ANGELA Scanlon sees her beautiful, brilliant red hair as her crowning glory. It’s what makes her stand out in a crowd, it’s part of what makes her who she is.
But getting to this point has been a battle – the path to self-acceptance (or to her “f**k it” moment) has, at times, been tumultuous.
Angela Scanlon the path to self-acceptance has been tumultuousCredit: Mark Hayman
“I love my hair, it’s part of my identity,” she says, “but it has definitely been a journey and something I had to fight for.
“When I was a kid it felt a bit special. I’m one of four girls and three of us have red hair, so if we went on holidays we were like the travelling circus! It was quite exciting.
“But as a teenager you want to copy and paste your friends, you want to be part of that collective, and I always felt like it was a club I couldn’t enter.
“I longed to have bronzed, tanned skin and be blonde and have dreadlocks like Faye from Steps. So I did grapple with it.”
She recalls being approached at a party a few years ago by a woman who complimented her on her hair, before tentatively asking her how she “found” being a redhead.
“She said it as if it was some sort of defect and I was quite shocked by that,” says Angela, 37, who made her name as host of Robot Wars and will soon return to BBC2 with a third series of Your Home Made Perfect.
The woman explained that her 11-year-old daughter had the same colouring and “hated it”. She was having a hard time at school and Angela immediately understood.
“I went to a mixed school and you would hear the lads saying whether they preferred blondes or brunettes – the redheads weren’t even on the charts. So from then in my mind I had registered that I was an ‘acquired taste’.
“Look, there are minorities who face prejudices every single day and I don’t think redheads fit into that bracket.
“But I recently did an Insta Q&A and had someone asking: ‘Have you got any tips on how to be confident, especially as a redhead?’ as if that required more work just to show up every day.
Angela says: ‘I think sometimes we feel ashamed or guilty about accepting help’Credit: Mark Hayman
“People will still say: ‘Oh you’re cute for a redhead’, or they’ll make out there’s something a bit fetishy about us, as if it’s some sort of filthy secret.”
It was in her early 20s when Angela, who went on to make documentary Oi Ginger! for Irish network RTÉ about the discrimination and bullying redheads face, had an epiphany that changed everything.
“I suddenly realised: ‘f**k it’ and I became quite defiant about my hair, like I never wanted to play it down. I stopped wearing fake tan and, yes, I’m exceptionally pale, but it’s a defiance.
“I think it’s for the 13-year-old me who would have loved to have seen someone like me on telly. Someone with red hair and see-through legs, you know? So now, honestly, it’s the redder the better for me!”
Her three-year-old daughter Ruby has inherited Angela’s hair, although hers is a fairer shade of strawberry blonde.
She hopes to instil some of that defiance in Ruby so she never has to wrestle with her confidence in the same way Angela did.
“I really hope I can do that for her,” she says. “Maybe this younger generation will celebrate what’s unique and different about each other and be recognised and rewarded for all their quirks rather than being told to get in line and be like everybody else.
“I think with lockdown it’s been really freeing to be like: ‘Hi, I’m in my pyjamas, my hair is fuzzy, and f**k it.’ “It’s become so normal to alter yourself that you do it on your lunch break.
“And with social media you almost never see [people] without a filter, but it’s about curating. If you have a friend that makes you feel like s**t all the time, you probably should stop hanging around with that friend.
“If you follow an account online that makes you feel like s**t every day, then stop following that account.”
Angela presenting Your Home Made Perfect with Laura Jane Clark and Robert JamisonCredit: BBC/Remarkable Television
The last 12 months have seen mixed emotions from Angela. While some work projects have positively thrived, the pandemic forced her to put others on ice with no sign of when they’ll be up and running again. But she’s also relished the unexpected extra time she’s spent with Ruby and entrepreneur husband Roy, 42.
“I’ve actually enjoyed slowing down and having no choice but to accept it. I’ve always worked for myself and had this mentality of pushing and pitching and doing, and suddenly that was all taken away and life became a lot smaller.
