HELLO! DIGITAL COVER STORY

Martine McCutcheon's secret to feeling better than ever and the other Christmas film she was almost cast in

The Love Actually star has guest-edited our Christmas Digital Issue

Presents, crackers, Santa Claus, turkey, mince pies, mulled wine, and pigs in blankets – Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year! A big part of the festive season, for many, is also the chance to relax with loved ones and binge on cheesy Christmas films that give you all the feels.

READ: Martine McCutcheon shares her top 10 film and TV recommendations for Christmas

When deciding who should guest-edit our Christmas Digital Issue, it only made sense to ask Love Actually fan favourite and self-confessed Christmas Fairy, Martine McCutcheon. The actress has overseen our special issue, which covers everything from what to watch over the holiday period, to what recipes to try and how to get glammed-up for your many parties.

As she fronts our Christmas Digital Cover shot at The Mitre Hampton Court, Martine opens up about her guest-editing experience, the other Christmas film she was almost cast in, and why she's feeling more confident than ever. "I feel really good right now," said the singer. "I feel like at 45, finally, I've got the missing piece of the puzzle."

Martine McCutcheon stars on our Digital Cover

Martine, how have you found the whole guest-editing experience?

"I have absolutely loved it. It's been a chance to connect with people that I've truly admired for years. People that I hadn't seen for a long time and celebrate my favourite time of year.

And it's been so nice because people seem to react really well to me at Christmas, I presume because of the film Love Actually, it's almost like they go, 'Oh yes, I associate her with that time of year' and so it seems to give you a cheeky excuse to interview them or see them or something. So, it's been a really wonderful honour and a really fun thing to do."

READ: Strictly's Dan Walker reveals his very quirky Christmas family tradition

READ: Jasmine Harman shares her tear-jerking Christmas tradition at home

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The Love Actually star has guest-edited our Christmas Digital Issue

Writing is not something new to you, you've written books. Can we expect another one in the future?

"Yeah, I would. I would really love to do a new book, especially with my mum as she is the most amazing cook and has also passed down the greatest life lessons and moral compass to the next generations. Also I’m always inspired by my little boy, Rafferty. His imagination has sparked mine again and really throughout my career, be it through writing poetry, writing songs, writing books, or telling other people's stories on stage or on the screen or on TV, it's my job to be a storyteller and to give people a little bit of escape and a little bit of magic in their life.

"And I feel like that's my little born purpose in life really, it's to inspire people, to be a mother and to give people a little bit of magic and a bit of escape. Because when people come and watch you in the theatre, you don't know what people are going through or when they watch you in a movie and you could be bringing them comfort, you just never know. Everyone's got their own cross to bear. And if you can give someone that allowable grown-up magic and escape, that's something I'm so proud of."

Speaking of Christmas, are you enjoying the festive period so far?

"I really am. I think this year it's been embraced more than ever. We feel exceptionally grateful. And I think that we are really wanting to just make the most of the simplest things that we almost forgot about before. Now we feel like we really are just embracing the real tradition of Christmas again.

READ: Prince William and Kate's royal photographer reveals how to take the perfect Christmas photos

"I know for me, I used to get so stressed out, you know, and I'm still enjoying how the tree looks, the packaging, all of that stuff. But I'm mainly excited just to hug my loved ones, and to connect. Things that you'd normally dread, like your family get-togethers, this year, you're like, 'Actually, I can't wait!'"

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Martine was almost cast in The Holiday in Kate Winslet's role

Will you be going big and reuniting with your family?

"Well, this year we're keeping it small to start with. We've got a little house that we're going to, which is on the beach and we look at the ocean. We walk the dogs, read, play games, it's all very calm. And then on Christmas evening, my mum and stepdad are coming over and on Boxing Day, the whole family are coming over and we're hosting them... I know it's going to be mayhem! We have a karaoke machine, pretend trophies for games, and the winners sing We Are The Champions! It would be wonderful to do it all, looking at the ocean and hopefully not having to quarantine."

READ: Trisha Goddard solves your most common Christmas dilemmas

Love Actually is a must-watch film, obviously. Would you ever do a Christmas film again?

"I would love to do a Christmas film again. Filming anything Christmassy has a very different and special feel to it… Not many people know this, but I was actually on hold to do The Holiday because Kate Winslet was tied up with a film and she didn't know if she could do The Holiday in time. And the studio let her go so she could do it.

"But Michelle Guish, who was the casting director, said to me a couple of days before filming was due to start, 'Martine, pack your bags, get ready. You're probably going to be starring opposite Jack Black in The Holiday.'

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"And I was like, 'Oh my God!' But Kate did it. She did an amazing job and I am a huge fan of her! I would definitely love to do another Christmas film. It's something that I genuinely enjoy. I'd love to do one of the Hallmark movies, any of those that films that are just unashamedly cheesy and romantic. I love it! At Christmas, if you can't embrace it, then when can you?"

Who would be your ideal co-star?

