Dr Zoe Williams, without a doubt is our favourite TV doctor, regularly on our screens as one of the resident GPs on ITV’s This Morning day time show and BBC2’s Trust Me I’m A Doctor.
From the age of three, she knew that she wanted to be a doctor; the first music single that she ever owned was Doctor, Doctor by the Thompson Twins and her favourite TV program growing up was Casualty… there’s definitely a bit of a theme emerging here!
We love the compassionate, straight-talking advice that she gives, and it’s obvious that she practices what she preaches, always looking fit and healthy (she was once Amazon on popular show Gladiators!). In our mission to highlight talented and inspirational women of colour, we interviewed Dr Williams to find out why she chose to be a GP, her TV work, health and fitness regime and how she keeps her ‘fro in top condition.
Dr Williams credits her Jamaican grandmother for sparking her initial desire to become a doctor, at only three years old. “My grandmother, who was a Community Midwife in Burnley, bought me a toy medical kit when I was three. I loved it so much. Whenever she came around to the house she’d say, ‘when you grow up do you want to be a midwife like me?’ And I would say, ‘no, I want to be a doctor’.”
It appears she was destined to follow through on this ambition, even though she experienced a number of setbacks. From not achieving the right grades in her A Levels due to some life challenges at the time (even though she was previously a straight A student), to ending up pursuing another discipline, Biomedical Sciences at Newcastle University. She says there were lots of sliding doors moments, including being the only person to achieve selection during her degree course, out of over 300 people, for an opportunity to study medicine. She said: “To even apply you had to get the equivalent of a first in all 8 modules, which I did. The numbers whittled down after essay applications, until there were 12 of us to be interviewed for six places. After the interview, only two of us were offered a place, me and another girl, but it was conditional on us getting a first in all of the modules and the poor girl scored 69%, just one percent off, so I was the only one, out of that original group to end up getting through.”
That was just the beginning though. She eventually completed a medical degree at Newcastle, an additional five years, and then two years as a foundation doctor, three years as a trainee GP before becoming a fully qualified GP in 2013.
One of the standout qualities about Dr Williams is her obvious passion for health and fitness, she is clearly a GP that practices what she preaches. She describes her fitness inclinations as less of a regime and more of a lifestyle. “I kind of do what I can, when I can. I love playing team sports and playing touch rugby. I also enjoy socialising with friends through fitness, so I will often try a lot of the amazing different fitness classes you can do now like KOBOX and Barry’s Bootcamp etc, with a friend. But I guess the normal every day stuff that I do to keep myself fit is, when I’m working in London I cycle and then when I am away and I am staying in hotels, I try and do a HIIT session every morning, before I get in the shower, even if it’s just seven minutes, at least I’ve done something.”
Feeling tired and uninspired today… so letting these two hunks @faisalpmafitness & @thebodycoach do the hard work for me! 20 minute #HIIT and we’re done. Listening to them chat is also #lols Thanks boys #HIIT #pma #bodycoach #gardenworkout #sundaybumday #burpee #squats #pushups #timeforabeer #lifeinbalance
Her love of keeping fit isn’t a new fad as her physique caught the eye of producers when Sky1 remade the hit 90s TV show Gladiators, where she played the role of Amazon. When we ask her how she managed to land such a part, she attributes it to more random occurrences, where a friend convinced her to go for the audition to be one of the contestants. She said: “I passed the fitness test stage and the next hurdle was a screen test. What was supposed to be a two-minute screen test ended up taking 20 minutes! I thought it was a bit unusual, but they came out and said “unfortunately, we’re not going to put you forward to the next round but we’d like to invite you to come back next week to audition to be one of the new gladiators.”
