Andrea McLean on Loose Women, her wedding and living in Ashtead
PUBLISHED: 13:51 24 August 2011 | UPDATED: 22:58 21 May 2014
Loose Women host Andrea McLean admits she's the 'senior prefect' of her girlie gang - and you won't see her flashing her underwear at the next TV awards... But that's not to say she doesn't get up to mischief - we just don't hear about it! ANGELA WINTLE meets the former GMTV presenter at her home in Ashtead, near Epsom, as she looks forward to her wedding
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2009
While the rest of the Loose Women team are letting rip about everything from sex and nudity to breaking wind, Andrea McLean, who co-hosts the popular ITV1 lunchtime show with Jackie Brambles, generally manages to rise above it all before serenely moving on to the next item. Mind you, even she has her moments.
"I'm a lot quieter than the others and a bit wet behind the ears in comparison," she says breezily, as we chat on the sun-bathed terrace of her home in Ashtead. "But the terrible thing is, the longer you're on Loose Women, the more you get lulled into thinking no one's watching."
This oversight has landed her in lots of hot water. Her fiancé, Steve Toms, 39, is always getting ribbed at work for her latest indiscretion - usually about his snoring. And her dad took to ringing her after virtually every programme to tick her off for sharing one too many intimacies with the nation. And then there was the time that her best mate nearly died of embarrassment when Andrea revealed she was trying out internet dating.
The head prefect
But she's still the head prefect of the gang (they don't call her Snow White for nothing) and has some lengths to go to match the bad girl antics of fellow Loose Women presenter Carol McGiffin, who flashed her knickers at the Royal TV Awards last year.
Is she comfortable with Loose Women's raucous image?'
"I think it's hilarious," laughs Andrea, 39. "We were all invited to a charity gala performance of Calendar Girls in the West End recently because Lynda Bellingham was appearing in it. And when we left the theatre, the paparazzi were lying in wait for us. We thought it was so funny that we split up to see who they'd follow. I jumped into a rickshaw with Denise Welch and at one point we had 20 photographers snapping away. But the funniest thing was that the next day I didn't make it into a single picture. So now I've realised I can get away with murder!"
Andrea and I are chatting in her new luxury home, tucked away on the outskirts of Ashtead near Epsom. It looks like a show home, which is scarcely surprising because she and Steve, who runs his own construction business, splashed out £400,000 on building it from scratch after demolishing a run-down Sixties bungalow. A sharp minimalist design, she admits she was frantically throwing clutter into drawers shortly before my arrival to resurrect the look.
She looks pretty streamlined herself, slim and tanned in jeans and a Lycra top. In fact, she's just as she appears on television - friendly and approachable, with a certain girl-next-door quality.
The pair moved into their new home, having previously lived in Wimbledon, shortly before Christmas and are gradually getting to know the area.
"We love going for walks along the Epsom Downs and we've dined out at some excellent places, including the George in Esher, Loch Fyne in Cobham and Post in Banstead."
But best of all, she says, London Weekend Television near Waterloo, where Loose Women is filmed, is just 40 minutes away by train.
Andrea knows all about travelling. When she worked as a GMTV weather presenter, she trekked all around the country to present her on-location reports - from blizzard conditions in the Scottish Highlands to rainswept valleys in Wales.
"It was really exciting when I didn't have any family, but the novelty of getting up at 3.30am and standing round in muddy wellies at Glastonbury had worn off after 11 years!" she says. "In fact, Glastonbury was the last straw. I remember lying in a tent on stony ground, thinking: I'm too old for this."
She says she misses her old GMTV pals, Penny Smith and Claire Nasir, but has made a brand new set of mates on Loose Women.
"One of the brilliant things about the show is that we represent everybody," she says. "Lynda is 61, Denise is 51, I'll be 40 this year - and everybody else is in between. We've all had different life experiences, disappointments and expectations and yet we get on.
"When you make friends with someone, it's usually because they're the same as you. So to be working with women who are polar opposites is really refreshing."
