'We know each others' secrets... unlike other friends they are not afraid to tell you what's what'
Andrea McLean talks to Gabrielle Fagan about her Loose Women friends, her latest marriage and managing her health problems, including the menopause
Andrea McLean is undoubtedly glamorous and successful -she'll celebrate 12 years as a panellist on the hugely popular daytime show Loose Woman in March - but she's had her share of personal challenges, including two divorces and health problems.
It's only now - after more than a decade battling emotional and physical trauma - that Glasgow-born McLean (49) feels confident enough to declare she is finally "content and not afraid any more".
She was diagnosed with the blood disease medium-vessel vasculitis following a hysterectomy in 2016, which also triggered a "tough" early menopause. McLean, who candidly charted the experience in her book, Confessions Of A Menopausal Woman, is now fronting a Holland & Barrett campaign to banish the taboos surrounding menopause.
The mother-of-two - who's been married to husband Nick Feeney since 2017 - hopes that sharing her experiences will help other women navigating this tricky phase of life.
Here, McLean talks about how Loose Women helped her survive the tough times, coping with her health issues, and why she's looking forward to her milestone 50th birthday...
What does Loose Women mean to you?
"It's been like therapy for me because I've been through so many life experiences while I've been on it, and it's saved my life on many occasions during those tough times.
"When I first joined, I had a 12-week-old baby - my daughter Amy will be 13 this year. During the time on the show, I've gone through post-natal depression, got married, got divorced, was very sad, met a new man and got married again.
"We're all great friends, best friends and completely open with each other about our lives and what's happening to us. It all comes out in the morning meetings before we go on screen. We know each others' secrets, and trust that everyone will have your back and catch you if you fall.
"Unlike any other friends, who might sympathise with your problems and agree with your views, the Loose Women are much more honest and won't be afraid to tell you what's what. It makes them unique.
"They'll go, 'Oh dear, that must be so awful but why were you so stupid? What on earth did you think was going to happen?' That's so lovely and helpful because you never learn anything about yourself if someone just nods and agrees with you all the time. Or they'll say, 'Babe you need to butch up, stand up for yourself more. We're behind you, we'll help you. Go on girl'.
"They're the greatest confidante - they're your teachers, your supporters. No other group of friends really does that."
There was discussion on the show about the Loose Women 'curse' because so many panellists have split from their partners - do you believe it exists?
"I don't think there's any curse. If you get a group of women who are a bunch of friends or work together, 90% of them will have gone through what we've gone through. The only difference is we're open about it all on telly.
"But I feel I have kind of broken my own curse, let alone a Loose Women one. I'm content now.
"When I was younger, I spent a lot of time being afraid, and I'm not afraid any more. I don't necessarily feel brave, but I feel quite steady.
"In your 20s, you make decisions based on what you want and hope for, but what's liberating at my age is I know the things I don't want to do and can make decisions based on that, which is more realistic."
How is marriage third time around?
"We've been married a year and it's proved so much better than I ever thought it could be. I was so nervous before the wedding, because the thought of maybe going through a divorce again was properly worrying.
"To the outside world, 'TV presenter gets divorced twice' is a really easy mocking headline - but from a deeply personal point of view, on each occasion there was a lot of trauma involved. It was awful, horrible and not entered into or exited lightly.
"Nick helped dispel my wedding fears by saying quite logically, 'But you've never been married to me before'. That made total sense, and being married to him is completely different to any other experience I've ever had. We've found marriage actually works for us.
"I've changed and I don't want to go out partying any more. I'd rather be in, enjoying a glass of wine and watching telly. We're both real homebodies."
How do you feel about turning 50 later this year?
"I'm thinking - 'Wow, 50!' - and looking forward to embracing a whole new decade and putting a lot of stuff behind me. In my 20s, I did all the crazy things people put on their bucket lists and in my middle bit leading up to now, I've just been dealing with life, dramas, living and surviving.
"Now, I feel that I am lifting my head up and trying to figure out what I actually want to do.
"You only live once and being on the verge of a new decade has sharpened my mind to the fact that there's not very much time to do it, so I'd better hurry up."
You've been open about your experiences with menopause - how are you coping with it now?
"The menopause was, and sometimes still is, a scary time. I wanted to be open about my experience of this stage women go through because when I started mine, I couldn't identify with anything the media was telling me about the condition.
"Getting involved in Holland & Barrett's Me.No.Pause campaign to break the taboos around menopause was a no-brainer for me. It encapsulates everything I think about the menopause and also of women of my age - you're not invisible any more, you're still a strong and capable woman who's able to do different things, and you come from all different walks of life. You can be a new you.
How are you coping with the symptoms?
"Having a surgical menopause - a full hysterectomy and my ovaries removed - isn't like a normal menopause, because you're dramatically plunged, like sky-diving, into a different stage in your life.
"It's something I'm still going through and, to be honest, sometimes I think I have it under control and other times it's like I'm falling off a cliff and nothing's working right.
"I go through spells where, for a few months, I literally wake up every night soaked in sweat because of hot flushes, or lie awake in the early hours because of insomnia, which is exhausting. It's like a garden having the menopause - it's a changing situation and continually needs tending to and adjusting.
"For me, the worst symptom is overwhelming anxiety. It feels like there's a lion in the room and I have an overwhelming feeling of apprehension, awfulness and a conviction everything's going to go wrong.
"It's like the rational part of your brain's gone on holiday and it can make me feel very fragile. Recently, I ended up sobbing in my car in a supermarket car park because this horrible man shouted horrible things at me, as he thought my car was in the way. Reacting like that isn't the normal me at all - normally I'd have marched up to him and confronted his rudeness."
How do you look after your health and wellbeing?
"Having my hysterectomy saved my life, because the vasculitis (a rare and dangerous disease that causes blood vessels to inflame and, in severe cases, can cause organ failure) might not have been discovered if I hadn't had it. Luckily, the surgery removed the affected area.
"I've got my head around it now, but it was a shock and made me very panicky at the beginning. I'm apprehensive before every check-up, but my last one recently was clear. I tell myself if the condition comes back, I'll deal with it. I realise worrying about it won't change the outcome - whatever it is.
"I do what I can to stay healthy. Going to the gym and doing yoga regularly is good for my head, as I always feel better once I've released some energy. In January, I started a strict diet to cleanse and rest my gut for two months. I've suffered constant dull stomach pain and discomfort for years, which began after falling ill back-packing in India when I was 22.
"I have allergies, can't tolerate dairy, and I've also had a five abdominal operations, including two caesarean sections and surgery for hernias as well as hysterectomy. The hope is this cleanse will allow the area to heal and I can then reintroduce certain foods slowly."
Andrea McLean is supporting Holland & Barrett's Me.No.Pause campaign, which aims to break the taboos around menopause and support women through it naturally. Find out more at hollandandbarrett.com or visit one of their 800 UK stores