Loose Women presenter, H&W columnist and best-selling author Andrea McLean chats to Vicky Warrell about her biggest inspiration and how she finds balance
It’s strange, interviewing Andrea McLean from my spare room-cum-office while she plucks her daughter Amy’s eyebrows in their bathroom, but that’s the reality of lockdown life (“I thought it doesn’t matter because we’re not in vision!”). Her positivity makes her someone you’d love to be friends with, so it’s hard to believe she’s been through such tough times in her life. It’s these experiences, though, that led to Andrea creating a women’s empowerment website to help others like her. This month, I caught up with her to discuss her new book, her beauty secrets and how a breakdown led her to therapy.
Life in lockdown
“I think we’ve been doing alright, haven’t we Amy?” says Andrea, when I ask how she’s been dealing with the current situation [“I think so,” Amy replies]. “We’ve followed all the rules and focused on what we can control. We’ve made the kids get up at a decent time and do a day of work. That’s been OK for Amy, who’s 13, but my son Finlay is 18 and should have been doing his A Levels. He started doing online courses, and then recently he’s got a job in a supermarket, so he’s working four days a week and saving up for university if they open in September! We’re trying to keep a sense of normality, that’s been our biggest way of coping.”
Putting pen to paper
Andrea decided to write her new book, This Girl is on Fire: How to Live, Learn and Thrive in a Life You Love (published on the 29th September by Hay House), after a breakdown last year. “I hit a wall and fell down,” she explains. “When I started coming out the other side, I heard someone moaning about their life and I had to walk away. I got so angry because the things she was moaning about were so small and she could change them all. I always carry a notebook with me, and I started writing at that moment what became the prologue to the book. We all have something that is getting us down, getting on our nerves, or holding us back. It was a mixture of all sorts of things for me, as well as a trauma which I had been pushing down and ignoring. It all came out when I did Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins in 2019. When I came back and tried to carry on, I ended up face planting. The book came about to show people that you can control things. Stop whingeing about the bigger things – a lot of the time, our problems are about perspective, and you need to look at the bigger picture.”
In the book, Andrea is incredibly open about difficult experiences she’s been through, which made it hard to write. “I wrote down everything that had happened in my first draft, which was unbelievably cathartic,” she tells me. “The publishers told me that while it was brilliant writing, I couldn’t use any of it because it was too much. So I pared it all back, but I’m glad I wrote it because I got it out of my system. Sometimes all you need is someone to say ‘you’re amazing that you got through that. Now, use your wisdom to help other people. Don’t just dwell on the story itself, use the methods you used to overcome it and pass those on’. Because that means everybody who reads the book can substitute in their own experiences, and I think that’s much more useful.”
After going through her breakdown, Andrea turned to therapy, but she understands why people are reluctant. “When I mentioned it on TV, it was taken out of context, and so-called experts, who had never even met me, wrote articles and commented on my relationship,” she says. “I was angry on behalf of the thousands of people who might be thinking they need help, but saw how much flack I got and decided to just get on with it. Ignore those who might poo-poo it and say ‘why can’t you pull yourself together?’. You are looking out for you, and there are professionals out there trained to help you find a solution. You don’t have to tell anyone, I only did because it came up in conversation and I just happened to be on a TV show in front of millions of people. But I would 100 percent say do it.”
Learning to say no
People pleasing is an issue that Andrea struggles with. “It’s drummed into you that girls should be quieter and shouldn’t make too much fuss,” she explains. “You’re rewarded for putting yourself second, and I think it’s hard to get to my age and realise you don’t want to do that any more. It makes you feel selfish for saying no, but you aren’t. I still say yes to way too many things because I feel bad for letting people down. This morning, I had a text from someone asking for something, and I said yes, even though [Andrea’s husband] Nick was mouthing ‘why are you saying yes?!’ and I’m shushing him saying ‘I don’t know, they need my help!’. So I’m a work in progress, but I’m much better.”
Andrea’s books and website are packed full of great advice, but is there anything she’d like to say to her younger self? “You don’t have to get it right every time,” she says. “You don’t have to knock it out of the park every day, but you do have to show up. I’d also say dream big. It makes me sad that I had people in my life who said ‘why would anyone want you? You’re useless, you’re pathetic’. I’ve overcome all of that, but when I was a teenager, I had a very loving family who said ‘go for anything you want, dream big!’ and I never thought ‘why me? That will never happen to me because that’s too big’, I always thought ‘why not me? It’s got to happen to someone, so I might as well try’, and that’s what I pass on to my kids.”
Before I wrap up the interview, I ask Andrea if she can reveal the secrets behind her youthful glow. “I thought I was a lowmaintenance lady, and then someone asked about my beauty routine and half an hour later I was still talking!” she laughs. “When this comes out, I will be 51 and I think I look good, and I think that’s because the best thing for your skin is happiness. If you are happy and looking after yourself, it shines out of your face and you look lovely, it doesn’t matter about wrinkles or anything like that. I’ve had Botox in the past, but now I don’t think I need it any more. I always take off all my make-up every night with a cleanser, and a flannel, and I use face masks. I also body brush pretty much every day.”
What does being healthy look like?
“I don’t think it’s healthy to be healthy 100 percent of the time. If, for 80 percent of the time, you’re eating nourishing foods, you’re moving every day and you’re getting fresh air, you can allow yourself to have a glass of wine and a packet of crisps and just chill and enjoy yourself. If you try to be good all the time, and I know this from experience, you’re heading for disaster, because as soon as you don’t do something 100 percent right, you punish yourself, and that’s when you fall off the wagon and end up surviving on cake and Netflix. It’s about having a balance of the two.”
How do you find balance?
“Me-time always comes last, but I’m trying to work on that. I work from home a lot, even before lockdown, because Nick and I run our female empowerment website (thisgirlisonfire.com) from home. I live next door to the school that Amy goes to, so we see her in the morning and then she’s home by 3.30pm, so the balance has always been fairly good. Every now and again the scales tip, but it’s like a see-saw, it’s never going to be absolutely perfect but that’s OK. The kids know where I am and I’m happy with that.”
How important is female friendship?
“Really important. If you’re not feeling quite like yourself, and you can’t put your finger on why, have an honest look at who you’re surrounding yourself with. How do they talk? Are they constantly moaning or bitching about everyone else? If someone is prepared to bitch to you about someone else, they are sure as hell bitching about you to someone else. So if those are the kinds of people you’re surrounded by, maybe that’s why you’re not feeling good. Try to find other people who are fun, positive and uplifting, and leave you feeling good.”
Who inspires you?
“I listen to podcasts from people I don’t know, but who have done a similar thing to me in that they’ve overcome adversity, and are using their voice for good, that’s who I admire. I think Bryony Gordon is amazing because she’s taken really dark times in her life and flipped them around, and she’s helping so many people. Fearne Cotton is exactly the same. There’s an American broadcaster who has a podcast called Lewis Howes which I listen to regularly, as well as a lady called Mel Robbins who I really enjoy. The main thing for anyone reading this who thinks ‘who can I be inspired by?’ is to look for people that you would look up to, don’t surround yourself with people who want to drag you down.”