio because of her menopausal symptoms

Jo Whiley (pictured), 56, said that she started taking HRT after feeling like a liability on the radio due to her menopausal symptoms. 

Yet here she is admitting to an ‘onslaught’ of menopausal symptoms that still threaten, intermittently, to floor her.

‘This week I literally slathered myself in HRT [hormone replacement therapy] gels because I knew my oestrogen levels had dipped,’ she says. She is 56 now and recognizes the warning signs. However, she admits that she was initially confused by strange symptoms that she didn’t know were related to her midlife change.

‘I’ve felt rotten, which is why it’s good to talk about it today. You feel less alone,’ she confides. ‘I noticed the brain fog returning. It’s difficult to deal with when you’re doing live radio and interviews and you can’t think of the word you’re supposed to be saying or the next question you’re supposed to ask.

‘That was the main reason I went on HRT in the first place. I felt I was a liability on the radio and it was a very uncomfortable feeling not being in charge of what I was doing, suddenly grappling for words.’

It’s a brave revelation from a consummate professional who relies on her natural loquacity for her living. But it will also bring comfort to millions more women who are in similar situations.

The mental confusion, Jo now reveals for the first time, really started to trouble her when, in 2018 — she was midway through the menopause at the time — she landed the job of co-hosting Radio 2’s Drivetime slot with Simon Mayo.

The decision to revamp the early evening show — making it a two-hander and ushering in its first female presenter — was widely lambasted. The BBC was destroying a loved programme, the carpers mooaned. Listeners mutinied. Jo was even trolled via social media.

‘There was this wall of resistance to me from a very vocal bunch of people. It was offensive, hurtful. . . relentless, every hour of every day,’ she said at the time.

Jo (pictured), who now has oestrogen gel and testosterone cream, said before starting HRT she would get terrible migraines and felt slightly depressed

Jo (pictured), who has testosterone cream and oestrogen gel, stated that she had terrible migraines before starting HRT and felt depressed. 

Now, she reveals that her verbal assault occurred at the same time as her lowest point in her menopause.

The collision of events — the taxing new show, the vilification and the general sense that she was losing her grip on a job she’d done ably since her 20s — sent her scuttling to her doctor, having resolved to try HRT.

‘It all came at a time when I was most worried about brain fog and I felt I couldn’t do the Drivetime show with such a lot of pressure and things to remember. Until then, I’d thought, “I’m absolutely fine. I don’t need HRT.” But it had got to the point where I was really struggling. I decided to try it.’

Her doctor recommended a mix of HRT based on her medical history and needs. She now has testosterone cream and oestrogen gel. She only uses them sparingly unless she is having a bad week, like the one just ended.

‘Before I started HRT I’d been getting terrible migraines and feeling slightly depressed.

You’re never too old to do anything! I’ve got a scooter — not an electric one. It makes me feel five years old. 

‘The doctor gave me medication for the migraines and antidepressants. I didn’t even bother with the antidepressants.’ Now a combination of HRT and exercise — swimming is her ‘cure all’ (in her teens she swam competitively for Northamptonshire), as well as the slow, meditative calm of gardening — all help keep her on an even keel.

Perhaps the most confusing thing about her menopausal symptoms is their bizarre and unexpected diversity.

It wasn’t until she researched it herself — her GP did not make the association — that she realised her burning mouth resulted from anxiety associated with the change of life. She’s now training herself to relax her mouth. In her 50s, her eyesight also began to decline.

‘I first noticed it three or four years ago when I was doing my live studio sessions, and at Glastonbury, and I couldn’t read my notes. I had to snort a bit. I didn’t want to accept I needed glasses.

Jo said she is adjusting to sight loss as another factor of the menopause. Pictured: Jo with Cassius, Jude and India in 2003

Jo stated that she is now adjusting to the fact that her sight is decreasing as a result of menopause. Pictured: Jo, Cassius, Jude, and India in 2003

‘I felt dismal about it; nearly in tears. The thought of getting them was very traumatizing. But now I’m adjusting to it, realising sight loss is another factor of the menopause.’

