On the morning of her interview with hello!, Andrea McLean arrived at her local Surrey train station and her heartbeat quickened as she saw the news of her marriage breakdown splashed across the front page of a national newspaper.
“It feels very strange it’s out in the open,” says the Loose Women host, who only split from her second husband, builder Steve Toms, on Boxing Day. “I was thinking that anybody on this platform could be going through the same thing, but no one else has it in a newspaper.
“It’s such a personal thing, but you have to take the rough with the
smooth with this job. You can’t pick and choose to do just lovely things in the papers. I’m realistic about that.”
How is she feeling now? “Numb,” she says, looking more subdued than her usual bubbly persona. “And a bit scared,” she adds, before speaking with more certainty. “I absolutely know it’s the right thing to do.”
It was by no means an easy decision, and the couple fought to save their two-year marriage. They had been growing apart in the past six months and “eventually it became very clear that it wasn’t working”.
Andrea tells hello! that the pair, who met in 2003, had counselling a
few years ago, when they were going through a “bumpy patch”.
They have a five-year-old daughter, Amy, and Andrea has a son, Finlay, ten, from her first marriage, to producer Nick Green. The family spent its last day together on Christmas Day. Now the home they shared in Ashtead is under offer and Andrea and her children will be a “little team of three” when they move into a new house nearby.
It seems unusual to speak about a break-up so soon, but Andrea was scheduled to give interviews to promote her new autobiography, Confessions of a Good Girl. “The timing was horrendous,” she says. “I knew a year ago that my book was going to come out but I didn’t know that my marriage was going to end at the same time.
“I hope people don’t think that I’ve sold myself down a river just to promote this,” she says, clearly upset at the thought. “I wish it could have been different.
“I just figured that I couldn’t pretend that everything is lovely,” she explains. “It would mean lying. I took a deep breath and thought, ‘I’d rather just be honest.’”
She says that she switched her phone off the evening before the story broke. “To distract myself I sat up until 2am looking at different types of wallpaper.”
When she turned her mobile back on, she was surprised by the number of heartfelt, supportive Twitter messages. “They really touched me and it sounds mad, because I don’t know these people,” she says. “The most touching one nearly made me cry on the train this morning. It was from a woman who said, ‘You are doing the right thing and I wish I could do it, too.’ I don’t know this lady and it made me really sad on her behalf. I’m really lucky that I work, I can afford to take care of my children.”
How are her children doing?
“They’re okay,” she says, adding that she and Steve will remain amicable. “They know that they are surrounded by love and that their routines stay the same. I think it’s far better for children to grow up in a happy, warm, loving family that only involves one parent than having two parents and an atmosphere.”
Andrea’s own childhood was idyllic. She was born in Glasgow but spent many of her younger years in Trinidad and Tobago, where her father worked as an engineer for a sugar company. “I had the sort of childhood that people go on holiday to have,” says Andrea, who returned with her family to the UK when she was a teenager.
Her parents, who met in their teens and are still together, are staying with Andrea to help her at this difficult time. “People often talk about coming from a broken home and how they want to provide their
children with what they never had,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s hard to provide your children with what you had – and when you can’t you feel like a failure.”
While the 42-year-old has tried to protect her children from anguish, she also hid her marriage woes from viewers. “But I don’t want people thinking I was pretending,” she says. “Actually, it was the opposite, it was a release. For an hour I could let go and do something that I really enjoy, then after it was, ‘Right, let’s go back and deal with this.’”
“I really love my job and I’m good at it,” adds the former GMTV weather presenter, who visibly brightens when talking about a subject less painful than her marriage. “I feel the most confident when I stick the earpiece in, I can hear the gallery talking and we’re about to go live. I get a real kick out of it. With everything else, I’m quite shy.”
