Loose Women's Andrea McLean reflects on the most difficult year of her life

PUBLISHED: 10:03 20 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:00 06 May 2014

Loose Women's Andrea McLean reflects on the most difficult year of her life

Loose Women's Andrea McLean reflects on the most difficult year of her life

Host of the popular daytime TV show Loose Women, ANDREA MCLEAN will be reinventing herself as a panto queen when she plays the fairy godmother in Cinderella at Redhill’s Harlequin Theatre this Christmas. But as she reflects on the most difficult year of her life, will the Ashtead resident be able to make her own wishes come true?

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2012

Photo: Ian Fagg

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Her squeaky clean image earned her the nickname Snow White on Loose Women. So it’s no surprise that Andrea McLean will be playing to type when she appears as the fairy godmother in Cinderella at Redhill’s Harlequin Theatre this Christmas.

“I can’t wait!” says Andrea, speaking from her home in Ashtead. “Panto is a great family tradition in our house and I always take the kids, Finlay, 11, and Amy, six, because it kick-starts our festive celebrations. But it’s going to be a bit strange this year because I’ll actually be in the panto. My son was so funny when I told him. He said: ‘Mum, aren’t fairy godmothers supposed to be quite old?’ Needless to say, that earned him a lot of brownie points!”

Andrea, 42, is no stranger to the panto circuit, having cut her teeth in an adult version in Manchester two years ago. This time, though, it will be good, clean family fun with all the traditional ingredients you’d expect – from a pumpkin that will be magically transformed into a sparkling coach, and mice that morph into dazzling white horses.

And though she’ll be sprinkling liberal amounts of fairydust, there’ll be a few surprises, too. “Instead of a wand, I want a power tool with a revolving bit on the end, saying ‘I will fix it’,” she grins, with a nod to her regular DIY column in a women’s magazine. “And I can’t wait to work with the Ugly Sisters – two guys called Dean and Ollie [Dean Horner and Oliver Gray], who are great fun and completely unrecognisable when they take their dresses off.”

The panto will come as welcome relief for Andrea who describes her year in one word – “pants”. “It’s been absolute rubbish and I don’t think I could have got through it without the support of my family,” she says.

Making a new start
Her annus horribilis began in January when she revealed her two-year marriage to second husband Steve Toms had ended on Boxing Day. This prompted a Twitter backlash, with some people unfairly accusing her of timing the announcement to help publicise her new autobiography, Confessions of a Good Girl. The strain took its toll and Andrea suffered a panic attack minutes before a live appearance on Loose Women.

“A lot of the comments were really vitriolic, but also very misinformed – so I replied to each in turn, putting them right in a polite, non-confrontational way,” she says. “Thankfully, the public got behind me and I’ve had more spontaneous hugs from women of a certain age, who’ve stopped me in the street, than I’ve ever had in my life. And may I say a special thank you to the women of Surrey because most of the hugs came from them!”

As the reality of her new life sank in, however, her weight plummeted and the stress brought on shingles, which spread across her face and into her ear, triggering neuralgia. Then, just as she was beginning to feel human again, she had a breast cancer scare. And all this on top of the umbilical hernia complications and post-natal depression she suffered before her marriage ended.

“I found a lump and foolishly ignored it,” she says. “But it kept growing, so eventually I had it checked out at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton. Everything is fine now, but I kept it to myself for weeks because I didn’t want to admit I’d had another disaster.” 

New life in Ashtead
Keen to put her mishaps behind her, she has since bought a new house half a mile from her old home and is relishing the prospect of having her parents, who have sold up in Chester, living nearby. “It’s a new development in a gated community and the kids love it. As soon as they arrive home from school, they strip off their uniforms and jump on their bikes or scooters until I call them in for tea.

“I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I’ve become one of Ashtead’s people and I’m not the new girl any more. I catch the train every day into work – the same train with the same commuters. And you’ll often find me on Epsom Downs Racecourse where I love to walk the dog.”

She admits though that it hasn’t been easy adapting to life as a single mum. “In the old days, there was always a routine. Even on weekends, I had to get the kids up at 8am for their clubs. But now they often spend weekends with their respective dads, leaving me rattling around in the house.

“On my first weekend alone, I took a long walk on the common near our home and sat outside a pub with a coffee. I felt really shell-shocked, thinking this was how my life was going to be. And then this lady suddenly crept up on me from behind, gave me a big hug, and said: ‘I just want you to know I’ve been through what you’re going through and it gets better. Hang on in there. You’re a beautiful lady and you’ll be fine.’ Then she walked away and I just cried.”

Dating, however, is the last thing on her mind. “My dog is the only chap in my life!” she jokes. “I just want some space because I’ve never been on my own before. I started seeing my first husband [BBC producer Nick Green] when I was 17 and then went straight into a relationship with Steve.”

Eager to take on new challenges, she has enrolled on a garden design course at Guildford College and is relishing the chance to flex her panto muscles. And then, of course, there’s her continuing role hosting Loose Women.

“I’ve been on the show six years and feel like part of the furniture. There’s been some criticism that it’s getting long in the tooth, but you can’t sustain the pinnacle of popularity for 13 years. We were at our peak a few years ago and then we dropped back a bit. But my personal feeling is that the tide is turning and it’s finding its feet again. It’s getting its mojo back.”

Looking to the future
The same, I sense, might be said of Andrea. “I’m really looking forward to Christmas,” she grins. “Mum will probably do the cooking and by 10am we’ll be getting stuck into Dad’s Caribbean rum punch. By the time the turkey comes out, none of us will give a damn what it tastes like!”

And as they drink a toast, she’ll no doubt be wishing for a 2013 full of fresh beginnings. “The way I see it, life is a roller coaster. You have to go down to shoot back up. And I’ve been bumping along the bottom for blooming ages, so hopefully I’ll be shooting back up again very soon!”

  • Confessions of a Good Girl [with an updated final chapter] is published by Macmillan in paperback at £7.99

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MY FAVOURITE SURREY

Restaurant: The Star Pub in Chessington. I go there with the kids and the dog. They’re always very welcoming and the food is great. It’s one of the few child-friendly places that doesn’t have bright lighting and plastic flooring!

Shop: Vernon Interiors in Cobham and Esher. I moved house recently so I’ve bought lamps, side tables and picture frames there. I also bought a little sign in their window, which made me laugh out loud. It says: ‘I’m not sure if life is passing me by or trying to run me over.’

View: From the middle of Epsom Downs Racecourse. For 360 degrees, all you can see is big sky and it’s my favourite place to walk the dog.

Place to relax: My house and back garden. I’ve had a veranda built – like the ones you see in the southern states of America – and I love relaxing there.

Place to visit: Box Hill. I like to go with the kids and we round it off with a visit to the Smith & Western restaurant (we call it the cowboy restaurant) at the top. The authentic Wild West decor makes you feel as though you’ve just stepped off the ranch.

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