She’s also sporting a new pair of specs. Vision Express is the brand she chose, and she says that they have increased her confidence tremendously. She’s now something of a convert.

‘Deteriorating eyesight does not mean you’re getting old. Embrace it.’

I wonder if she has had insomnia. She squints.

‘I crave a full night’s sleep. I just want to go to bed at 12 and wake up at seven without seeing that 3am skyline and thinking, “Why the hell have I woken up now?”

‘And I also get not exactly hot flushes — but the sensation of sweating in bed.’

I literally covered myself with HRT gels this week. I’ve felt rotten but it’s good to talk about it — you feel less alone 

She laughs when I ask her if the twin perils that are overheating and wakefulness make it difficult to share a bed with Steve, a music executive who has been married for 30 years.

It is clear that the entire family has shared the marital mattress at one time or another. Steve doesn’t need a fidgety, sleepless companion.

Their children, India, 29 years old, Cassius, 22, Jude (20, and Coco (12 years old), spent their infant years cuddled up with their mother at night.

‘Coco is always waiting up for me after my show in the evenings, so she gets into bed and we watch TV together. And when the boys were little I’d cuddle up in bed with one under each arm watching superhero TV programmes with them until we fell asleep.

‘I think that’s the reason I’ll have to have shoulder surgery soon. It’s a result of all the nights I slept with my arms around the boys. So we’ve had 30 years of co-sleeping.’

Jo admits that she can't believe she's 56, as in her head she's still 27. Pictured: Jo with sister Frances

Jo admits that it’s hard for her to believe she’s 56. In her head, she’s still 27. Pictured: Jo with sister Frances

Despite the vicissitudes that have been the past week, she looks fresh-faced when we chat over Zoom.

‘I can’t quite believe I’m 56. In my head I’m still 27; I love music, having fun.

‘You’re never too old to do anything! Today I had my ears pierced. Anna, my producer was with me. She’s been with me since my Radio 1 days.’

Jo hosted several shows on the station from 1997 to 2011, before she moved to Radio 2.

‘We raised our kids together. She’s pretty punk rock and we thought: it’s now or never.

‘Now I’ve got four piercings.’ She points them out to me. ‘A dangly one here, a cuff at the top, a couple there — and I’m going to get another.’

She doesn’t hold with sliding into decorous middle age: ‘I’ve got a scooter — not an electric one — and I scoot from Euston station to work. It makes me feel like a five-year-old.’

You’ll never see me on Strictly, though I’ve been asked. My family would be too humiliated by the humiliation 

I ask if her children help keep her young — Coco, of course, is still at school; India is a photographer and food stylist; Jude is writing a novel and Cassius is at university — and actually she protests, it is she who keeps them up to the minute, especially with the latest music: ‘I listen to new music all the time. It’s my job, what I do.

‘I’m in contact with Cass the least of my children. He’s quiet. I don’t hear from him for days and days. The other kids text me and say, “It’s really nice to hear your voice on the radio. It makes us feel you’re with us.”

‘But nothing like that from Cass. ‘So I bought him a radio and said, “You have to listen to me!” And he texted me the other day to say, “I really liked the Sam Fender and Vampire Weekend you played.”

‘We have the same taste in music and had a lovely exchange of views. I believe we actually learn from each other. If anything, it’s me who keeps the boys up to date with musical trends.’

Jo (pictured) revealed her entire family is looking forward to the return of Glastonbury next year, after its two-year Covid hiatus

Jo (pictured) revealed her entire family is looking forward to the return of Glastonbury next year, after its two-year Covid hiatus

She has consistently refused to regard any activity as ‘age appropriate’. It’s more a case of ‘you get old because you stop going to festivals’ rather than vice-versa.

Glastonbury is one example. Of course, it’s not just for the young!

‘Everyone goes, the extreme ends of the age spectrum, from grandparents to kids. You don’t stop loving music because you get to a certain age.

