Adapted from Issue 679 of HELLO! Canada
Slipping out onto the expansive deck of her Blue Mountain home with its endless, idyllic landscape, Dateline correspondent Andrea Canning is the picture of serenity – for about 60 seconds, until our conversation is punctuated by one curious child after another squeezing through the screen doors in search of Mommy.
No interruption fazes the Canadian-born 46-year-old mother of six, who remains unruffled despite the fact that she hasn’t had a chance to fix her hair and makeup (she does it herself) or even change her clothes ahead of our imminent photo shoot. Not to worry, though – we can tell Andrea is one of those people who rolls out of bed looking effortlessly camera-ready, just like the characters in her favourite 1990s show, Melrose Place (these days, she has Heather Locklear on speed dial).
As she gently shoos a child away yet again – “No, we can’t play music outside!” – we discuss the challenges of keeping a half-dozen kids occupied at any given time.
“I’ve lost count of how many iPads I have!” Andrea jokes.
Or maybe she’s not joking. She and her husband of 11 years, Lt.-Col. George Anthony “Tony” Bancroft of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, are parents to Anna, 10, Charlie, 9, Kiki, 7, Georgia, 5, Elle, 4, and three-month-old George, Jr. – a.k.a. Tripp (their only son, conceived via IVF). And although they’re model children, they’re also, well, kids. Shortly before our photo shoot, in fact, tiny Elle took scissors to her own hair! Andrea and Tony take it all in stride.
“It’s a lot of work, but we don’t care. We love it,” she says. “Our motto is, ‘Just roll with it.’”
FROM BLUE MOUNTAIN TO BAYWATCH
Perhaps it’s her upbringing in the peaceful atmosphere of Ontario’s Blue Mountain that has infused Andrea with her laid-back attitude. She and Tony – who live in Westchester County, N.Y. – couldn’t be more welcoming as we arrive to photograph the whole family at her Canadian childhood home on a breezy late summer’s day.
The six-bedroom Scandinavian-style house, owned by her father, Gordon, is where Andrea was born and raised – close to the picturesque ski and golf resort that was, incredibly, founded by her maternal grandparents, Jozo and Helen Weider. Her mother, Katherine (who heartbreakingly passed away of cancer in 2007), was a downhill ski champion.
“She was an incredible racer,” her daughter says wistfully.
Continuing on her mom’s competitive spirit, little Andrea grew up “skiing, playing tennis, boating, mountain biking – you name it.”
Her athletic pursuits took a back seat as her vocational endeavours took over. Always interested in what makes people tick, Andrea graduated in psychology from the University of Western Ontario, then studied radio and television arts at Toronto-based Ryerson University before taking herself off to Hollywood for an internship at Baywatch - a gig that saw her become a professional assistant and nanny for David Hasselhoff and his first wife.
“He’s extremely generous and very, very funny,” she says.
She also roomed with Ryan Seacrest!
Working her way up the career ladder, Andrea landed stints at ABC News, Good Morning America and the Today show. Her surprise break, though, came in 2011 with a 20/20 Charlie Sheen interview that saw her tackle the controversial Hollywood star on issues ranging from drug use to his rift with his famous father, Martin Sheen.
“It was my biggest ever,” she says.
The video went viral and Dateline called shortly thereafter.
Amid the dream gigs and a life of perpetual travel, Andrea also managed to meet the man of her dreams, U.S. fighter pilot Tony, 44, through her foreign-affairs correspondent friend Martha Raddatz, whom he met while stationed in Iraq. The couple started out as pen pals. Tying the knot two years later in 2008, they quickly had baby Anna, now 10, whom they introduced in the pages of Hello! Canada.
“We didn’t know what we were doing!” says a smiling Tony (who now works as a financial advisor for investment mogul Mario Gabelli), reflecting on first-time parenthood.
“Just clueless!” chimes in Andrea. “There were some easier years in the middle and now with six, it’s like we’re back to chaos.”
“We wanted to plan a babymoon,” adds Tony, joking: “But she got pregnant!”
HELLO! Canada: Andrea, when we last caught up with you, you just had one child. Now you have six! As an only child yourself, did you ever envision such a large family?
Absolutely not. [In fact] I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to have even one. Tony was in the military when we got married and I was like “I’m getting older and you’re in the military.” I was freaking out a little bit because we weren’t even living in the same city at first. But lo and behold, we had a honeymoon baby!
And pretty soon you had five girls.
It was amazing. [After Elle’s birth] I was like, “Wow, we were able to have a fifth. Who would have thought?”
But then you wanted a boy…
That’s when we did IVF, yeah. Just to be clear, though, we didn’t do IVF specifically to have a boy. We knew we just wanted to have one more and if it was a boy, wonderful, and if it was a girl, we were still going to have another one. We did the genetic testing for health reasons and the boy was the higher-quality embryo. So we had one chance, and it worked.
Was the IVF really tough on you physically?
At times it was. And especially trying to juggle my job, travelling and not telling anybody at work what I was doing. Everyone [at work] just expects you to be free and get on a plane. “We have to do this now!” And I’m like, “I can’t.” And it’s like, “Well, why not?” So that got stressful, just kind of dancing around what I was doing.
