TV and radio presenter Angela Scanlon is here to tell us why we should all be practising gratitude, writes Vicky Warrell
When I speak to Angela over the phone (social distancing), it’s what feels like day 16,079 of lockdown in the UK and she’s just eaten a bowl of pasta for lunch, before laughing about the fact that it’s actually well past lunch time – “I don’t know what day it is, but nobody else does either, so it’s fine”. Hailing from County Meath in Ireland, Angela has certainly had a wide ranging career, beginning in style and fashion journalism before moving to TV and radio, with presenting roles ranging from The One Show to Robot Wars, as well as her own show on BBC Radio 2. Now a mother to two-year-old daughter Ruby with husband Roy, she’s launched a podcast called Thanks A Million to celebrate all those things we should be thankful for. Here, she chats about who inspires her, the advice she’d give her younger self and why motherhood has been her greatest challenge.
Thanks a million
Practising gratitude is something that Angela is very passionate about, but it took her a while to get there. “I’ve tried lots of different things, from gong baths to burning sage and Palo Santo to crystals and everything in between, and gratitude was something that I overlooked and took for a granted because it was free and I found it a bit too easy,” Angela tells me. “Someone said to me ‘you’re the best teacher of the thing that you need most’, so I said ‘OK well, if I start a podcast about gratitude then I have to practice it on a daily basis’. The comparison that has crept into our lives via social media has meant that gratitude feels more necessary than ever because we’ve always had that desire as humans to compare with your next door neighbours, and now you can literally scroll through Instagram before you even get out of bed, and are left wanting when you compare yourself to some of the most remarkable humans in the world. This was a way of bringing people back to what they have and to focus on what they’re good at.”
On the podcast, Angela asks the celebrities she interviews about the best gifts they’ve ever received – has there been an answer that has really surprised her? “They’re often quite surprising,” she says. “Ones that you think will give really profound answers go light and frivolous, and the opposite is also true. Aisling Bea was talking in depth about loneliness and the stigma around that word, particularly as a young person. Then I asked her about the best gift she ever got, and she said a Dustbuster!” Angela laughs. “I thought it might be personalised stationery that could enable her to keep in contact with people when she’s away filming, but no, it was a Dustbuster. She said it gave her joy on a daily basis, and a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment. Author Marian Keyes spoke generously and openly about her battle with alcoholism, which seems to have struck a cord with many people. She talks about how waking up sober allows her to feel clean, decent and good, showing that actually recovery doesn’t need to be this pain that you have to deal with and manage every day, it actually can be a real source of pride, honour and hope.”
One reason Angela is such a champion of gratitude is that she thinks it’s something that everyone can do. “We talk about mindfulness and wellness, and those are the things that I spend a lot of time working on and have definitely seen the benefits of. However, my dad grew up in the west of Ireland, he’s one of 14, and in his mind all of this stuff is fluffy; it’s a luxury to be banging on about your head when there’s work to be done. So I don’t think that my dad is going to sit down and listen to a meditation or take up yoga any time soon to try and get into his body, but he could get out his phone and list three things that he’s grateful for on any given day. I think that gratitude is like mindfulness for cynics. Even if you really hate the idea of mindfulness, you can’t argue with the simplicity of it and how it has the ability to shift how you feel, and I think that’s quite powerful. Sometimes, we take for granted the small things and we seek these big, complicated solutions. Gratitude is something that we all have the capacity to lean on to explore and help us. It enables me on any given day to shift the way I feel and to be more positive in my life.”
Angela is incredibly honest and open when I ask her about her greatest challenge, revealing that it was having a baby: “Without a shadow of a doubt,” she admits. “It turns you inside out (literally), upside down and it throws a spotlight on your needs in people. For me, it was really tricky. I don’t think I was quite ready emotionally. Everybody says you can never be ready, but I definitely had to grow into being a mother. There are people that I see who seem to have arrived on this planet ready to be a mother, but it was definitely a role I had to lean into. Now, I absolutely love it, but it was one of the hardest things that I have ever done in my life.”
Does she have any advice for her younger self? “Chill out, you’ll get there,” she says. “And step away from the hairspray! I was an absolute fiend for hairspray. I would tie the rest of my hair back and get rid of any flyaways with a good dose of that Supersoft Hairspray – it was disgusting, it left your hair crispy and hard. Then I would blow dry my fringe into a kind of bubble, and I would put my hand underneath to protect my forehead and spray it until it was hard. My mum told me she absolutely hated it – ‘get that fringe out of your face!’ – but I loved it more as a result. Nobody who I actually wanted to hear from in that moment pulled me aside and said ‘Angela, we need to have a word about your bloody fringe!’,” she laughs.
