Andrea McLean on Loose Women, men’s guilty secret and village life in Ashtead
- Credit: Andy Newbold
A familiar face on television as the anchor of ITV's Loose Women, Andrea McLean has lived in Surrey for the last 10 years. Andy Newbold met up with the presenter at The Star in Malden Rushett, near Leatherhead, for an exclusive interview
While many people are drawn to Surrey because of its beautiful countryside, the pretty villages and a slower pace of life when compared to London, for TV presenter Andrea McLean it was something far less romantic that drew her to our county – the off-street parking.
“I used to live in Wimbledon and wanted to move further out, basically because I wanted a drive-way!” she laughs. “Off-street parking in London is horrendous and I was parking two streets away from my house. So I drew a line straight south from Waterloo, where I needed to get the train for work, and that’s how I found Ashtead – the village where I live now.
“I love the fact that when I am at home I feel like I am away from it all, then I get on the train to go to work and back to the craziness – though I don’t always love the train journeys. When South West Trains cuts down the number of carriages during rush hour, everyone who gets on at Ashtead ends up standing – it’s one of my biggest bugbears. I spend my journey grumbling on Twitter about SWT catering for us commuters!”
Commuting woes aside, Andrea says she has settled in very well to the area and struggles to get from one end of the high street to the other without bumping into at least one person she knows. Not that she’s complaining, mind…
“Another reason that I chose to live in Ashtead was because of how friendly everyone is,” she continues. “It takes literally 50 times longer to buy any- thing because you spend most of your time chatting to people! I know most of the local shopkeepers and Adrian at Ashtead station, who sells coffee there, always chats with me – usually about the latest show!”
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Route to Surrey
Of course, Surrey was not her birthplace; you only have to listen to her distinctive accent – a cross between Scottish and Caribbean – to guess that, and her childhood was far from typical. In her best-selling 2012 autobiography, Confessions of a Good Girl, she tells of her idyllic life as a young girl in Trinidad and Tobago, running around barefoot with her sister, before returning to Scotland in-between her father’s placements in the sugar cane industry. She also lived in Chester for a while, working in a shoe shop at weekends so she could save up to buy 45” singles of her favourite bands – in fact, the interview changes direction for a while as we reminisce about vinyl and being a teenager in the ‘80s (it turns out we were born just three months apart in the same year; 1969!).
More worldwide travel came early on in her twenties as she backpacked with her boyfriend Nick (later to become her first husband) and even got caught up in the Bangkok riots of 1992 – terrifying at the time but something Andrea puts down to experience now. That said, she’s less enthusiastic about the idea of her children going through the same thing.
“I always used to say that I’d be pushing my kids out the door as soon as they had done their degrees and such to see the world,” says the 46-year-old. “But I don’t believe in the gap year thing because as teenagers they are just not mature enough or streetwise. Saying that, when I did it, mobile phones hadn’t been invented and there was no internet. When I think of what I put my parents through; we literally headed off waving goodbye and got on a flight to India. They didn’t hear from us for a month. Nowadays, I can’t let my son go to the corner shop without me texting him to check he is all right, never mind letting him go to the other side of the world!”
With a BA Hons in Modern Studies (History, Politics and International Relations) from Coventry University under her belt, her career in journalism and presenting got under way. This led to her first appearance in front of the cameras on GMTV as a weather presenter, before going on to present and co-host many ITV morning shows. Then came her big break when she landed the job of anchor on Loose Women in 2008.
Watched by women up and down the UK, I wonder if, like me (and Adrian at Ashtead station), other men admit to having watched the show?
“Actually, many men watch but don’t admit it – I am a lot of men’s guilty secret!” she laughs. “I get them sidling up to me in the supermarket, looking furtively over their shoulder (especially older retired men), and they’ll tell me they watch it, saying it as if they are embarrassed. Most start the conversation saying their wives watch it and they have been drawn in. They seem to enjoy it because it gives them a chance to ‘sit in’ on women’s conversation; they find it interesting to hear what we actually think. These days, I think men and women are actually becoming much more similar.”