Andrea says that being part of Loose Women, in which panellists openly discuss their emotional highs and lows, has been a life-changing experience that enabled her to blossom. “It has been like therapy,” she says, revealing that she has never been as open as when she chats with the other women in their regular meetings before the live shows. Her colleagues Denise Welch, Carol McGiffin, Carol Vorderman and Sherrie Hewson have also experienced divorce. “What’s brilliant is that they tell me the absolute truth, whether I like it or not,” she says.
While working on the show means Andrea interviews famous faces on a weekly basis, one offscreen encounter with a Hollywood actor horrified her, as she reveals in the autobiography. The actor, whom Andrea refuses to name, offered her a lift after an awards ceremony some years ago then tried to force her to perform a sex act.
Until now she has kept quiet about the incident and didn’t even tell her then husband Nick about it. “It was just such a stupid thing to do,” she says. “I would never have got into a minicab at night, and I shouldn’t have thought it was okay just because you’ve seen this person on screen.”
The actor had pulled up in his car while Andrea was trying to find a taxi. “He’d probably never had anybody say no before, which is why he got a bit cross,” says Andrea, who ran off and can now brush off the incident. “I think what a fool I was… I hope one day somebody pokes him in the eye.”
The most difficult part of the autobiography was recalling the end of her first marriage. She and Nick were together for 17 years after falling in love at first sight in a sixth-form common room in Christleton, Cheshire. Their relationship ended in 2004, after Andrea had an affair with Steve, her co-host on DIY makeover show Our House.
“It’s very difficult to write down that you’ve done something wrong and hurt someone,” she reflects. “It would have been easier to gloss over it and put an amazing spin on things but that would have been wrong. I really hope Nick can read it and see that it’s my way of trying to say sorry again.”
Andrea now has a good relationship with Nick, whose new partner is expecting a baby. “I spoke to him last night and he was really supportive and encouraging,” she says.
For anyone who knows Andrea, the affair was out of character. She has only been out with two men, both of whom she married.
“I used to be ridiculously romantic and I absolutely think that was my downfall,” she says. “I was hoping for the Disney happy ever after, with the little sprinkle of fairy dust and the little birdies with the ribbon. I realised far too late that life isn’t like that. Am I romantic now? No, not any more.”
Andrea is also “ridiculously positive” by nature and in time, she hopes, she’ll return to her light- hearted self. She says she is well aware that you “only get one shot at life”, something brought home last year when she had a severe allergic reaction to medicine following an operation to repair an umbilical hernia. The allergy left her struggling to breathe, as her throat tightened up.
Since then, she says, her attitudes have changed. “Something inside clicked and everything looked different,” she says.
By her own admission she has always been someone who doesn’t want to cause a fuss – she’d had problems with her stomach since Finlay’s birth but “kept putting it to one side” and also hadn’t mentioned anything to the nurse when she had felt unwell after the operation.
Life has not been the same since. “It gave me more strength to stand up and say, ‘This isn’t right, we really need to tackle this head on,’” she says of her marriage.
She also gained strength from Loose Women colleague Sherrie.
While all the panel suspected that Andrea’s marriage was in difficulty, they didn’t want to force an issue that Andrea wasn’t ready to discuss. “One day I was with Sherrie before a show,” she recalls. “She said, ‘I’ve just got my divorce through and I’m 60.’ She wasn’t really looking at me but she said, ‘Do you know, if I had my time again I’d do what I’ve just done at 42 and not waste 20 years.’
“I carried on writing my notes but I went home and thought, ‘She’s right. I’m not old, I’m 42, but I’m not a teenager and you can’t fritter life away, saying it will be fine.’”
Andrea’s main focus for now is settling her children into their new home. She has adopted the motto This Too Shall Pass. “I try to live by that generally, anyway,” she says. “Even when things are amazing, you shouldn’t take them for granted.”
The genuine and kind-hearted star also wants to look forward. “I wanted this to be the most exciting time of my life,” she says. “I was thrilled when I was asked to write my autobiography – I’ve wanted to write since I was ten. I didn’t want to be focusing on something negative.”
But, she says, looking reflective: “I know it will be fine. We will be okay.