Last year, Andrea McLean signed up to Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, thinking it was something that would challenge her. Little did she know it would open the floodgates, forcing her to re-live past traumas and ultimately, make her feel more like herself than she has done in years.
Talking to Kate Thornton on Harpenne’s The Attitude podcast, Andrea recalled how her agent thought she would be mad to consider appearing on the show – where celebrities are pushed to their limits by former SAS members – but Andrea was determined to try.
“I [needed] to do something that pushes me out of my comfort zone and tests my bravery, and this landed in my lap and the gods [were] saying, ‘You should do this.’”
She never anticipated what a big impact it would have on the rest of her life.
“I'm used to live TV; I can handle stressful situations” she told Kate. “Nothing could prepare me for what happened, when basically I got shouted at within the first 30 seconds of being there. I'm a very calm person – that went right out the window…”
The Loose Woman presenter said the whole experience actually took her six months to process and that’s when she realised she had to do something about her past.
“This past year has been a year of realising I can't keep putting it in a box, then realising I need to address it and then focusing on getting better, so now I actually feel in a brilliant place.
“SAS changed my life – totally changed my life – because it opened this box and all these monsters came out and I realised I can't put these monsters back in anymore and I need to look them in the face and deal with them.”
Andrea, who now has counselling alone and with her husband Nick, believes she’s finally in the place she should be and has never felt better about herself. She shared her tips on how to fall in love with yourself again.
Make some noise
Andrea, who turned 50 last month, believes she is once again the person who did crazy stuff like falling backwards out of a helicopter. Her secret? Learning it’s OK to have a voice and more importantly to have one that should be heard.
“I've had probably 15 to 17 years of really difficult times in my personal life,” she said. “I feel now I'm Andrea who I used to be, and I'm a lot more all this, you know, falling backwards out of a helicopter and all that...
“I did crazy stuff like that in my 20s and then in my 30s and 40s: it was about surviving and containing and it was actually about keeping myself small so that I didn’t draw attention to myself. Don't waken the beast, don't make anyone angry... And that was coming out into my professional life as well, you know? Now I'm strong enough to be noisy again.”
Find people who challenge you
Having been an anchor on Loose Women since 2007, Andrea has said sharing opinions and life experiences with people that are different to her has been a really important lesson in finding who she is.
“When you join Loose Women, suddenly you're expected to share and not only share, but have your thoughts shot down in flames,” she explained.
“The first time that happened, I was like ‘What's going on?’ Because we normally surround ourselves with these beautiful echo chambers of fellow friends and tribes who feel the same way and suddenly you have someone going, ‘Well that's a lot of old baloney’. It's empowering!”
Finding friends who challenge your point of view can help you see life in a totally new perspective, and also help you understand more about yourself.
Stick to your guns
When Andrea was 46, she took a leave of absence from Loose Women to have a hysterectomy, which forced her into the menopause.
After announcing why she would be leaving the show for a while, thousands of women got in touch with her to share their menopause story, leading her to write her best-selling book Confessions Of A Menopausal Woman. However, getting it published wasn’t so easy.
“I basically pitched this idea of a book and my agent thought I was mad,” she recalled. “He said, ‘If you become associated with the menopause, you will never work again’. Well he's a man, so I just thought you don't understand, put me in touch with someone who does. I just kept plugging and plugging.”
“It went on to become a bestseller and it's still selling, and I still have people stopping me in the street,” she told Kate.
“This whole thing of ‘Women, do not talk about the menopause; you could lose your job’ is the whole reason why we need to talk about it. Because it's completely unfair. You're just going to kick these women into touch? Absolutely not! So I quietly stuck to my guns and kept going with it”
Understand the past is just that – the past
Most of us struggle to live in the present, preferring to hark back to all those past mistakes and what we could have changed. However, Andrea has learnt that to move on fully, you really need to leave the past behind and look to the future.
“I don't look back and think, ‘Oh, I should've handled anything differently’,” Andrea told Kate about the time in her life when she felt less confident. “I handled it the best way that I could, but that's done now.
“What I'm really excited about now is moving forward. I actually don't look back and think, ‘Oh, maybe this, maybe that’- it worked. Look where I am now! I just needed to put that to bed.”
It's good to talk
Andrea married her sweetheart from school and when the relationship faltered, it took her by surprise as she was definitely still in love.
The one thing it’s taught her? Communication is essential in any relationship – whether that’s with parents, children or your other half – and as Andrea has discovered, never dismiss couples’ therapy, even if things are all OK at the moment.
“You cannot make the mistake of thinking the two of you are on the same page unless you talk about it,” she told Kate. “You need to keep communicating – and we [her and her husband Nick] have therapy, we have couples’ therapy. We're in a great place.”
Pay it forward
Thanks to the success of her book, Andrea, alongside husband Nick, launched her own personal growth website This Girl Is On Fire.
“The website came about off the back of the book,” she said. “I thought ‘I don't want this just to end – the conversation has only just got started.’”
Andrea believes it’s important that once you’ve found yourself again, it’s time to share your knowledge and help others who are in the same position you once were.
“I spent way too long just surviving and now I'm ready to thrive,” she said. “And that's why I just want to pass it on, pay it forward!’
Never stop learning
The one thing that has really helped Andrea find happiness and self-love is the fact that she’s always learning.
“I am living, learning and thriving,” she said. “I do not want to get to any point in my life where I think, well, that's me done. I am halfway through, not halfway done. I am now just in my second chapter.”
Andrea’s confident picks from Harpenne
Kate wears: Navy military boiler suit, £150
Andrea wears: Khaki camo shirt dress, £99
Listen to Andrea talk more about her evolving mindset and why her surgical menopause was the start of a whole personal growth movement on the latest episode of The Attitude. Listen on iTunes and Spotify.