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Waving goodbye to the Loose Women panel after 13 years was never going to be easy for Andrea McLean.
But when we call up the TV presenter, it’s clear she’s completely at peace with her shock decision to leave ITV’s popular chat show.
Bubbly, chatty and confident she’s made the right choice, Andrea is a joy to talk to.
In fact, after a difficult couple of years which saw her suffer a terrifying mental breakdown, and subsequently open up about it publicly, it’s clear her departure from the programme in December has left her happier than ever.
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Even the grey lockdown clouds have provided her with a silver lining, giving her the reason she needed to finally call it a day.
“The pandemic had a lot to do with my decision to leave Loose Women,” she tells us. “It makes you reassess whether you’re doing what you really want to do.”
Since leaving the show, Andrea, 51, has had to cope with her daughter’s bout of coronavirus as well as putting all her focus into her This Girl Is On Fire business – a membership and website aimed at women and their wellbeing, which she has set up with her husband Nick Feeney.
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The couple, who married three years ago, live with Andrea’s daughter Amy, 14, while her son Finlay, 19, has flown the nest to go to university. Nick also has two daughters, Tia, 18, and Sienna, 15.
Here, the TV star talks about leaving the ladies behind, moving on from her breakdown, and new beginnings…
Andrea, what’s life been like since leaving Loose Women?
Well, Christmas time was so distracting. We were worried that Finlay wouldn’t be able to come home from uni because of the pandemic, but luckily he could! Then Amy caught coronavirus from someone at school. I didn’t give work, or Loose Women, a thought because we were so wrapped up in everything and making sure Amy was OK. She felt very poorly for about three days and stayed up in her room. Luckily she’s now absolutely fine. She was allowed out of her room on Christmas day, so it was like a double celebration!
Did anyone else at home test positive?
No, it was just Amy. Nick’s daughter, Tia, tested positive about a month before. She lives with her mum, who also got it. Both of them were just exhausted and felt really unwell. But they’re both better now.
That’s good to hear. So was leaving Loose Women a difficult decision?
It was such a slow burner. By the time it came around, it felt like absolutely the right thing to do. It was a weird decision – it did feel scary! It took months of thinking about it. We were preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Nick and I sat down and wrote what we needed to prepare for.
What were the best and worst case scenarios?
Worst case – we would have to sell the house. Best, the This Girl Is On Fire membership and website we’ve set up works and we’re successful with that.
What was it like telling ITV you were leaving?
It was so nerve-racking! I was terrified.
How did you do it?
I emailed my bosses. I could have just let the contract run out and not come back. But I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to handle it the way that they wanted to. I just said I needed to follow my heart. The night before I told them I was really jittery, but I also thought, “Be really present with today.” Because once you press go on something, that’s it. You can’t go back.
Where were you when you sent that email?
I was sat in the car! I had it all written and ready to go. It was such a strange feeling. I just felt like, now the next part of my life begins. It was like I’d pressed the start button. It was scary because I wanted to make sure that everyone was OK. But it felt really right and now I’m happier than ever. It felt like a new chapter was beginning.
Was Nick a big influence in your decision to leave the show?
It was very much my own decision. But This Girl Is On Fire has been running for two and a half years now and we’ve both been working really hard on it behind the scenes. It just got to the point where I wanted to give it 100% of my energy. But I know I couldn’t have left without having Nick by my side. I’d have been too scared.
Why did it take you a long time to come to that decision?
Because I love working in TV! It’s what I’ve known for two decades.
What was the reaction from the other women on the show?
Absolute shock. I didn’t breathe a word to anybody because I felt like it was such a personal decision. The hardest person to tell was Brenda Edwards, because we’ve become so close in the time she’s worked there. She just burst into tears and ran out the room. I know her well enough to know not to follow her. So I let her have her moment and she came back about five times. It was quite funny, actually.
Who’s been on the phone since you left?
Brenda and also Saira Khan. She’s a businesswoman and we would often talk about what it’s like when you’re running a business as well as being on TV. She was brilliant. I spoke to her about it all once I’d made the decision and she totally got it. Then she went on to do the same thing very soon after.
Did you see that coming?
Privately, I did. She hadn’t said anything, but I wasn’t surprised. Because I know how passionate she is about what she does. We hadn’t spoken about whether she thought she’d leave like me, or whether she’d already made that decision.
Is there any particular reason you both left around the same time?
Total coincidence! I genuinely think that the pandemic has had a huge amount to do with it. It definitely had everything to do with my decision. Obviously I can’t think for Saira, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same thing for her. You can’t help but reflect on this one life you’re given. Are you doing what you love? Are you living it in a way that when you look back when you’re 100, you think, “Yeah I did what I was really, really passionate about.” To me that played a huge part in it.