Aside from Loose Women, which she describes as “the best job in TV”, Andrea can also be seen on the QVC channel promoting her jewellery range, ‘Diamonique by Andrea McLean’. And, in addition to all of that, she spends a great deal of time at home writing. For the past four years, she has written an interiors column for The Mirror and is a regular contributor to online magazine Standard Issue, which was set up by comedian Sarah Millican. Andrea has even been working on a novel too.
“I have started about five different novels but so far in I get a bit lost,” she explains. “However, I’m determined to persevere with this one!”
Busy local life
Locally she plays her part too, recently becoming patron of the charity Back on Track, set up by the Harley Street Skin Clinic, which has a branch in Reigate, and takes part in the annual go-karting fund-raiser at Daytona Racing at Sandown Park. She also supported Tadworth charity The Children’s Trust at the annual Supercar Event and was at Polesden Lacey in May to walk the Pink Ribbon Walk in aid of Breast Cancer Care (her sixth time).
“This time round, I persuaded my dad, Jack, to do his first-ever charity walk at the age of 71!” she continues. “My children, Finlay (14) and Amy (nine), came along too, and my mum was there singing with the Epsom Rock Choir – so it was a real family affair.”
Another high-profile local event in which Andrea has been involved is the Leatherhead Drama Festival, which sees amateur groups from all over the county competing against one another. For the past two years, she has also presented the prizes on stage at the gala night, following in the footsteps of none other than Sir Michael Caine.
“I really loved it,” she enthuses. “The kids really blew me away with their talent – they were so confident. It’s really important to encourage them to put down their iPads for a second and learn to build up self-esteem – getting up on stage in front of an audience is such a great way to do that. And I can’t believe the adult performers weren’t professional, they were that good!”
In addition to all those causes, Andrea is also a big supporter of mental health awareness, having had personal experience of the issue. She struggled with post-natal depression after the birth of her second child.
“Mental health issues can affect anyone,” she says. “We on Loose Women have all been affected in some way in the past. We are all successful, intelligent women, so by putting our hands up and being open about it, we can create awareness – which helps other people.
“In the UK, it is so often swept under the carpet. I, like many other people, didn’t want to make a fuss, so when someone asked if I was okay, I would say, ‘Yes, I am fine.’ But if you say you are fine, people will treat you as if you are fine; if you let them know you are feeling a little down, they will treat you sensitively.”
Venturing inside for a bite to eat, it is obvious that Andrea has found a good balance in her life, as she talks affectionately about her partner Nick, whose company provides glamping pods for campsites, and her children, who are very normal kids. The other member of the family totally unfazed by her celebrity status is her seven-year-old yellow labradoodle, Jackson, who is with her today. His hobbies, she informs me, are barking at the postman and being over-enthusiastically friendly to everyone he meets.
“He’s always so well-behaved, so he comes all over with me,” she says. “He helps me to keep fit and healthy, too, and we particularly love walking on Epsom Downs.”
So, with a happy home life, a great career and further fulfilment through all her charity work, what does the future hold? Are there any other as-yet-unfulfilled ambitions?
“Well, put it this way, my list of things I want to do is a lot longer than my list of things I have already done,” she smiles. “I would like to publish another best-seller and actually finish things I start! Presenting-wise, though, I already have the best job on the telly and one that gets better as you get older. Each year is another year of life experience and that is a rich seam to tap into.”
• For more information on Andrea McLean, visit her website at officialandreamclean.com
My Favourite Surrey
Pub/restaurant: We love The Star at Malden Rushett – it’s dog- friendly, the staff are lovely and very relaxed, and the kids love the ribs there too!
Shop: I get my nails done at Polished on Ashtead High Street every few weeks. I love going in there; Jo and Lucy are great at what they do, and it’s always a fun hour getting the village gossip!
View: That has to be from Epsom Downs Racecourse because the sky is really big – it’s a great place to walk with my dog Jackson when I need head-space. I put my head- phones in, put on some Coldplay, and I’m happy.
Place: I recently discovered Polesden Lacey, at Great Bookham, whilst doing the Pink Ribbon Walk and it is beautiful there. I love the little antique shops in Dorking too.
Hot tip: My personal trainer, Ben, is amazing. He’s just set up on his own at Ben’s PT Barn at Bookham Lodge Stud near Cobham. You can find more details online, at benspersonaltraining barn.co.uk, and he has a Facebook page too – just look for Ben’s Personal Training Barn.