Hertford’s Anna Williamson has gone from children’s presenter to relationship guru. With four bestselling books, a seventh series presenting Celebs go Dating and a UK tour. She discusses her motivation behind getting people together and sticking together
‘We all have an inherent need to be loved and to belong, so I love helping people work out who they are and what they want in life and love.’
Hertford’s Anna Williamson is perhaps best known as the relationship expert on E4’s Celebs Go Dating, offering straight-talking advice to stars looking for love. An experienced counsellor and life coach, she’s as passionate about helping people navigate the minefield of dating as she is about supporting people to sustain happy, healthy relationships.
‘I’ve always been interested in people,’ says the best-selling author, TV, radio and podcast presenter. ‘I went into talking therapies, and in particular life coaching, because I recognise how unique everybody is and how, sometimes in life, we just need that little bit of time and space and reflection in order to fine-tune who we are and where we are heading.
‘Dating and relationships became a natural area of interest. It’s a huge part of everybody’s lives, and yet can be the most complex and challenging.’
So what’s the key to a successful date? Shared values and interests, Anna insists. ‘The more values you match with, the more success there potentially is of the dates turning into something more.
‘Always show up as your best self. Make the effort as much as you would want your date to make the effort for you. Avoid talking about past relationships in a negative fashion, it doesn’t reflect well. Or indeed anything which could take the focus off exploring each other on a first date.’
Even Anna, however, is not immune from dating disaster. ‘Years ago, when I was in my 20s, I was asked out on a date by quite a well-known sports person,’ she remembers. ‘I made a real effort and arrived at the date only to sit there waiting and waiting for over an hour for him to never show up. In fact, he completely ghosted me. The barman was so sweet and felt so sorry for me that I got plenty of free drinks, so it wasn’t all wasted!’
Anna began her career almost 20 years ago presenting successful children’s shows on CITV, Nickelodeon, Channel 5 and the Disney Channel. However, away from her career and behind closed doors, she suffered an almost crippling battle with generalised anxiety disorder.
In 2005 she was presenting weekend morning show Toonattik when she had a breakdown at work. ‘I’d always had anxiety, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that it became a problem and stopped me living my life to the full.’
She attended a series of talking therapy sessions incorporating Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Emotional Freedom Technique and hypnosis, and the treatment helped her to change her thought patterns and learn how to manage her stress more effectively.
Anna was so impressed with the benefits of talking therapy, she spent five years training as a counsellor, NLP practitioner and life coach, going on to run a successful private practice as well as working as an agony aunt and psychology expert on TV shows such as This Morning, Good Morning Britain and Big Brother’s Bit on the Side.
Sharing some of her strategies for coping with anxiety in the hope it helps others, Anna says she is ‘a big practiser of self-care’.
‘I make sure I take plenty of time out for me when I can, which is not always easy as I’m a busy working mum. However, I make sure I take regular exercise, eat healthily and get plenty of fresh air. I love a massage, and sleep is massively important. I find that really helps to keep my anxiety at bay, and I remind myself that I must make myself well first in order for the rest of my family to also be well.’
Anna shines a light on parenthood and parental mental health in her unbridled podcast Breaking Mum and Dad, as well as co-hosting the upfront podcast LuAnna with her friend Luisa Zissman, the former Apprentice and Big Brother contestant, who also lives in Herts, where everything is on the table for discussion. It’s been such a success they are in the midst of a sold out UK theatre tour with tickets only left for the finale at The London Palladium.
She wrote her first book, best-seller Breaking Mad: The Insider’s Guide to Conquering Anxiety, to share her experience of being diagnosed with anxiety, and she has since gone on to write several more. Anna’s latest, Where is the Love: The Honest Guide to Dating and Relationships, was published earlier this year and is a no-nonsense dating and relationship guide filled with practical, empathetic and authentic anecdotes, help and advice aimed at helping faltering relationships and those in the dating game.
‘I loved writing this book. It’s a really honest and open anecdotal self-help guide for anybody who is in the dating world, whether an old hat or newly into dating, and for those in relationships who need some help and advice and a big dollop of empathy on how to keep moving forwards and doing everything to keep healthy and happy within yourself and the relationship.
‘It’s essentially a massive relationship “club” and I wrote it to unpack a few myths around what constitutes a healthy, happy relationship, and crucially to offer lots of well-meaning advice.’
Anna’s latest venture, her ‘business baby,’ as she calls it, is The Relationship Place – an online coaching hub where people needing a bit of help, support and counsel when it comes to their love life can buy and watch any of six plans Anna and her team have created. From self-esteem, to better understanding, to conflict and communication – The Relationship Place offers a range of solutions.
‘The plans have been created around some of the most common themes that come up in personal and relationship challenges,’ Anna explains. ‘The This Is Me Plan is for individual self-esteem and confidence. Many of us go through moments where we have hit a bit of a bump in the road and we need a little bit of advice to put us back on track, and this is that plan.’
There is the Pre-Commitment Plan, with advice for those considering getting into a committed relationship, The Wedding Planning Plan for couples needing guidance on what married life is going to be like after the big day, and the Make-or-Break Plan for anyone needing help deciding on whether their relationship can be saved or whether it’s best to move on.
‘The Relationship Place has had a terrific response so far,’ says Anna. ‘The Couples in Conflict Plan is perhaps one of our most popular, which focuses on how to work through challenges, arguments and conflict within your relationship. The Couples with Kids plan is also one of our most popular, where we recognise how difficult and challenging parenting within a relationship can be.’
With a career trajectory from children’s presenter to relationship guru, what’s been the highlight of her career so far? The happily married mum says: ‘I’m very fortunate to have a very rich and varied career. Hosting Celebs Go Dating is certainly one of my favourite jobs, and I’m very fortunate that I’m now in my seventh series. Writing four best-selling books was also no mean feat, and I’m very proud of the responses I get from all of them.
‘My podcast with Luisa Zissman has blown our minds with the extraordinary success we have achieved with that over the years as well. We are playing the London Palladium this November and that really is a dream come true.’
Anna’s Herts favourites
Restaurant: Oishii by Elle Japanese Restaurant, Hertford
Coffee shop: Pearce’s Farm Shop & Café, Buntingford
Pamper place: Juntara Thai Spa, Hertford
Family day out: Knebworth Park and Adventure Playground