“I’ve appreciated those little moments like having lunch with my husband and daughter in the garden – lunch was always done on the run, so being able to hang out was lovely.”
Having returned to work when Ruby was 12 weeks old (Angela recalls travelling by taxi bike, armed with her “double-whammy” hospital-grade breast pump, which she used to express milk during breaks in filming), she’s coped mentally by reframing much of this as a form of maternity leave.
“I went back to work very quickly and one of the ways I got over the lack of control of lockdown was to look at it as the maternity leave I never gave myself.
So while I was frustrated by shows being put on hold and things being changed or kicked down the line, I was also able to go: ‘This is time I’ll never get back.’”
She winces at the memories of early motherhood and acknowledges that she recorded the first series of Your Home Made Perfect still in a haze. It was, she says, “gruelling” and if she could go back, she’d probably take more time off to recover and readjust.
“I think I would. If I’m lucky enough to have another baby and that all happens, then I would love to be in a position where I could take a bit more time off and enjoy that.
“But at the time, I think work felt like an easier option. It was a state of mind I was in with the enormity of motherhood and the ability to cope with it. I thought: ‘I work, that’s what I do!’ and I knew how to do that.
“I don’t think anyone knew, not even me, that I was frantically trying to run away from this intense vulnerability, which was something I was very uncomfortable with. Suddenly there was no escaping it.”
Angela winces at the memories of early motherhood and acknowledges that she recorded the first series of Your Home Made Perfect still in a hazeCredit: Mark Hayman
Realising that she wasn’t invincible had blindsided Angela and returning to work, even if it was before she was “ready”, gave her a bit of her identity back.
“I’d thought of myself as this machine, but giving birth made me realise I wasn’t, after all. All the ideas I had of myself were shattered. I needed help. I needed my husband’s help, I needed a midwife’s help, I needed a lactation consultant’s help.
“She was born during the Beast from the East storm [in February 2018] and so none of my family could come over to support and hold me, and I felt a massive sense of isolation.
“Going back to work that early, although I sometimes think it was the wrong thing to do, was also the thing that allowed me to hold on to myself a bit at a time when everything felt very frightening for me.” She adds: “It took me a long time to get back.”
Indeed, it’s only recently – three years on – that Angela feels she’s fully emerged from the fog. “It’s only now, certainly only in the last year.
“I think a big part of that has been being quite dogged about looking after myself as a priority, not as an afterthought. And I’m not talking about slapping on a face mask, though obviously I love that!
“But it’s more about giving yourself the compassion you would give a friend or sister, or a stranger who is under pressure or who needs a break or who isn’t perfect. I think we’ve created this sense that, in order to keep up or be equal [with men] we can’t make a mistake or take a day off, and I think it actually has the opposite effect.
“There was an article I read during lockdown that talked about how mums were hiding in the shower for five minutes, like that was the ultimate luxury. But from a sanity point of view, if you’re rejoicing at having five minutes to wash your bits then something is wrong!
“I think we’ve got to create those little bits of space for ourselves to have some peace before the wheels come off.” She adds: “Women have been pushed this idea of aggressively doing, performing, producing, and I think it’s wildly unhealthy. We can only ‘have it all’ when we start to openly ask for and receive support.
“I think sometimes we feel ashamed or guilty about accepting help, like it’s somehow a signal to the world that we’re not good enough or strong enough or mothering enough. Actually, we’re stretched so thin it’s very easy to accept your ‘normal’ as just getting by.”
Born in County Meath, Angela began her career as a stylist and journalist before ‘falling into TV’ in her early 20s, first as a fashion pundit then a presenterCredit: Mark Hayman
Does her experience make her think twice about having another baby? Angela smiles.
“I’m one of four girls, I come from a big healthy Irish family, so I would love for Ruby to have a sibling. Also, truthfully, I’d love to have the experience of pregnancy, birth and the newborn period that I hear people talk about and be able to really, really enjoy it.