"Hmm… You can't really beat Hugh [Grant] because he was so funny and so handsome. He's quite a tough one to follow. I don't really know who would follow in his footsteps very well."

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Martine says her Love Actually co-star Hugh Grant was 'so funny and so handsome'

What's your favourite Christmas film and why?

"My favourite Christmas film… I've got two. One is, It's a Wonderful Life, just because I think it shows the light and shade that Christmas can bring for people emotionally. And it gives you hope and that sometimes all the things that you thought you wanted, you had all along. And it goes back to basics.

"And the other one is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I love the Griswolds, Chevy Chase, him getting stuck in the loft with the turban on, watching the old movies. The grandma, the grandpa's wig falling off. I just howl with laughter, not many people get it in the UK. Not many people get that humour. But him putting those lights up on that house is my husband."

What are your favourite Christmas traditions?

"At midnight, on Christmas Eve, we all open a present each. And I love that because I'm such a big kid that even to this day, I'm pushing through paper if my mum's brought gifts over trying to see what she's bought me. I'm so impatient. I also love the fact that we always have a big fry-up and we put on music in the kitchen on Christmas morning and we all dance around like Morecambe and Wise.

"And that's a tradition in our house, that we all dance while we make breakfast and drink champagne. So I'd say those two are the ones that stick out in my mind because they're just great fun."

READ: Gary Barlow admits Christmas is 'bloody chaos' with wife Dawn and children

READ: Gino D'Acampo reveals the one things he's banned on Christmas Day

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Martine and her family open one present each on Christmas Eve

You're looking better than ever, despite facing several health battles like M.E., Lyme disease, Fibromyalgia. How are you coping?

"Thank you so much. I'm coping really well, like a lot of people out there, my disease is invisible and it can make you feel unsupported or misunderstood. It can make you tired and it can be unpredictable, which I hate as I love routine and being reliable. But in a way, I look at it as my friend now rather than my foe. I look at it that when I get symptoms or when my body starts clanging, it's a sign for me to pace myself, rest. And I think it gives me that when somebody else would just logically think, 'Oh, I need to just take a rest', mentally, I don't do that, so my body does it for me. So, yeah, I've definitely learned to look at it as a good messenger rather than something that simply gets in the way.

"And it's something that, be it diabetes, Crohn's disease, mental health, it's something that you manage, and it's something that you don't expect to be perfect every day. And I think when you realize that and you accept, acceptance is a big thing, it doesn't mean that you give up. Acceptance just means that you live your life with it rather than fighting against it."

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Which one has been the biggest challenge of them all?

"I would say the biggest challenge for me is probably M.E., just because of the relentless fatigue that you can go through. But I've been so lucky that I've had the tools and the people around me to help me and find out my own unique situation. And the reason why it's been so difficult for so many is because everybody's strain, like everybody's mental health, is slightly different.

"So, I'm always really careful about what I preach and I always say, 'This has worked for me personally.' If this helps a few people out there… That makes me very happy. It's so misunderstood and so unsupported. With any invisible disease it's so important that people speak up about it because then that in itself is huge. People you would never believe in a million years, wh you think have it all and are so positive and upbeat, they struggle too. But there is hope things are changing and you aren't alone.

"I also think that when we talk about it, we do it in a delicate, personal way and we don't just make it 'Instagrammable' all the time. The illness can turn your world upside down and everybody's situation is very personal and unique to them. I think that it's key to remember that."

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She admitted her biggest health challenge has been M.E.

Have you had to make any major lifestyle changes because of your health struggles? You recently said in a Live you are gluten and dairy-free.

"I'm not fully gluten and dairy-free. It's just something that I find if I have too much of, it definitely makes me tired and fatigued. But I try to be 80 per cent of the time gluten and dairy-free. But it's not the end of the world if I have it, I make sure that I have at least two raw green juices a day because the more alkaline your body is, the less disease can survive in your system. Apparently, it's a fact, disease can't survive in an alkaline state and it did take away so many of my aches and pains.

"Our diet and the processed foods and the additives and all that stuff that we hear over and over and over again in today's diet, is, along with other things, killing our immune systems, the things that we used to just fly off us so easily now makes us very sick. Our ancestors or generations before us would have been strong enough to fight because their food and drink was nutritious. It sounds silly but potatoes were just natural potatoes, they haven't have all these things pumping them up and making things bigger, juicier. I think the more natural state something can be, the better.

"But I'm still very much 80-20 rule, really. So, when I'm at home, I have my juices, I eat things in a natural state as possibly as I can, I avoid the gluten and dairy when I can. But then at the weekend, that 20 per cent of the time, if I go out with friends, have dinner, I'll have a gin and tonic, I'll have bread, I'll have all of that, so it still feels like I'm living."

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You've mentioned before about the importance of fitness, gym and doing exercise. Do you have a routine that you stick by?