Having spoken about her experience with panic attacks in the past, I ask Angela how she manages her anxiety now. “I only ever had a panic attack once, but it completely shook me because I didn’t know what it was, it was a wake up call,” she says. “I had got into the habit of distracting myself, I was trying to build a career in Ireland and the UK, I was dizzy all of the time and I was doing a travel show so I was away a lot. I packed my days with things that never allowed me to sit still and be with myself. I spent years running away from myself, and ending up having a panic attack on my honeymoon. It had been delayed again and again, and I put so much weight on this moment in time, thinking I’d be able to sit still because whatever feelings I had were because I was tired and overworked, and suddenly I got there and I was overwhelmed. I would urge people not to get to that point where they literally fall apart in order to address those areas in their lives that need attention. If you’ve never tried gratitude, meditation, yoga or mindfulness, or even gardening, explore them and be on your own with no distractions.” There are other ways that Angela likes to de-stress, too: “I love a bath, the longer the better,” she says. “I also like a bit of meditation, a play in the woods, or hanging out with my little girl.”
Angela is known for trying lots of different wellness trends, so as I wrap up the interview, I ask her about the craziest one she’s ever attempted that has actually worked. “I do love a gong bath – they’ve got big gongs, sound bowls, Tibetan singing bowls and little rain sticks. I read about it years ago, and it was referred to as meditation for lazy people, which sounded right up my street! You don’t have to do anything – you don’t have to sit up straight or keep your mind open, you just lie down and let the sound wash over you. Jasmine Hemsley has been doing them every Saturday on Instagram Live so I’ve been following those and it’s been lovely. They sound completely ridiculous – I went to one where she flapped feathers over your head as you were snoozing on the floor. I’ve dragged a few people along with me and they’re into it! Sometimes, it’s combined with a cacao ceremony. Since we’ve been in lockdown, I’ve been training with a teacher online to do these – basically they use the cacao plant in its purest form and then you have a ceremony with intention, drink a delicious cup of hot chocolate and have a chat with yourself. These are the kind of trends that I can get on board with!”
Life under lockdown
How are you staying fit?
“My husband used to go to a gym in Hackney – it’s obviously closed at the moment, so staff told the members they could come and pick up some equipment. He’s out in the garden skipping and all this malarkey and I’ve been doing some little bits and pieces with him. I’ll do some yoga, and then I’ll do squats and some Russian kettlebell swings. Usually I do hot yoga, but at the moment I’m doing laps of the garden, a bit of yoga on YouTube and a few weights.”
Who inspires you?
“My three sisters are amazing, but my older sister is currently working in a hospital. She has four kids and cut her parental leave short to go back on the ward to look after people. She’s really enjoyed my work because it’s shiny, glitzy and fun, and I’ve always said ‘God, I could never be a nurse’, but I haven’t really thought about what she does on a daily basis, and actually it’s amazing. I’m just in complete awe of all of the people who are putting themselves out there, and her in particular.”
How are you keeping you and your family entertained?
“With varying degrees of difficulty. We have a spare room and that is ‘our office’ – in inverted commas because my husband has completely taken over that room and I work from the floor in the living room! But we’re able to tag team – he’s still working, and I’m luckily able to do the podcast from home. It’s been lovely to be able to stay at home as a family. The only other time, bar when my daughter was really tiny, that we’re together 24/7 is when we’re on holiday, and so that does feel like a lovely thing. Although I’m jealous of my friends who are watching Sex and the City reruns – I don’t have the luxury of that with a two-year-old – we’ve been getting creative. We’ve got a woods quite close to our house and the other day I took a jar with us on our walk and we filled it up with bits and pieces that we saw along the route and called it the little jar of joy. So we just need to be a bit imaginative, and also I think we’ve got to give ourselves a break. You don’t need to entertain your kids 24/7. I’ve taken this time to allow for Ruby to figure out how to play by herself, to actually spend time with herself in her own little head, exploring the world as she sees it, and trying to not feel guilty about it.”
3 things Angela is grateful for
1. I started #thanksamilliontrio on Instagram to share three things I’m grateful for and people in the comments have been sharing theirs. I’ve always had a weird relationship with Instagram, I thought of it as something I had to do, but now I think that technology has connected us all at a time when people feel lonely. It’s become a bit of a refuge and a place to remind yourself that we’re all in this together, and I think that’s a massive comfort.
2. We moved house less than a year ago and we’ve got a little garden. There’s a paddling pool and a tree, and it just feels like our tiny little slice of escape. I appreciate that that’s an absolute luxury, because there are so many people in flats without any outdoor space, so I feel grateful for that.
3. I’ve dabbled with veganism, but I’ve just come back into the comforting arms of cheese during this pandemic. I think it’s just come into its own – I’ve taken cheese for granted for a long time and I never will again. I think it’s important to connect with those smaller, silly things – practising gratitude doesn’t have to be about deeply profound and moving moments, it’s about the small things, and sometimes that’s all we’ve got. They’re not to be underestimated.
Thanks A Million with Angela Scanlon is available on Apple, Spotify and all podcast providers. Angela presents BBC2’s Your Home Made Perfect (Tuesdays, 8pm).