“I have so much regret and guilt and I feel almost frightened being open about that, but I’d love to have the opportunity to be present and enjoy that as a family.”
Born in County Meath, Angela began her career as a stylist and journalist before “falling into TV” in her early 20s, first as a fashion pundit then a presenter.
In 2019 she launched interior design show Your Home Made Perfect, which proved a hit with a locked-down nation when the second series aired last April.
The spin-off Your Garden Made Perfect finished a six-episode run last month. She’s also got three series of her gratitude-inspired podcast
Thanks A Million under her belt (the latest recorded from her north London home), hosted a warm hug of a nostalgia series, The Noughties, towards the end of last year and is the new face of Olay.
However, the future of Ask Me Anything – the new Saturday-night chat show she was due to front for RTÉ and which would have proved a “next level” gig – is still up in the air.
Angela had recorded the first episode when everything stopped last March, although no one had any idea they’d still be in limbo more than a year later.
Her three-year-old daughter Ruby has inherited Angela’s hair, although hers is a fairer shade of strawberry blonde
“We knew we probably wouldn’t be back the next week, but none of us anticipated this. My clothes are still in the dressing room!
“So it’s been frustrating because it was a dream gig, we’d poured everything into it and it was shaping up to be a really fun show. There was that feeling of it being a big moment. But this came out of nowhere and that was my saving grace.
“I knew it was not my fault, I hadn’t been sacked! I’ve been in a slightly paused state of denial since, but we’re going to do it… I think. It’s a TBC kind of thing.” Before all this, Angela might have panicked and reacted differently to the frustration and uncertainty, but the pandemic has changed her.
“I was the queen of the plans, I had notebooks with one-year plans, six-month plans, five-year plans, all of the plans! So I was constantly living in the future and nothing I was doing now was any good. It was all part of this long list that I would never get to,” she says.
“I was on this hamster wheel where all of my value was tied up in the next job. I was relentless – and relentlessly hard on myself. I always thought the next big shiny job, would make me feel better or feel something. And they didn’t. I was lucky that I had lots of amazing opportunities and moments in my career and I didn’t really allow time to enjoy that.”
And now? “I’m just flying blind a bit, kind of feeling it out as I go. There is no plan any more, but I’m trusting [things to work out]. I was in such a hurry to be ‘there’ by the time I was 30 and if I didn’t get to a certain position I would die of shame and embarrassment, like I’d failed. But actually, if it all ended tomorrow I’d be grand, and lockdown has taught me that. It was the jolt I needed.”
She laughs and says she’d move to West Cork in a heartbeat, open a flower shop and be perfectly content. “I would! Quite happily. I’d be a florist and I’d have the time of my life.”
- Your Home Made Perfect returns later this year to BBC2.
Credits: Hair: Dino Pereira using Kiehl’s Since 1851 Magic Elixir Make-up: Lan Nguyen-Grealis using Lancôme Styling: Nana Acheampong On p10 Angela wears: dress, Warehouse; boots, Terry de Havilland, Blazer, trousers, both Asos.com; shoes, Nastygal.com
IN THE MAKE-UP CHAIR WITH ANGELA
What’s your skincare routine?
In the morning I use Drunk Elephant Vitamin C Serum and Olay Collagen Peptide 24 – which has been an absolute game-changer – it’s made my skin stronger and glowy.
I love Bobbi Brown eye cream and Heliocare SPF – I wear factor 50 every day. In the evening I use Dr Dennis Gross and Olay Retinol 24 Night Serum and Cream.
Best beauty bargain?
Carmex. It’s the best lip balm – just the right level of sticky.
Biggest beauty splurge?
I’ve got an LED mask that’s apparently great for breakouts.
What are your make-up bag essentials?
Bobbi Brown foundation, Rimmel London eyebrow pencil, Glossier Boy Brow, L’Oréal Paris Voluminous Mascara and a heavy-duty under-eye concealer!