One of the best-known faces on daytime television, the delightful Andrea McLean — lead-anchor on ITV's award-winning Loose Women — popped into NMP Live for a chat. She talks about the similarities between hosting large-scale corporate events and keeping four Loose Women under control on live TV, plus motivational speaking to women's groups and associations, empowering them to achieve their very best.
As a highly experienced journalist and seasoned presenter, Andrea's also very comfortable addressing hush-hush, often taboo subjects, such as relationships, ageing and the menopause. Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.
In conversation with Andrea McLean
What's it like being the lead anchor on Loose Women?
Loose Women is such a unique job. It is unique in many ways. Normally when someone is hosting they are either hosting on their own, and they are reading a set script, and they have to get from A to B in a certain way and in a certain amount of time. Even if you are doing a two-header and you are working with another presenter, there are kind of rules of gameplay and how you do it.
Working on Loose Women is like herding naughty cats. It’s really, really good training to be a mum of toddlers because you start off with this great idea as to how it is all going to go, and then the red light comes on and they all wander off, and nobody is doing what they are supposed to do.
You can’t lose control because, like toddlers, once they see fear in your eye you have lost them.
Actually, it’s the best job in the world because, for me, I don’t mind if people wander off and are naughty, or do whatever, as long as it is within the confines of what we have got to do. It is like kids; you can’t tell them off for everything.
I actually think it makes great telly, and because I love all of them, the naughtier they are the funnier it is. I don’t mind. As long as I can hit my markers and I can get to a break or not crash off-air, and I have managed to get all the points across that we have decided in the meeting that are important, or a guest has had a chance to speak; if we go completely off-script I really, genuinely don’t mind.
I love their naughtiness because I am a really good girl, I couldn’t be a panellist, I like colouring in the lines and I like getting out on time, and this stuff. For me, working on Loose Women is like a school prefect being allowed to sit on the back of the bus with the naughty girls.
It’s great! It’s really, really great fun. They have kind of let me in, and every now and again I have to tell them to keep quiet because we are going to get in trouble, but they still let me sit with them. I really like it!
How do you approach a sensitive subject or story?
One of the most moving experiences that I had actually came at GMTV. I was interviewing a really young girl who had just had, heart surgery I think it was. Basically, I was the only journalist that was free at the time and I was sent to the north of England to interview her and her family.
I’d never done anything like this before, I had done sort of happy, jolly reporting before, but I had never done anything like this.
This was a moment where I realised I really enjoyed making people feel calm, so that they wouldn’t notice the camera, and relax, and understand that I would never do anything to hurt them. I wasn’t going to set them up or make a fool of them, I genuinely just wanted to hear their story and hear about them.
When I was sent up to interview this family there were a lot of journalists there and I think I was third or fourth in a row, so I got to watch the others. Now, my first thought was I will watch and see how it’s done and learn from the others, and actually I realised I didn’t want to do it how they did it, because to me it felt like they were badgering them. They had an agenda and they wanted a top line.
I didn’t want a top line. I just wanted to hear their experience and I came back and the piece was put together and it went out to air.
I realised then that, although I might not be a hardened news journalist, actually it didn’t lessen what I did because journalism is about encouraging people to open up to you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re door-stepping someone because something terrible has happened to them or door-stepping them because you want them to face their accusers if they have been accused of doing something terrible, it’s actually all the same thing, we just have different ways of doing it.
I heard a quote, fairly recently, which I think sums up to me what good journalism is about, and it’s about listening in to brilliance. Actually you get the most powerful response, and the most powerful monologue, if you like, about what someone’s experiences are, what they are feeling at a time, if you just sit and listen.
To me, if you watch a really bad journalist, they’re badgering and poking and haranguing someone into giving them the answer that they want. Surely that’s not what being a journalist is about? It’s about letting someone tell their story.
You can push them along and keep them on track if you like, because we all know that people will deviate and wander off on their narrative; but if you can just listen, and let someone shine, to me you have done a really good job.
Who has been your most memorable interviewee?
I have interviewed some incredible people over the years. Gosh! It is really difficult to pick people who stand out because when you interview someone who is used to being interviewed, quite often they will have their little stories off pat and they’re normally on to sell something. So they are very jolly, and they are very lovely, and they are there with their book, or whatever it is.
I think, for me, the people I have been most impressed with are the huge stars who are so comfortable in their own skin that they have arrived on their own, or maybe just one other person just to help them settle in or what-have-you. And they have said to our team beforehand “ask me anything! Really, nothing is off-limits, I don’t need a brief, just ask me anything”.
One of those was Whoopi Goldberg. I thought she was incredible! I just loved her. I wanted to bring her home. She’s a woman who is an actress, she’s an activist, she’s a TV presenter, she has seen and done it all, and seen off the competition. I was kind of expecting someone who would be a little bit tricky, and she couldn’t have been more warm and open and friendly, and I really liked her company.
Has being a woman affected your career in TV?
I think I am really lucky in terms of my timing in working in TV. Again, as I say, I fell into it; it wasn’t something that I planned to do. When you work as a “weather girl” as it was called back then, I don’t even know if you are allowed to call it a weather girl now? A weather person.
I remember one day I’d not long been at GMTV and I was still quite new, and there were people talking in the green room, or make-up, or somewhere, and someone said something that was a little bit [dismissive] about the weather girl.
