Andrea: Being married twice doesn't mean I'm a bad person
The Loose Women presenter battled through break-ups and health issues but, she tells Gabrielle Fagan, the stress was really the making of her.
There's a certain aptness about the small wooden sign hanging in the kitchen of Andrea McLean's home, which proclaims, “I'm not sure if life is passing me by or trying to run me over”.
While the glamorous Scottish TV presenter can comfort herself that life's certainly not passing her by career-wise (she's been a popular co-anchor on TV's lunchtime show Loose Women since 2007), emotionally she's been through the wringer over the past few years.
Following the breakdown of her second marriage in 2011, the mother-of-two's suffered several debilitating viral infections, a breast cancer scare, and anxiety-triggered panic attacks.
“When I was a little girl, I liked colouring inside the lines and loved everything being very orderly — that's part of my personality — so to have everything in my life literally implode and fall apart was quite hard to deal with,” she says with understatement, recalling the tough times, but remarkably crediting them for her new-found contentment.
With her glossy brunette hair and slim figure McLean (44), currently one of the celebrities training to compete in gymnastics for a planned new BBC series, Tumble, certainly looks a picture of physical health.
“I'm happy now but I've definitely realised life's a roller coaster and things were horrible for a time. I think it takes at least two years to get over the trauma of a marriage ending.
“You're grieving for what should have been, could have been, and my body literally broke down under the burden of all that stress,” she says.
The former GMTV weather girl was married to builder, Steve Toms, with whom she has a daughter, Amy (6). They met when they co-presented UKTV's home makeover show, Our House, in 2004, and their subsequent relationship sparked the collapse of her five-year marriage to her childhood sweetheart, TV producer Nick Green, by whom she has a son, Finlay (12).
“Actually, in a weird way, I needed something like that to happen,” insists McLean, who is surprisingly positive and also honest about the trauma of those years. It's typical of her frankness, which she also demonstrated in her autobiography, Confessions Of A Good Girl.
“I feel a lot more worldly nowadays. I was very naive before and had a very ‘Doris Day' attitude to life, where I thought everything would all work out fine because I wanted it to. When I look back, I was probably very irritating, to be honest,” she admits.
“When everything blew up in my face and my second marriage failed, I had to sort myself out and face a dose of reality. Also,
one of my biggest problems was that no-one can beat me up as much I can beat me up, and I gave myself a very hard time over everything that happened.
“Now I've realised that I'm not a terrible person because I had two marriages. I'm not the only one who messed up in life and things can fall apart in a spectacular way and you can survive.
“Of course, I never wanted that to happen but it did and had to be dealt with. The important thing is that the kids are great and happy and really that's what counts.”
While struggling over the last two-and-a-half years to sort out her emotions, she's simultaneously had to battle health problems.
Stress brought on three bouts of viruses, including shingles which caused “excrutiating pain, like every nerve in your body is exposed, and even wearing clothes was painful. A rash across my face spread into my ear and that triggered neuralgia, which was on top of constant migraines,” says the presenter.
She also had a breast cancer scare over a lump which turned out to be a benign fibrous growth, and has had to contend with panic attacks. Before her marriage ended she'd had three emergency operations for an umbilical hernia, one of which nearly killed her, and she suffered post-natal depression after the birth of her daughter.
“I'm naturally a cheerful, upbeat, positive sort of person who always tries to put a brave face on things and to pin on a smile, even if I'm feeling blue, but when the rug gets pulled out from under me emotionally or if I feel low physically, I can get scared and start to panic.
“It makes me literally feel I can't breathe, but I've gradually learnt, partly by using calming meditation, to cope with the attacks and now they're under control,” says McLean, who's partnered with Kelloggs All-Bran in its SOS: Save Our Stomachs campaign, to encourage women to increase their daily fibre uptake in their diet.
“Having a health scare makes you really aware of the importance of taking care of yourself. I'm lactose intolerant and can't deal with raw foods, and so I've always had to take care over my diet, but now I'm 100 per cent conscientious about ensuring everything I eat is geared to helping me stay well.
“I also exercise regularly. When you're fit, you have loads of energy, feel incredibly positive, and it's easier to handle everyday stress.”
Throughout her ups and downs she's relied on the support of the Loose Women team — she shares the anchoring spot with Carol Vorderman, Ruth Langsford, and Kaye Adams.
“The girls on Loose Women have been an amazing help through the last two years,” she says with a smile.
“At our meeting before every programme to discuss the day's topics, it often ends up like a therapy session. Someone will say something's happened to them and we all air our thoughts and offer our views. It's fantastic, like being paid to have therapy.”
Her family — she, her parents and sister all live in the same village in Surrey — have also proved invaluable. “It's lovely for Finlay and Amy to have them so close and I call it Clan McLean as we all look after each other. It's great and the kids see their dads regularly.
“I say to them, ‘We might not be a ‘normal' family compared with some of your friends’ families at school, but we are ‘our family' and we all love each other and that's what counts' and I really believe that.”
A busy career and a fulfilling, demanding family life are, insists McLean, all she needs. “I'm not even thinking about another relationship. I'm single, content and just grateful for everything I have. It's a huge relief to look around now the dust has settled and see there's no more wreckage and things are working out. It's wonderful to realise I've come through it all,” she says.
“I had this Disney attitude before all this happened that was, ‘It will be all right in the end'. But now I realise that this is the end which I'm living right now, and it's important to make every day count. These days, I don't spend my time dreaming that in the future everything will be great, instead I focus on making things awesome now.”
- Andrea McLean has partnered with All-Bran to launch the SOS: Save Our Stomachs campaign to encourage women to increase their daily fibre uptake after research showed eight out of ten women are not getting enough fibre in their diets
Belfast Telegraph Digital