How we made Loose Women

Interviews by Rich Pelley

Kaye Adams, presenter

I got a call asking me to screen test for a new all-female lunchtime panel show. It was summer, always a slow time for TV, so I thought: “Why not?” The remit was that we would talk about anything and everything from a female point of view, but it didn’t have to be limited to women’s issues.

I remember walking in, suited and booted, to the studios in Westminster and seeing [co-presenter] Nadia for the first time. She filled the room, all curls and breasts with her bohemian dress, sandals and rings on her toes. “I’m not going to get on with that woman,” I thought, because any woman with toe-rings is not my kind of woman. So I hid behind my newspaper. I know Nadia thought I was posh, but I’m not – I’m Scottish. You don’t get posh in Scotland, apart from Kirsty Young.

I knew early that we were on to something good. Loose Women is unlike anything else on TV. The View, an American talk show, predates it, but that’s quite political. The British take was to add humour. Over the years, various producers have come in with different ideas. Some have worked, some haven’t, and we’ve changed the set and the colourings a million times, but the absolute essence hasn’t changed. There is no point in trying to add bells and whistles. We agreed it should follow the normal pattern of female conversation. When we ladies are out for lunch, we go from uproarious laughter to something topical to something bit teary. So we mimic that in the show. We switch from serious topics to emotional ones, to some sort of public debate, like: “Do you iron your knickers?”

We did a month initially, and the viewing figures were good and we all thought it had potential, so when it was commissioned for a further 12-week run we hoped we were onto something. But it was only ever recommissioned in short bursts. We’d have a fantastic wrap party: “Isn’t it amazing?” “Aren’t we brilliant?” “Ha ha ha,” “We love each other,” “See ya.” Then we’d have to wait weeks and weeks for a call. Nadia and I co-presented from 1999 until 2002 when she left to have her first daughter. At one point we lived together too, like Eric and Ernie. Nadia would roll in at three o’clock in the morning, blind drunk, and I’d have fallen asleep after Question Time.

Nadia Sawalha, presenter

We are called Loose Women because the format is loose. It’s how women talk. One minute we’re roaring with laughter, the next we’re crying with misery. I’d come from this hippy, gin-swilling, actressy background, and back in summer 1999 I’d just come out of EastEnders, playing a gangster character called Annie Palmer, when I was asked to film the pilot. I was in makeup, flicking through OK! magazine, chatting about Victoria Beckham, not realising I was talking to the show’s editor. She later told me she’d decided I’d got the part there and then.

Jane Moore had a similar “interview”. At the pilot, they asked her to look into the camera and say: “Hello, I’m a Loose Woman.” She said no. That’s when the editor decided to offer Jane the job as a presenter.

I’ll never forget meeting Kaye. She had a great big newspaper, I believe it was the Guardian, and she kept shaking it, as if to show me she reads the big newspapers. All the women seemed highbrow and posh and I didn’t understand why they needed me. Then I realised: opposites was actually what they needed. It was all about getting different types of women: four sassy, smart, witty, women who can talk the hind legs off a donkey.

We only have celebrity guests on if they bring something to the show. Whoopi Goldberg was charming and loved me because I’d been on EastEnders – I couldn’t believe she watched it! In the early days a man wouldn’t come anywhere near the set, but now we have two Loose Men on the panel and we’ve had Gok Wan and Freddie Flintoff on talking about their mental health, which would only happen on a women’s show.

I used to say to Kaye: “It won’t have legs for long, this. What are we going to talk about?” And she said: “Don’t be ridiculous. Think of a friendship that lasts for decades. The conversation goes on and on.” We’ve now been doing it for 20 years, and the 3,000th episode aired in May. We had a scream when we lived together. We were never stuck for something to say, even though I was the party girl and she wore the tweedy knickers.

  • Loose Women celebrates 20 years this year. Watch weekdays at 12.30pm on ITV.