While that time of her life is history, today, she is a familiar sight on Trust Me I’m a Doctor and the This Morning sofa, where she gives advice on the health segment of the programme. Again, it appears to be a mixture of serendipity and good old networking on how she got the opportunity. She describes how it came about: “I was seeing a patient, a young child who was brought in by his grandmother, who was explaining how she spends part of the week looking after her grandson because her daughter works in television. The inquisitive side of me explored that a bit further and found out that the daughter was a producer for This Morning and it was just as she was on her way out of the door when I said, ‘By the way, if your daughter’s ever looking for a new doctor to go on This Morning, you know where I am.’ And she said, ‘Ooh, I will tell her about you actually.’ I was surprised when the daughter, got in touch, inviting me in to a meeting with herself and the main boss, the editor of This Morning. Needless to say, it went well, and I’m totally thrilled to become a regular.”
Dr Williams is keen to stress the importance of seizing opportunities and being brave. “As a child, I was so shy that if anybody spoke to me who I didn’t know, I would cry. I never thought in a million years that I would be sat doing live television, giving people advice on This Morning. So, I’ve shocked myself but it’s brilliant, I love it.”
We couldn’t interview a GP and not ask how we can all take better general care of ourselves. Dr Williams is an advocate of lifestyle medicine, which is about helping patients manage their health in a holistic way. She said: “We’re trying to move away a little bit from using drugs where lifestyle measures may be more suitable and also thinking about prevention rather than just treatment.”
This ethos becomes even more important when we realise that the odds are stacked against, in particular, women of colour when it comes to certain conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. These are all lifestyle diseases. “For women of colour it’s even more important in some ways that we recognise how important a healthy lifestyle is. Being physically active can reduce your risk of breast cancer and bowel cancer by more than 20% and again bowel cancer is something that’s more prevalent particularly amongst black men and women.”
Dr Williams is the perfect advocate for becoming a GP, and so what would she say to other young, black women who may be considering a career as a GP? “I remember when I was 11, there was a woman who came into assembly to speak to us, and she was the first British female astronaut to go to space and I remember her saying, it always stuck in my mind “never be told you can’t because you’re a woman.” And I think that’s the same, whatever you desire, never be told you can’t because you’re a woman. Never be told you can’t because you’re black. Never be told you can’t because you’re gay. Never be told you can’t because you’re short, you’re tall. If anyone ever tells you that you can’t for any reason, turn that into a “well that’s the reason why I will.” It would be great to see more women of colour in medicine and I think we are seeing more, if I am honest.”
When it comes to fashion and style, Dr Zoe’s active lifestyle dictates a lot of her choices. She says she loves to wear block colours and prints too, “although I’m probably quite a casual dresser most of the time, but if there’s an opportunity like a red carpet or an awards event then I will go all out glam.”
When it comes to make up, she seems to favour the minimal look, although she enjoys switching it up. “I am sat here in clinic seeing patients and I haven’t got a thing on, not even a lip gloss, absolutely nothing just moisturiser and I love it. I’m very comfortable with a no make-up selfie. But it depends on what I am doing. So, a day in clinic, no make-up. A day on This Morning, fairly natural make-up. At a red-carpet event it’s foundation, false eye lashes, the lot!”
We’ve long admired Dr Williams amazing, unapologetic mane, and she tells us that she has been chemical free (apart from the colour of course) and worn it natural since she was 19 years old. “It might sound silly, but my hair was always my USP back then and it was quite unique, but nowadays it’s great to see lots of girls wearing their natural hair, but yeah, I don’t feel as special anymore.”
How does she look after it? “I have a really simple hair care routine, it’s called the curly girl method, which means I don’t use shampoo, I just use conditioner and massage my scalp with conditioner. It works for me because my hair’s so dry, no doubt because I colour it. For styling I use an argon oil based smoothing cream. So, I go to my hairdresser once every six months for a trim and to have the colour done, otherwise I just look after it myself. It’s really low maintenance.”
It was a pleasure catching up with Dr Williams, her story and achievements are nothing short of inspirational. We need more role models like her on our screens to serve as motivation to our younger generation.
Zoe would love for us her share with you her top tip for a healthier, happier life. Just 20 minutes of walking each day (which many of us do anyway) is all it takes to be active enough for good health, but the key is walking at a fast enough pace to make it count as exercise.
Download the new NHS App ‘Active 10‘ and this will help you get on track to turn your walking into exercise.