When I ask who she's chummiest with, she tactfully replies that it varies because they all get swapped round.
"Jane McDonald is brilliant and has looked after me from day one. Every now and again, she'll give me a little wink as if to say: 'You're doing all right,' and that's really nice."
Friends for life
And what about Carol - is she as intimidating as she seems?
"Completely! But underneath, she's a big softie. And she's so smart - you can't outwit her. I'm really thrilled about her getting together with her fiancé Mark (who's 22 years younger) because she's striking a blow for women everywhere.
"As for Denise, she just makes me get into mischief and Coleen Nolan is another who quietly keeps her eye on me. And Sherrie Hewson.. well, where do you start? She comes out with mad things, like her dog was reincarnated as a spider in Blackpool, but she's not as ditzy as she seems. Oh, and Lynda... What a bright, feisty and articulate woman."
Born in Glasgow, Andrea grew up in Trinidad and Tobago where her father was general manager of Tate & Lyle's sugar estates, before returning to the UK at the age of 15. She later went on to train as a journalist and worked for a features agency before embarking on her TV career with an 18-month stint on the Weather Channel, which led to her job on GMTV.
She met Steve when they co-hosted the DIY TV show Our House on UK Style in 2003. You wouldn't think a TV presenter and a builder would have much in common, but Andrea waves aside my doubts.
"We have ourselves in common... Steve gets me and I really get him. He's a very big, jolly bloke and I feel very protected and loved, even if he is extremely messy and takes up a lot of room. In fact, it's like having a large St Bernard dog in the house!
"I also like him because he's extremely self-confident, whereas I'm actually quite shy and introverted. If I have to go to a do, I usually protest that I'd rather be curled up with him, watching telly. But he does the equivalent of winding a key in my back and says: 'Off you go sweetheart. Knock 'em dead.' And he sets me off feeling good."
Two years ago, they had a little girl, Amy, and Andrea, who already has a seven-year-old son, Finlay, from her previous marriage, says her family unit is now complete. The icing on the cake will be their wedding at a Surrey hotel later this month.
Surrey wedding bells
"It won't be a big wedding, but it will be a big dress," she giggles. "The way I figure it, Steve's a big man so he can handle it. If I was marrying a nine-stone weakling I'd look ridiculous. I think he looks like Shrek and I did threaten that, for my wedding, I'd dress up as Donkey. But he's made me promise to go as Princess Fiona instead!"
She says "everyone" will be attending the reception, including all the Loose Women and GMTV crowd. But you won't be reading about it in Hello! or OK! magazine.
"I made an executive decision, despite offers. It's about me, Steve and the family. I want my famous friends to come because they know I love them, not because I want their head count."
The party begins at 7pm when the Loose Women will burst through the doors. "It's going to be fab," she sighs dreamily. "Denise will be flashing her Spanx...
"I must ring and remind her to wear some nice knickers!"
MY FAVOURITE SURREY
Restaurant: Either Loch Fyne in Cobham when we fancy seafood or the George in Esher. They're both very friendly and the food is great.
Shop: I love all my local shops in Ashtead. For flowers, I pop into Ward & Cross after taking Fin to school; for cards and presents, I go to Bumbles on the High Street as I can always find something; for things for the house, I love J Decor Interiors in Epsom as they are always friendly, helpful and brutally honest about whether I'm buying the right thing or not, which is great!
View: Epsom Downs on a sunny day. Whether it's cold and snowy or bathed in sunshine, the view near the racecourse always lifts my spirits and makes me happy that I don't live in a city any more. I can't wait to get a dog, so I'll have an excuse to get out there every day.
Place to chill: I'm a real home bird, but I love going for family bike rides with a little picnic, either to the park or the common. It's very relaxing and fun, as long as no squabbles break out between the smaller family members.
Place to visit: Bocketts Farm near Leatherhead. My children, aged two and seven, want to do very different things and this is somewhere that we can all have fun. Amy loves feeding the sheep, while Finlay adores bouncing on the trampolines. On a nice day, we take a picnic and let the kids play while we try and enjoy the peace.