Angela Scanlon is used to listening to other people open up, on her Thanks A Million podcast. But writing her new book – Joyrider – was the first time she’s really laid bare all her own emotional challenges and ups and downs. So, how did she find it?
“Quite terrifying, to be honest,” declares the Co Meath-born presenter, whose recent TV credits includes BBC Two’s Your Garden Made Perfect.
“Last year there was quite a lot going on, and I kind of thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll get to that in May’,” she says, reflecting on the gap between finishing writing and the book coming out this month. “Now, the reality of people actually sitting down and opening it and reading it is like, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ!’”
Part memoir, part self-help, Joyrider sees Scanlon chart her own journey into the world of self-development – dipping into the anxiety and imposter syndrome she grappled with throughout her teens and 20s, the bulimia she lived with for 15 years, and recounting how a particularly low chapter pushed her to finally take steps to help herself, including seeking therapy after the birth of her first daughter, Ruby, in 2018.
She weaves in key lessons she’s learned along the way, with prompts and exercises so readers can give them a go too. At the heart of it all are joy and gratitude – hence the title – although Scanlon peppers it all with her trademark humour, and plenty of refreshing reality-checks. If you think therapy and self-help is going to ‘fix’ you and stop you ever having a ‘negative’ thought ever again, think again.
“It’s really annoying [that these things aren’t a magic fix],” the 38-year-old quips. “But it’s also the reality and quite comforting. And I am certainly not in a position to fix anybody, never mind myself. I think it’s about understanding that, and going, ‘Oh, this is a forever thing, we’re learning’ – the focus is growth, rather than the end result.
“And none of us are broken. Yes, you want to be better at doing certain things, handling certain situations, but we’re fundamentally not broken. So being fixed is not the end goal – although that’s exactly what I’d hoped for when I started mainlining all these things,” she adds, laughing. “I’m looking for a refund!”
Although she says she wasn’t fully aware of the fact at the time, Scanlon has since realised she had postpartum depression after having Ruby, now four. It was a tough time, but the broadcaster – who is married to Irish eco-entrepreneur Roy Horgan and recently welcomed their second daughter, Marnie, in February – reflects that it was a catalyst for seeking vital help.
And there are some beautiful passages in Joyrider, where Scanlon describes how observing her little girl’s innate sense of self-acceptance and joy unlocked a desire to reconnect with these things herself. “Her un-self-conscious love of herself, and of her body, that was a really big one for me,” says Scanlon, who writes about a penny-drop moment one day, while watching Ruby delight at her own reflection in a mirror.
“It was almost jarring to see that, you know, but it was one of those things that kicked me into action. Because that idea of self-love – you see it on posters and shared all over Instagram – but what does it really mean? That feels so foreign to me. Again, it’s something you have to work on, most of us don’t feel that – there’s a very critical inner voice yapping away that we’re not even conscious of, it’s so close to us.
“So just to see her, I suppose loving life, made me want to get in touch with my inner child, who I had slightly abandoned because I was so serious, and it was all about work and doing stuff. I suddenly thought, ‘Maybe I should be dancing naked in the living room’.”
Her relationship with work is a key thread in the book. Like many people, she fits the bill of looking like someone who’s got everything sorted on the outside, while frantically flapping in private – and recalls a period of peak anxiety after landing a main presenting slot on the BBC’s The One Show, after being one of the show’s roving reporters for a few months.
It was a dream opportunity, the sort of thing Scanlon had longed for and told the production team she was readily experienced and equipped for. Except, she wasn’t – but admitting that, or asking for help, was not an option. ‘It was too late to backtrack so I spent a long and lonely stint never once expressing fear or asking for the help or support I so desperately needed,’ she writes in the book. ‘I had built myself a little cage and wouldn’t let anyone in. The team were amazing but I was riddled with anxiety.”
There’s a heavy weight of perfectionism to Scanlon’s experiences. Elsewhere, she writes: ‘The idea that I should arrive ‘fully formed’ was a lie that hovered around a lot. The notion that unless it was completely effortless and perfect then maybe it wasn’t ‘meant to be’.’
It’s one of those things so many of us are programmed to think is good for us – until (if we’re lucky) we finally realise it’s actually the thing that’s standing in our way.
Scanlon agrees “that reluctance or inability to ask for help” was a common thread. “Actually, I don’t even know if reluctance is the right word, I just think I didn’t really know what I needed at all, I don’t know myself very well, truthfully. That happened on The One Show, and it happened again, probably in a more vulnerable state when I had my daughter – feeling like I should have it all together, I should know what I’m doing, and not really being able to show those cracks that are very human but felt like failings on my behalf.”
Before writing the book, Scanlon began building on her own healing and learning via her podcast and weekly newsletter – Angela Scanlon’s Pursuit of Joy – in which she dips into wellbeing tips, recipes, interviews and more. Doing all this is partly about accountability, she admits, keeping herself on track – “I knew if it was dressed up as work, I would commit to it!” – but practicing gratitude is something that’s woven into her daily life now.
Another big shift has been taking control of her relationship with social media. “We talk about Instagram as if it’s this thing that comes into our house and creeps into bed beside us, but we have absolute control. OK, there’s the slight algorithm situation, but we have a lot of control over who we follow. If someone makes you feel like s***, stop following them. If someone inspires you, more of that.”
And despite going deep with the book being “terrifying”, she’s so glad it’s out there. “It felt tricky in places, and hard to go back over some things. But it was a real relief as well,” says Scanlon. “We do kind of present versions of ourselves and they’re not the whole truth. There’s something really, almost exciting about putting the whole of myself out there.”
Joyrider: How Gratitude Can Help You Get The Life You Really Want by Angela Scanlon is published by Vermilion. Available now