An Interview with Nell McAndrew
by Matt Callard
There’s a great story about Leeds-lass Nell McAndrew and her first steps into the modelling world. She was working at Natwest Bank in the city when she heard about a model agency in Manchester looking for new clients. She pulled a ‘sickie’ and went along. Unbeknown to her, the agency then used the pictures in a leaflet for, whom else, but Natwest. Cue much confusion and hilarity in said offices when the leaflets arrived.
“It is true,” Nell confesses. “I look terrible on it too! There were lots of other people in the picture so hopefully I didn’t stand out too much! I told my manager we had done the photo shoot on a weekend!”
Course, much has changed in Nell’s life since then. A TV career blossomed after that legendary spell on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, she’s experienced the tragedy of losing her unborn child and the joy of motherhood with 2 year-old Devon. In-between she’s been a TV presenter, the official face of Tomb Raider, a Forces Sweetheart, marathon runner, charity campaigner and glamour model. Oh, lest we forget, she was also voted rear of the year a couple of years ago!
On: Magazine caught up with her for an exclusive chat soon after she’d finished a gruelling iron-woman event and found her in typically bullish spirit and still fighting fit, despite the inevitable demands of little Devon.
Every time we read about you these days, it seems you’re involved in another ‘iron woman’ event or marathon? Are these things your main fitness focus these days?
Well at the moment I’m not actually doing that much training. I’m happy if I manage to run three times a week. I really struggle to fit training in to my schedule, what with playgroup, toddler gymnastics, monkey music, library visits, swimming and going to the park taking priority. My two-year-old son is very lively and needs occupying all day long!
You’re not in training for 2012 then?
No, I wish I was though! What an amazing experience that must be. To push yourself to the limit and represent your country doing something you love. My little boy doesn’t sleep through the night yet, so I don’t think my body could cope with all that training anyway!
“Sense of achievement”
Tell us a little about the event? How did you get involved in something so tough? Do you find it enjoyable – or is it the sense of achievement you enjoy?
It was a duathlon called the First Monster Challenge. It’s a 120km team event that takes place around Loch Ness. Each team member (four in a team) has to do a 10k run and 20k bike ride. The course is very tough, so it’s a challenge. If you really want to go for it then you can choose to do the whole thing by yourself, the Iron Monster Challenge. Personally I don’t fancy that one! The event is all in support of the Save the Children Charity. I really enjoy being part of a team and feel a huge sense of achievement at the end. Then I end up eating anything and everything for the rest of the day as I am so hungry after burning off so many calories!
Is your fitness regime structured? How has little Devon affected this?
Not structured at all! It’s a case of if I feel I have the energy then I go for it. I tend to run pushing Devon in a running pushchair called a chariot. He loves it as we go for runs by the river and always end up in a park.
Nobody could ever accuse you of not taking your fitness seriously – (unlike some other celebrities cashing in on the shape-up scene) – do you think your regime gives you more serious credentials for your DVDs?
Yes I do. I am passionate about exercise and I am always trying to encourage other people to take up some form of activity, whether it is running, walking, swimming, fitness classes or joining a gym. Exercise is just as good for the mind as it is for the body and can also help prevent against the onset of some forms of cancer and heart disease. It’s so important to look after your health and well being. I am very proud of all the four fitness DVDs I have made. I have received some lovely letters from people who have said they have used my DVDs to help them lose weight or improve their fitness and has helped to build their confidence before joining a gym. Also, from people of all ages, men and women who love the fact that they get a proper workout from them.
Who are your personal fitness heroes/gurus?
I really admire people like Paula Radcliffe who has achieved so much after dedicating her whole life to follow her dream. Also, Liz McColgan who I have met a couple of times at the First Monster Challenge. She has five children now and is still an amazing runner.
“Big Sunday roast”
How was that naked run around Regent’s Park? Liberating? (Nell, in body paint and nothing else, completed a charity dash around the famous park in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness.)
Yes it was. All the women who took part, many of whom had had to have a mastectomy after being diagnosed with cancer, were so amazing, so full of life, happy and extremely inspiring. It was one of the best photo shoots I have ever done, about real people, real issues and survival.
You’re a bit of a Yorkshire Legend – how much time do you still spend here? Do you enjoy returning home? Is Yorkshire where you unwind?
I’m in Yorkshire an awful lot as most of my family are there. I always spend my birthday at home as well as I share the same birthday as my granddad. I’m always proud to say I am from Yorkshire and have never tried to hide my accent. I love going to my mum and dad’s for a big Sunday roast dinner with loads of Yorkshire puddings!
What do you think of Leeds city? Have we got a city to be proud of at last?
I think it’s great that Leeds has become a very cosmopolitan city. Leeds hosts some great running events like the Leeds 10k Jane Tomlinson Run for All, the Leeds half marathon and the Abbey Dash (which takes place November 23rd). I will be leading the warm up and taking part in the run. Also, there are many Cancer Research Race for Life and 10k runs that take place all over Yorkshire throughout the year.
“I’m not the daintiest”
The series of ‘I’m a Celebrity’ that you were involved in is regarded as a reality TV classic, before the format became a little tired. You came out of the programme with your reputation enhanced and your profile raised – not something everyone can say! How did you manage that?
I think because I didn’t get involved in the arguments about who was cooking and how we should cook the chicken breasts! That helped! None of us knew what to expect and even if anybody was actually watching the programme. It wasn’t what I thought though, I was expecting it to be more mentally and physically challenging but I don’t regret taking part, although, I wouldn’t want to do it again!
Asking round the office, you seem to be liked by women as much as men – is this the secret of your success?
I’m not sure really. I just try and be myself and get on with working hard. I think because I am involved in such a variety of work, modelling, TV and fitness as well as supporting lots of charities I am doing things that involve both men and women. Also, now I have a family more women can relate to me, I think, as well.
You’d be perfect for Strictly Come Dancing – have they asked? Would you do it?
No they haven’t asked yet but I would love to do it. How amazing to be taught to dance by the world’s best! I’m not the daintiest and would probably step on a few toes!
“I’m better at washing up”
You do a tremendous amount of good work for charity – if it’s fair to single some out, which issues are closest to your heart?
I am very proud of all the charity work I have been involved with. Cancer Research UK is very personal to me as my dad is in remission from cancer. I also love to do things with Help the Aged. I am very lucky that I still have a grandparent and get very upset to think of elderly people alone with no one to support them. Also, I’m involved with Jonny Kennedy North East which was set up after Jonny died. It was his wish to help other people and their families who are having to live with the terrible skin disorder, E.B. (epidermolysis bullosa).
You’re also a Forces Sweetheart – is this an official role? What does it entail?
I regularly respond to letters from people in the armed forces based all over the world. I am patron of Support Our Soldiers. They send out thousands of packages at Christmas to places like Iraq and Afghanistan so our lads and lasses feel they have support and are not forgotten.
How will you be spending this Christmas?
Probably with my little boy and my husband, Paul. He is a better cook than me so he will probably cook the Christmas dinner, and I am better at washing up!
What’s next for Nell McAndrew? When can we see you on TV again?
I have just been working for Noel’s HQ on Sky One. And have taken part in a new game show for BBC 1 called Hole in the Wall with Anton Du Beke and Dale Winton.
Nell McAndrew’s fitness DVD, Cardio, Core & Stretch is available from all good retailers