And I remember saying “excuse me, how come a news person is called a newsreader, and yet I present the weather and I am called a weather girl? I’m not a girl. I’m a woman and I just happen to be doing a very similar-ish job, in terms of I have learned my craft and I’m presenting information, but why am I dismissed as a weather girl?” “Because that’s just how it is.”
I said, “I have got a degree in history and politics, I have a post-grad in journalism, I am actually more qualified than you are, so how come I’m called a weather girl and you’re called a newsreader?” Silence.
There was a moment where I thought I had made a really big mistake but actually it was brilliant because we all went “do you know what, you’re right, I don’t know - it’s just how it has always been”.
I think what is so fabulous about what is happening now in terms of women in the workplace is that “that’s how it has always been” is changing. You’re not allowed to get away with that anymore, and I think that’s great.
At what type of corporate events do you add the most value?
There are many different kinds of corporate work that I can do. I’ve hosted lots of panel discussions, and that sort of thing. That lends itself really organically to what I do every day anyway. I really enjoy doing that.
Again, it comes back in to listening into brilliance, bringing people forward. If I think that someone hasn’t said enough I’ll organically know when to bring them in. I really enjoy taking questions from an audience and handling all that sort of thing, I feel completely at home doing that.
I have done some tricky corporate jobs before, where it has been a room full of men who haven’t necessarily watched Loose Women. You know, if they had told their wives that night as they’re going out that a Loose Woman was hosting, their wives might have been impressed, but they haven’t seen it.
Obviously the first instance when you stand up there you are just a woman in a dress that is standing in front of them telling them to be quiet.
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed is turning that room around and getting them onside, because I’m strong enough to do that, but I can do it with what is like a velvet glove, you know; I’m strong but it won't necessarily hurt. By the end of the evening, you will be doing what I want you to do.
What is more challenging, managing a corporate audience or the Loose Women panel?
Crikey! It’s such a difficult one, isn’t it, because you would think that managing 400 rowdy guests at a corporate do would be a lot harder than four loose women. Actually it is the same.
It is the same; because each day when I turn up on set at Loose Women it is completely different. It might be the same women, but it is a different studio audience, because we have a live studio audience. It’s a live programme, there are a lot of technical things to get your head around and hope don’t fall apart, and also it depends on what kind of mood everybody is in. Every day is different.
In terms of keeping 400 possibly hungry and drunk people in order, again that is different because it can depend on whether they are really up for it, whether they are in the mood, whether they’ve had a really bad day and this is the last thing they want to do but the boss has said they have got to turn up.
It’s all about reading the mood of the room and adapting, and making sure that you can either bring people on side and make sure they have a good time, and if they are not you can bang through it and make sure everyone gets out alive! Sometimes hosting Loose Women can feel like that as well.
Do you also speak at events?
I have also done corporate speaking, in a motivational speaking sort of way. That’s something that I genuinely really enjoy. Especially if it is geared towards women, because that is something that I naturally flow towards.
My most satisfying was an AGM for a company that employs working mums. That is their ethos; part-time working mums so that they can buy into the franchise and my remit was to bring everyone in the room, who worked all around the country, Scotland right the way down to the far south of England, and make them feel that they were part of one vision.
So I spent a lot of time with the boss of the company just making sure I was across what their company ethos was, what their message was, and then my job was to really make those women feel strong and empowered and that they could go out there and do this. Because for lots of them they were trying to find their way back into the workplace after having, maybe their second or third child. They haven’t worked for quite a while, so their confidence was lacking, and I loved it!
I really, really enjoy just seeing women grow and feeling good about themselves, because I understood what they were feeling and what they were going through.
I might look like this shiny woman who is on TV, but somebody has done my hair and makeup, I don’t look like this, I have people that will help me go on TV. But when you are packing the kids up for school and you are heading out to work in something that doesn’t look quite as glamorous as me, it’s really difficult to keep that self-motivation going. Especially if you work on your own.
So, I really enjoy making people feel good about themselves and that they can go out there and do it. If I can then anybody can. I fell into this and if I can keep going then anybody can.
What subjects are you typically asked to talk about?
One of the key things that I am asked to talk about most at the moment is the menopause. It’s kind of the last taboo; people don’t really want to talk about the menopause. It’s the M-word.
I don’t know what has happened in the past twelve months or so, but something is changing. Suddenly talking about women’s issues, whether it is political rights, or equal rights, but also personal rights. Women are clambering to have their voices heard and also have a celebrity who is really open to talking about it.
I have been really open about talking about my experiences on Loose Women. That seemed to open a floodgate in terms of people wanting to engage with me and share their stories and hear mine as well. Although it is something that not many female presenters will want to touch with a bargepole, because you mention the word menopause and people instantly think old. I really don’t care.
I am the age that I am, and to me the alternative is death so I’m quite happy to be the age that I am, and long may my ageing continue! I’m really happy to talk about it, and I am happy to talk about it in a funny and light-hearted way. I’m happy to talk about it is a serious way, whether it is linking together professionals from the medical world, or people who can offer nutritional or dietary advise, and that sort of thing.
I’m really happy to draw all of those people together. But at the core of it, what I think works is women know that I am not just a host sitting doing yet another job. I am feeling exactly what they are feeling; I’m possibly just as hot in the room as they are, and we can all get through it together. So, that is something that I am really interested in doing.
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