To millions of viewers, and even the people closest to her, Andrea McLean looked the picture of happiness. She’d just had a daughter and was back on GMTV, presenting the weather with as wide a smile and as bubbly a personality as ever.
But between TV slots, and in the rare moments the busy mum-of-two got to herself, she secretly broke into sobs, overcome by devastating feelings of worthlessness.
“I felt rubbish as a mother and useless as a wife,” recalls the Loose Women presenter, who is married to builder Steve Toms.
“It was a dark time for me. I felt completely down and miserable, but I didn’t want to burden anyone with what was going on.
“So in breaks on the show I would run to the loos and cry my eyes out.
“I’d cry and cry, then take a deep breath and sort myself out and go back out with a smile on my face.
“No-one knew what was happening. I managed to hide it very well, for a long time.”
Andrea, 42, was suffering from post-natal depression and is only now able to talk about those dark days.
It started when her daughter Amy, now five, was a few months old and she lived with the burden for almost three years before seeking help.
“I put up with it for far too long,” she admits. “Of course I thought it was insane, I wasn’t myself at all, and I knew it wasn’t right. But I kept thinking: ‘This will pass, it’s only a phase, I’ll be fine’.
“Steve was sort of the same. He thought I’d be fine if I could just pull myself together. So it went on and on.”
Eventually, Andrea, who launches her own jewellery range on QVC this week, realised she couldn’t carry on that way. “I didn’t tell anyone,” she recalls.
“Not even Steve. I went to my doctor and explained how I had been feeling for such a long time.
“She explained that it sounded like post-natal depression. It was a relief to hear, because I knew then I could do something about it. She told me not to worry, not to be embarrassed and she reassured me instantly that it could be fixed.”
And within a month, Andrea, who also has a son Finlay, 10, from a previous relationship, was getting better.
She says: “My doctor put me on medication and after about four weeks it was as if a switch had been flicked and I was coming back to myself.
“Of course, I couldn’t come off the medication straight away just because I was feeling better, I had to do it properly. But I realised I had kept quiet for far too long.”
Looking back, Andrea realises what she went though might partly have been down to the fact she returned to work so soon after Amy was born.
“I went back after three months,” she says.
“So it’s no surprise I felt so exhausted and anxious all the time.
“I was getting up at the crack of dawn and looking after a tiny baby at the same time.
“But I’m realistic too. If I hadn’t gone back, I wouldn’t have got paid.
“In the business I’m in, if you don’t work, you can’t pay the mortgage, it’s as simple as that. They’d have found someone else. It was always going to be tough, but I really felt I had no choice.
“People still don’t know how difficult it was, or the details of what I was going through. Steve knows of course, and I’ve given my parents an idea of it.
“But most people close to me don’t realise I actually had post-natal depression all that time.
“I think a lot of women who’ve been through it were probably the same.
“It’s not something you want to tell everyone about, especially not when you’re in the middle of it.”
Two years on, and fully removed from the exhausting hours of breakfast TV since moving to Loose Women in 2008, Andrea has left the trauma behind her.
And yet just months ago, she was fighting for her life after having an unexpected reaction to anaesthetic used in an operation to remove a huge umbilical hernia that had also been plaguing her since Amy’s birth.
But since recovering from the surgery, Andrea has lost a stone in weight and found a new lease of life now the constant stomach discomfort is gone.
“After all that, the most important thing that’s happened is that I just worry less,” says Andrea.
“I’ve always worried what people thought, that people would think badly of me if I said this or did that, but now, I can honestly say I don’t really care.” And a set of stunning naked photos taken for a magazine are proof of that.
“Even two years ago, there’s not a hope in hell I’d have posed for pictures like these,” laughs Andrea.
“I’d have been mortified. Even if I had done it, I’d have been cringing about what people were saying. Now though, I’m happy to do it. I’m in a lucky enough position that I can have a great photographer capture how I look at a particular point in my life.
“And sorry, but I think they’re nice, and it will be nice for me to take them out of a drawer when I’m 84 and remind myself what I was able to scrub up and look like when I was 42.”
Having achieved a perfect 10 figure over the past few months and putting the trials of early motherhood behind her, Andrea has resolved not to have any more children.
“I got incredibly broody two years ago,” she recalls.
“I was 40 and it was as if my biological clock was going absolutely bonkers – I was smelling babies everywhere and was desperate for another.
“But it wasn’t the right thing to do, and I’m completely over it now. Of course, part of it is the fear of things in the past happening again, the post-natal depression, the sickness from the hernia.
“But part of it is just down to the stage I’m at in life.
“Now Amy has gone to big school, I’ve got the day to myself.
“I’ve been blessed with two lovely children, and gone through very difficult births with both.
“So I’ve decided not to push my luck. I’ve been through enough with it all, and I realise how lucky I am.”
Andrea is also loving work at the moment. And who wouldn’t? Last week she got to meet man of the moment Gary Barlow on Loose Women. “I was so excited!” she laughs. “I was determined to be really grown-up and professional about it, because I’m supposed to be – it’s my job!
“All was going well until we were walking off the set after the interview, and he said: ‘Do you remember we met a few years ago?’
“I had to calmly say: ‘Oh yes, I remember now that you mention it,’ when inside I was actually screaming ‘Of course I bloody remember! You’re Gary Barlow! It’s been seared in my memory forever!’
“And after that, I was even less cool and got four autographs – one for my best friend, my sister, my sister’s best friend, and of course one for myself.
“I always loved Gary, even in the early days. I thought he was quite like me – not the mouthy one, always a bit subtle.
“Of course we’re not exactly alike.
“I haven’t sold millions of albums or won millions of awards for my amazing pop songs. But apart from that, I think we’re pretty similar.”
As well as her TV work, for the first time Andrea has also launched her own jewellery collection Diamonique for QVC.
“I love all the pieces,” she says. “I brought along all my own jewellery and pictures of stuff I really like from magazines, and we designed this gorgeous, really feminine collection.”
Moving on from the problems she’s faced, Andrea is determined to be more fearless in the future.
And she is pouring her energy into supporting her close friend Angela Gregg, 46, who is battling an inoperable brain tumour.
Andrea says: “Watching what Angela is going through, I realise there’s no point wasting my time worrying like I’ve done for most of my life.
“I’ve signed up to run a marathon to raise money for Brain Tumour UK, we’ve already raised £30,000 with a charity ball, so we’re really pleased.
“The thought of a marathon is terrifying, but I think I’ll half jog, half power walk and get round eventually.
“I’ve realised you’ve got to make the most of what you’ve got in life.
“Angela is such an inspiration and all the rubbish I’ve been through in the past couple of years has made me stronger and more confident than ever.”