‘My dad’s 82 and, yes, he loves [the Welsh mezzo-soprano] Katherine Jenkins but he’s also obsessed with [the Manchester band] Elbow.’

Her listeners are also open-minded. Many of them graduated with her from Radio 1 to 2 ‘and they’re old punks, Goths and New Romantics’. ‘They love the music they grew up with, but they’re also very open to new discoveries.’

After the two-year Covid hiatus Glastonbury has been in, the entire family is excited about its return next year.

The children and Steve routinely bundle into a campervan while Jo is accommodated more comfortably — she’s working, after all — in a nearby hotel. She does concede that she’s not quite up to all-night partying these days.

‘I haven’t got the stamina to keep up with the kids, but Steve tries. We call him “Disco Steve”. He acts likes he’s 17.’ Surprisingly, she confesses, she hasn’t got a musical bone in her body.

‘I can’t sing a note and when the kids are dancing I’m slightly resentful because they move in a rhythmic way. You’ll never see me on Strictly, although I have been asked. The humiliation would be too much for my family.’

She remembers her most mortifying Glastonbury experience was during a Nile Rodgers performance five or so years ago — the American singer-songwriter and producer was a leading light in the 1970s disco scene — when she was swept up by his huge entourage, which invaded the Pyramid stage, dancing and singing.

‘They dragged me out, calling “Come on Jo!” and I just stood there, mortified, in the middle of the stage clinging to my clipboard. It was a nightmare!’

It’s slightly reassuring to know that Jo, who seems imbued with rock-chick cool, has her moments of awkwardness like the rest of us.

Jo (pictured) said when she first started out there were only a handful of women DJs - but now there are many more women broadcasting

Jo (pictured) stated that when she started out, there were only a few women DJs. But now there are many women broadcasting.

‘She looks absolutely natural — casual and relaxed in T-shirt and jeans — as if her clear-skin is down to good genes rather than cosmetic artifice. But she says she is ‘genuinely open to anything that will improve the way I look’.

CACI facials — non-surgical skin tightening — are her go-to beauty treatments and she also has collagen wave facials, which use radio frequency energy to tighten, contour and rejuvenate the skin.

‘It’s like having your face ironed; a bit uncomfortable, but you do see results,’ she says. ‘I did have Botox once — the tiniest amount — but I looked weird and I’ve never got round to doing it again. Other than that I don’t look in the mirror or at photos of myself.’

She laughs. She also points out that antiaging is not a fetish. Having lost two very dear friends — one had a brain tumour, the other Covid complications — in the past couple of years, she is determinedly grateful to be getting older.

‘It’s a privilege to still be here and I intend to cherish every minute on this Earth and make the best of it,’ she says.

Frances, Frances’s sister, was also two years younger than her. Frances, who has cri du chat, a genetic syndrome that results — in her case — in learning difficulties, diabetes and sudden flare-ups of temper, was admitted to intensive care with Covid.

She prevailed, but Jo, who lobbied tirelessly for people with disabilities like her sister to be given priority for the Covid vaccine pledges to continue to speak out.

‘It’s important for people like me to speak out, so I’ll be keeping an eye open for injustices. I’ll always look out for Frances and people like her.’

She plans, of course to continue working. ‘It is my happy place. I feel I have decades to go.’

She believes that retirement is not in her plans.

‘When I first started out there were only a handful of women DJs: Annie Nightingale, Janice Long, Jackie Brambles and Paula Yates — all big inspirations. Now, of course, there are many more women broadcasting — and Annie is in her 80s and still on Radio 1.

‘That’s the joy of radio. It doesn’t take much to sit by a mic and talk to people. In fact, with a good team around you, as I have, it’s something you can go on doing until your last breath.’

Vision Express has partnered up with Jo Whiley,, and their new campaign, See Yourself Differently. This campaign aims to raise awareness about the effects of menopause on eye health, and encourage women in their mid-life to have their eyes checked. For more information, go to