So you and yourfriends watched it?
Yes, we all watched it! And I remember meeting him rightafter. It was Thanksgiving. I met him at the hotel he was staying at in Maryland.I walked in and he had on his pilot jacket and he was standing at the fireplacewith his back to me. And he turned around and I swear it was out of Top Gun or something.
[Singing] “Take my breath away…”
[Smiles] Exactly! That’s the perfect song for that moment. Andthen we went to Denny’s and talked until like six in the morning. And that wasit.
Were you surprisedthat you had such a connection with a military man? Did you know any beforeTony?
Well, both my grandfather and great-grandfather had mettheir brides through the war. And I had met military men before through work. Butnot anybody that I knew really well. I wasn’t surprised – I guess I just neverreally thought about it. And then you’re just in it, and you’re like, “OK, thisis working.”
What’s Tony’s bestquality?
Kindness. You can ask anybody. He’s one of the nicest peopleyou’ll ever meet.
He’s a real peopleperson.
He really is. I always say to people, “If you have a problemwith Tony, there’s something wrong with you.” Because why would you ever have aproblem with him?
He seems veryempathetic.
Very much. And he literally would give you the shirt off hisback. He’s that kind of person.
It must have been an adjustmentfor him becoming a civilian after, what was it, 16 years in with the military?
Oh yeah, he had to move into a tiny Upper West Sideapartment with a baby and a wife – after living a block from the beach as thebachelor fighter pilot!
You had along-distance relationship at first, didn’t you?
We did. Even when we were married. We were apart for thefirst year and a bit. So yeah. I think that was a bit of an adjustment for him.He got over it… When our fourth baby was on the way, we moved to Rye, inWestchester County, N.Y. And it’s just the most perfect place to raise afamily.
How much time did youtake off with each baby?
Not long. The first one was two months and then it was like sixweeks after that. That’s all they give you [in the U.S.] Now, this time I’mtaking four months. They’ve upped it.
Wow. Because in Canadanow, you can take 18 months!
I would not mind that at all.
How do the girls feelabout your job, now that they’re old enough to understand?
Well, this is the life they know. From the first one to thelast one, they all know that Mom travels and works. I asked them the other day,because they said something about, “Do you have to go back to work?” And I waslike, “Well, if I don’t go back to work, that means I would have to quit myjob. Do you want me to quit my job?” “No, you have a cool job.” Well, all butone [said that]. The five-year-old said, “Yes, please quit your job, Mom.” Butthe other ones were all like, “No!”
Do they watch you onTV?
They do… And they used to be on GMA all the time, whenever there were segments that needed kids.
What’s your proudestmoment professionally?
Making it to a national newsmagazine in New York City on oneof the big three networks… I’m also proud of landing the Charlie Sheeninterview [after he was fired from Two AndA Half Men]. My biggest for sure.
That interview wentviral – it has tens of millions of views online. How did you stay so calm?
I don’t know! Inside I was like, “What is happening?”
How did it comeabout?
I aired a story about Charlie on Good Morning America. The sound bite ended with Charlie on theradio saying, “Why doesn’t anybody get me?” I looked over at [co-anchor] George Stephanopoulos and I said, “Yeah,why doesn’t anybody get him?” Like, sarcastically. I was laughing. And Iremember thinking to myself, “If only I had his cell number, I bet I couldconvince him to do the interview.” But I forgot about it. I don’t have his cellnumber. So I go back to my office, my phone rings, and it’s Charlie’spublicist. And he says, “Would you be able to talk to Charlie?” So Charliecalled me and he said, “You know what? You’re the first person to laugh in agood way about me. I can tell you didn’t take me too seriously. Let’s keeptalking.” He just happened to catch the segment. Ten days later, I did theinterview. And I look back on it like, “Oh my gosh, what just happened?”
Who would be yourdream interview?
Tom Cruise, if he would spill the beans on everything abouthis religion and personal life. I’m sure it would be fascinating.
What do you thinkabout the way that Prince Harry and Meghan have been criticized by the media?
It’s so unfair. I was just thinking about it this morning.Mostly I feel bad for Meghan, because everybody loved her before the wedding,and everyone was so excited about the wedding. But now, it’s like people arepicking apart everything she does. I don’t envy her – I mean, yes, it’s greatto be a princess, but also you’re really under the white-hot spotlight, andthat’s tough. People are comparing her with Diana. With Kate, [she and William]just quietly started this relationship in college. It’s much different thanHarry suddenly dating an American actress.
What would you askHarry and Meghan if you had them in the hot seat?
“Is there anything about this you regret? What would you dodifferently?” I’m sure she has no regrets. They seem really in love. She gother baby. They seem like a good match. I don’t know. There’s no princesshandbook, unfortunately. “Here, don’t do this. Do this.”
Just like there’s nomom handbook, especially when you have six kids!
What do you miss mostabout Canada?
Ketchup chips! And Tim Hortons. I take the girls there everysingle morning when we’re here… I once walked into a Dunkin’ Donuts and orderedTimbits [by mistake]. They were like, “Huh?”
What are your hopesand dreams for your children?
I want them to follow their dreams and find something they’repassionate about. And to all be best friends forever.