Lorraine Kelly urged women to “inspire the next generation” as she accepted a surprise award celebrating her 35 years in broadcasting.

The TV star, 59, was invited on stage at the Women of the Year awards lunch in London on Monday, where she told attendees including Theresa May to “pass it on”.

Kelly said it was a good thing women no longer “put up the ladder” when they became successful, and that they had begun to help other women rise up in their professions.

Theresa May attending The Women of the Year awards
Theresa May attending The Women of the Year awards (Ian West/PA)

The former prime minister shared a table with Metropolitan Police chief Dame Cressida Dick and ITV newsreader Julie Etchingham, president of the annual event.

Kelly said: “I just want to thank my team because you are nothing without your team. And they are the best, the absolute best.

“Thank you so much. It’s been an absolute honour to be part of this wonderful, wonderful organisation.

“I have been so lucky. For 35 years I have been doing a job I adore. I absolutely adore it. I never take it for granted.

“What I think is really important is that you have got to pass that on.

“Now we are getting a little better. We actually don’t put up the ladder anymore and I think as women that is really important.

“We have got to inspire the next generation and make it easier for them. Easier, certainly, than it was for me.

“Like I said, it’s quite scary out there just now. It’s quite toxic and it’s divisive and I guess we try and be optimistic and to try and shine a light on things maybe people should talk about a little bit more.

Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention
Lorraine Kelly is celebrating 35 years in broadcasting (Richard Kendal/RTS/PA)

“That’s why I am so pleased about our wonderful, wonderful women and all the work they do. As far as I am concerned, all winners.

“Thank you. Really, this is great. Thank you so much.”

Kelly became a familiar face hosting GMTV, ITV Breakfast and Daybreak, and now her eponymous ITV morning programme Lorraine.

Earlier, she told the PA news agency that Piers Morgan, 54, should not be sacked from Good Morning Britain after thousands signed a petition calling for him to lose his job over comments he made about transgender people.

Morgan, 54, has been criticised for “dehumanising” transgender people, with almost 14,000 asking ITV bosses to drop him from the morning show.

Piers Morgan
Thousands backed a petition calling for Piers Morgan to be sacked (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

However, a rival petition to keep him on-air for his “common sense approach to life” has been signed by nearly 32,000.

Monday morning’s edition of GMB featured Morgan and his co-host Susanna Reid debating whether he should be fired from the show.

Kelly told PA: “He’s doing it with his tongue firmly in his cheek, of course.

“When he actually said, ‘We are going to debate whether or not I am going to fired’, and of course my response was: ‘From a cannon?'”

Asked whether Morgan should lose his job over his comments, she said: “Of course not. Of course not. It’s ridiculous. But don’t you imagine he is not revelling in all the attention – because he is.

“Actually, he is making a very good point. Whether you agree with someone or not, you can’t have a situation where we are going to shut people down.

“And of course, he can be provocative and controversial because that is what he does.”

Kelly, 59, became a familiar face hosting GMTV, ITV Breakfast and Daybreak, and now her eponymous ITV morning programme Lorraine.

She said: “How did that happen? Honestly, it feels like no time has passed at all.

“It has all merged into one but in a good way. 35 years… it’s crazy. Just crazy.”