Did the experience of your breakdown contribute to your decision at all?
No. I feel very blessed that I went through my experience well before all of this happened, because I’ve been really strong throughout the pandemic. I feel like I know myself a lot better. If I have days where I feel wobbly by the enormity of it all, I say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed, so I’m going to have a quiet day and do something else.” I think that’s the biggest change. Whereas before I’d have ploughed on.
What was the key lesson you learnt during that time?
Stop thrashing yourself within an inch of your life. When I broke down it was because I was pushing myself so hard to keep going, which is what people are doing right now.
Some days all that makes me feel better is eating a whole box of Jaffa Cakes and drinking a bottle of wine [laughs].
What was it like leaving the show and being plunged straight into another lockdown?
I was very fortunate in that I was so busy! I have this really positive thing to focus on in launching the membership. I was focusing on the founder members that we got on board and making sure everything was OK. Then we launched a 10-day challenge, so every day I was focusing on all the women, which has been a wonderfully positive distraction. Nurturing them and helping them to feel less overwhelmed has been a huge help.
How do you combat your bad days now?
Focusing on the positives that we have is a massive help. Routine has been really important, and getting out in nature where I can. I’m lucky that I live out in the countryside and so we try to go for a walk every single day. I’ve put on weight like everyone else in lockdown, and sometimes I feel like I’ve lost the use of my limbs because you just don’t walk anywhere any more! But I’ve got back into doing my yoga.
Was having to be so open about your personal life on the show anything to do with why you left?
No. I’m so glad I did. I know for a fact that me being so open has saved lives. I’ve had people reaching out to me and saying that me speaking about my experiences literally stopped them from taking their own life. One woman had actually got to the point where she had taken something and she happened to have me on TV in the background and that’s why she called for some help. So it’s been a brilliant thing.
What is the dynamic like between the team on Loose Women?
It’s like any working environment. If you work with a lot of people, you’re drawn to the one you sit next to. It’s exactly like that. There are some women you barely see because you aren’t on a shift with them. A lot of people think there’s a reason why different people are working with others, but there’s not.
How did you feel about Charlene White replacing you on the panel?
I’m really pleased! She’s wonderful. I remember interviewing Charlene when I was working on the show. I came off air and said to the producers that they needed to hire her. There’s so much more to her than people realise. She’s smart, funny and a good Loose Woman. I’m not taking any credit for this – but clearly I should [laughs]!
Have you been tuning in since leaving?
No, I’ve been flat out!
Is Nick happy to have you around more?
Yes! He got used to it because of lockdown. At the beginning of the pandemic last year he was the one who had the biggest adjustment to make because he works from home with the dog, and all of a sudden he’s got all of us there. He’s happy though because now I’m 100% in the zone.
Have you had to make any changes in your relationship?
I’ve been very honest with Nick and explained that I need my space. I can’t sit working with him, cooking dinner with him, watching TV with him and then going to bed with him. I would literally go mad. So, because my son has gone off to uni, I’ve commandeered his bedroom and that’s my space. If I’m really serious about it, I hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door [laughs].
Are you and Nick still going to marriage counselling?
No. We only went for about three months. It was back when I was going through my breakdown. We felt really strongly that if one of us is going through a hard time, the other needs to know how to deal with that. But we really believe in it.
What’s the secret to keeping a marriage alive in these circumstances?
Having boundaries. Especially when you have a business together. We have these diaries which we use to schedule our week and we write in “date night”, even though we can’t go anywhere right now. We’ll put our phones in the other room and watch the TV together or play card games. Just so we realise we’re being husband and wife, not just business partners.
Are the kids happy you’re home more now?
Yes! But at the moment it’s just Amy. Nick’s daughter Tia works for us as the head of social media, which has been great. She’s really grown into the role.
Have you missed Finlay?
I did until he came home for Christmas. He came back and was so miserable that he couldn’t see his friends. I realised then that I didn’t need to miss him any more. So I didn’t feel bad about taking all his posters off his walls [laughs].
How do you keep looking fabulous in your 50s?
You haven’t seen me on my days off [laughs]. It comes down to thinking lovely thoughts. If you think lovely thoughts, it shines through your face. I genuinely think it’s because I’m happy, feel loved and I’m in a really good place.
What did you think of Christine Lampard’s pregnancy news?
Well, I actually knew – I was keeping it really quiet! She’s the most beautiful pregnant person isn’t she? I’m so happy for her.
What’s on the agenda next?
The This Girl Is On Fire membership. I can’t believe how much joy it’s brought me. I’m using all the skills I’ve built over the years, but now on something I truly love. It might not be sitting in front of millions of people on the TV like I was before, but now it’s sitting in front of people who are really engaged and want to be part of it all. I feel really great at the moment.
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