Baby Thiago Thomas Márquez is just five days old when parents Gemma Atkinson and Gorka Márquez introduce us to him, as he snoozes angelically, swaddled in his soft white blanket. He’s so new to the world, that it’s not until after our interview that Gemma and Gorka agree on a name, deciding to get to know him a little first.
“They change so much each day,” says Gemma, stroking her newborn’s face as Gorka carries him. “I think that’s why they give you six weeks before you have to register their name. Just to see.”
When the couple’s daughter was born in July 2019, Gemma and Gorka had their hearts set on a different name for her.
“Mia was Bella for a week, but we changed it,” shares Gemma. It’s lovely to see how she visibly lightens up at the mention of her “mother hen” daughter, who tried to persuade her parents to name her new baby brother Barbie, Harold or Ralph.
The bundle of joy has completed the Aktinson-Márquez household and for Thiago’s first week, they are enjoying living in their baby bubble. Gorka wants to spend as much time as possible with his son at their Manchester home before Strictly Come Dancing filming duties call him away in the next couple of days.
“It’s wonderful,” smiles Gemma, 38, who looks radiant despite having barely any sleep since baby number two’s arrival. “It feels like we’ve always been a family of four, it’s bizarre how he’s slotted right in.
“We’re obviously exhausted but it’s that fun exhaustion whereby it doesn’t matter if you’ve not had a wash and your hair’s a mess, and we’re in our PJs,” smiles Gemma. “It’s just nice. So we’re making the most of that lovely little bubble really. It’s been a lot more chilled this time. Your second one isn’t easier, but it’s more manageable because there are no firsts.”
The former Hollyoaks and Emmerdale actress – who has been filming her pregnancy story for her forthcoming W channel documentary Gemma And Gorka: Life Behind The Lens – delivered Mia by emergency C-section and had hoped to have a vaginal birth this time. However, when her contractions stopped after 24 hours of active labour, she elected to have another C-section.
In her documentary, Gemma answers the questions she was too shy to ask as a first-time mum and goes back to NHS Bolton where Mia was born to find out why she suffered a postpartum haemorrhage.
“I was more confused than traumatised,” explains Gemma. “I was in labour for two days, then after the C-section, I ended up having a postpartum haemorrhage. Mia was tiny and I thought, ‘Why did I really bleed out so much after what happened?’”
For Gorka, watching the woman he loves being rushed from the room by medics was terrifying. “It was horrible,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what was going on. I just saw doctors coming in like it was a Formula One pitstop. They took Mia away and then I saw them taking Gemma away and they left me there. Then they brought Mia to me five minutes later and she was just screaming for food and I couldn’t feed her.”
Feeling helpless and out of control, Gorka focused on comforting his newborn daughter as he waited for news about what was happening with Gemma.
“I can deal with pain. I wouldn’t mind if I was bleeding myself, but when the person you love is bleeding and they’re gone, you’re like ‘No!’,” he explains, full of emotion.
With Thiago, things thankfully went more smoothly and Gemma felt more in control and aware of her options. She returned to the same hospital for the birth but also had the support of a private midwife who was recommended by her friend Brooke Vincent, best known as Coronation Street’s Sophie Webster.
“[Brooke] had private midwives for both her children and when I told her I was pregnant, she said, ‘It’s amazing, it’s just a back-up. Do it.’ So we did. She’s called Rachel and she’s been fabulous.”
Gemma is especially grateful to have a bit of extra support, as Gorka is required to go back to work seven days after Thiago was born. “We’ve been lucky to have this week all together. Mia was two days old when Gorka went on tour,” she says.
The pair met on Strictly when she was partnered with Aljaž Škorjanec in 2017. The show means a lot to the family, with little Mia tuning in to watch her daddy.
“Mia loves Strictly, she’s obsessed with it,” says Gemma, who relies on her nearby family and friends to help her when Gorka is away. “I’ve got a great network.”
For Spanish Gorka, 32, leaving is clearly a wrench. With the clock ticking until his departure, he noticeably doesn’t put Thiago down once during our interview. However, he admits there is one silver lining to going away. “It’s hard work, but at least I’ll get to sleep every night!” he grins.
As Strictly brought Gemma and Gorka together, they aren’t worried about the so-called “curse”. “It’s a myth,” says Gorka. “That can happen everywhere in any job.”
Gemma’s determined to enjoy her maternity leave, but when her time off ends, she won’t be looking for new acting roles. Instead, she’ll continue presenting her Hits Radio show from 4pm to 7pm alongside Mike Toolan, and working on her brand.
“I don’t think I will [return to acting],” says Gemma. “I’ve got the radio, I’ve got the podcast. I’ve got all my fitness stuff and my brand stuff with In The Style. I wouldn’t do soaps again, the hours are so gruelling.
“I’m in a place now where I can be a bit more picky. I’ve been working full-time in acting since I was 15 so I feel like I’ve done all that now. I’ve got a nice stage where I can be at home a lot more. I feel very lucky.”
Gemma and Gorka: Life Behind the Lens airs on W at 8pm, Wednesday 30 August
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