Part of the enduring appeal of Loose Women is the openness of the panellists to speak about their personal issues.
But when Andrea McLean revealed on Monday’s show – the first in six weeks due to the coronavirus lockdown – that she had suffered a breakdown last year, it was as much of a shock to her that she talked about it as it was to the viewers.
“It just came out and it caught me by surprise,” said the presenter.
“We were talking about the pandemic, and it was true that had this happened a year ago it would have been so much worse for me, as I was in a terrible place, but I meant to leave it at that.
“When I realised I’d said it, I felt I had to quantify it and then I ended up rambling.
“Then I thought, ‘Is it a bad thing it’s out?’, as it did happen, and it had to happen.
“I’m almost glad it did as it meant I dealt with a lot of stuff I’d been lugging about like a heavy bag on my back, now that’s gone.
“I didn’t look at the papers the next day, I was too scared to see the response, but it’s been said now and that’s one of the joys of Loose Women – we are honest and open.
“You can’t have a campaign like Lighten The Load, where we encouraged people to talk, and then I don’t talk. So even though I didn’t mean to, it’s done now.”
Mum-of-two Andrea says it was last summer “when it all came to a head, but the year building up to it wasn’t good”. The 50-year-old has been writing about the breakdown during her time in lockdown, for her third book, This Girl Is On Fire, due out in September. Putting it all down on page has been good for her, she admitted, even though it won’t all make it into the published version.
“When I did Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins last year, there was a lot of stuff I hadn’t dealt with that came out and I didn’t expect it to,” explained Andrea, who is married to businessman Nick Feeney.
“Nobody does when signing up to something like that – a crazy TV show where SAS men are shouting at you to do push-ups.
“The first line in the book is essentially ‘S*** happens and it’s how you deal with it’, how to deal with the terrible things in your life, regardless of what they are.”
Since her breakdown, Andrea has been working on getting better and part of that has been forcing herself to make life changes.
“I’m a great bottler-upper, I’ve always been that way. I don’t know if it’s a Scottish thing, to not talk about stuff and just carry on.
“Before lockdown, I had cut back on things that were stressing me. I was no longer saying yes to everything then becoming really stressed that I was running around doing things I didn’t want to do.
“I had to learn to say no and deal with other people’s disappointments. I can’t bear people being disappointed.
“I’d already started doing that before lockdown and I want to carry on afterwards.
“I don’t want the world to go back to how it was. It was too busy, too loud, too shouty, people all-consumed and competitive.
“Competitiveness and ambition is great – I’m ambitious. The goal with our website is to empower 100 million people around the world. That’s a huge ambition, but you can do it with quiet strength rather than shouting.
“It would be nice if the world was a gentler place afterwards.”
The website Andrea mentions is thisgirlisonfire.com. Set up as a hub for aspirational women, Andrea and Nick have expanded it to become a marketplace for female entrepreneurs.
“It did feel weird, launching a business during all of this, but we spoke to the women and discovered a lot of their normal avenues for sale had gone, so we worked to get it up and we launched it last week,” Andrea continued. “So between that and writing the book, it’s been bonkers.”
A semblance of routine, and maintaining that, is part of what Andrea, Nick and her two children, 18-year-old Finlay and Amy, 13, have been doing to try to make life less bonkers during lockdown.
“We’ve kept it so we’re at our desks by 9am. My daughter is doing school work online, and Finlay is doing online courses relating to his degree.
“Every day will feel like a week if you don’t have something constructive to do.”
Andrea has also been keeping in touch with her parents, Jack and Betty, who live just five minutes away.
Like Andrea, they are originally from Glasgow, and the family remains fiercely proud of its roots.
Andrea said: “It’s been 18 months since I was in Scotland, for my parents’ wedding anniversary, but I keep in touch with family in Ayrshire – we used to live in Tarbolton – and Stirling.
“Even though I live down south, we are all Scottish. My accent isn’t Scottish but when I’m with everyone the accent changes!
“We’ve been making sure my parents are OK. They sit in their doorway and we chat from the end of the path. This would have been much harder if I couldn’t go round and make sure they are fine.
“My mum’s birthday was a few weeks ago and we surprised her by decorating the tree at the end of their cul-de-sac with bunting, and we played Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday on the car stereo. It was nice to make her smile.
“Some friends had gone round with a bottle of wine earlier in the day. That was lovely and I think it’s been a brilliant community experience.
“Two nurses and a fireman live in my cul-de-sac, and every Thursday we all stay out after clapping and talk.
“Although our neighbours are lovely, we’d never stood in the street and chatted for an hour before, so that’s been really nice.
“And on V.E. Day last week, we all had individual garden parties in our front gardens. I think more people got involved than would have normally.
“It made us stop and appreciate V.E. Day more than ever. All we’re being asked to do is stay in. It’s a lot less than those in the war were asked to do, so hopefully people will be more appreciative.”
So, too, Andrea hopes, will people make the best of this terrifying situation.
“I hope people stop for a bit, take a deep breath and think about what it is they actually want to do,” she added.
“If lockdown had only lasted a couple of weeks, people would have ridden it out, but the longer it’s gone on the more real it’s become.
“People are now digging in and thinking about things, and I hope they come out of it thinking a little more deeply.”
Loose Women, ITV, Mon-Fri, 12.30pm. Andrea’s website is thisgirlisonfire.com
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