"In the past, I always used to push beyond my limits. I think we are sold that more equals more. But I’ve found out from top experts over the years that we are all unique and especially if you have a medical condition or disease, so many notions are out of date and not right for you personally. So for now, for me, it's about doing things gently and listening to my body. I literally do some gentle stretching with the Calm app, every morning, and I meditate for ten minutes every day and I go for long walks with my dogs daily. Stretching and toning make me feel great and really helps with the stiffness and pain I get from my fibromyalgia. It's funny, all the intense, really strong stuff just didn't work for me. But the going more gently and the more consistent route and doing something I really enjoy, does make me feel so much better. And I always love to dance! I started out wanting to be a dancer and sometimes I just dance around with Rafferty - that kind of thing.

"I think when you're happy in your head and healthy in your head and you get your health under control, a lot of things fall into place."

READ: Ralf Little reveals secrets of Death in Paradise's first Christmas special

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The actress says she doesn't speak openly about her weight because 'it's a bit demeaning'

You really champion body positivity and you've experienced body shaming in the past. Recently, a lot of fans have been asking what your secret is, but you haven't responded on social media. Is there a reason for that?

"Because you know what? I think because it's the only thing that makes a headline. That makes me sad - I think that we are slowly getting better but women are so much more than that. Slowly women are being braver and not standing for being defined by it. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think I remember when Holly Willoughby said, 'You know, there's so much more to me than my weight,' and I couldn't agree more.

"I have worked so hard to be successful in my industry and I'm proud of what I've achieved in my career, and I'm so proud that I was able to become a mother and that hopefully I've stayed a grounded, good person. Those are the things that matter to me. It took me a long time for me to become a mother with a lot of obstacles. My body went through a lot of changes as a result. Women's bodies are complex and sensitive.

"And I think it's quite a delicate subject, and I think it's something that with all the things I've done in my career, if I talk about it, that's the thing that makes the headlines. So that's why I just don't bother anymore, because I just think it's a bit demeaning."

Your style has really evolved in the past years. Do you feel like you're more adventurous now that you're over 40?

"No, I don't think I'm more adventurous. I've always adored fashion and lifestyle. I just think I'm more aware of what I am and what I'm not. I'm just more knowing of myself. And I think when you know yourself, you're not trying to be something you're not anymore. And it just took me ages. It took me ages!

"I just think the actress in me thinks, 'Oh, I want to be a bit gothic today' or, 'Oh, I want to be a bit eccentric today. I want to be Alice Temperley today. I want to be Andrea Corr today.' And I think you can do all those things, but you have to keep that element of you going through it.

"The actress in me is very much a chameleon and that's why I love fashion so much. The minute I put an outfit on when I'm filming or I'm performing, I feel like that's who I'm going to be. And so I bring a bit of that into my everyday life. But ultimately it's very important that when you wear something, you're wearing it and it's not wearing you."

READ: 3 Christmas cocktails to try at home this party season

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'I feel really good now, I feel like at 45, finally, I've got the missing piece,' says Martine

Are there things you're wearing now that you thought you'd never wear?

"No, I've always seen fashion as fun and I've always just worn what I wanted to wear."

You recently said that you feel more fulfilled, confident and sexy than ever. What's helped?

"I think being the age I am. Living life and seeing things I've seen and no longer beating myself up over insecurities and realizing that perfection just doesn't exist."

You recently signed to Elite Model. What did this mean for you?

"After trying for a second child for such a long time, and then letting that ghost go, which we decided to do, it was kind of like, a real time of liberation again. It's been so good to truly embrace myself now and I'm enjoying me as the whole woman that I am now because I am a mother, I am an actress, I am a singer, I am a wife and during lockdown my Instagram audience saw more of my authentic life, my fashion choices, interior design ideas and it was a wonderful surprise that that whole new part of me was explored and celebrated. It was really nice to just be indulged in and enjoyed for who I am and how I look, and it made me feel really confident again.

"I think that when you've had miscarriages or when you feel you have failed at something or even when you publicly had so many mistakes growing up in the public eye, it's so lovely when you get to that point where you don't really care anymore about what other people think, but also you're being celebrated at the same time. It kind of just all works itself out.

READ: Emeli Sande's Christmas playlist will have you singing along in no time

"I feel really good right now. I feel like when you've got those missing jigsaw pieces of the puzzle, I feel like at 45, finally, I've got the missing piece. And so for anyone out there, if you think like there's something missing, I'm not complete… you know you're not on your own, we're all trying to find it, and I've only just found mine. And then another bit will probably fall off!"

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'It's so lovely when you get to that point where you don't really care anymore about what other people think,' says Martine

You mentioned about letting the ghost go, the hope for a second child go. Was that a difficult time for you?

"Of course... But ultimately, I feel so blessed that with my condition and with Lyme disease, that I could even have one child. He wasn't conceived through IVF. And it was a natural birth. It was when I didn't know I had Lyme disease, and he's literally a miracle. Every expert I've spoken to since has said to me, 'We don't know how you had him.' So I'm very, very lucky because I know a lot of my friends who want children but can't. And I have to count my blessings. I really do."

Next year, you'll be ten years married to Jack, would you renew your vows? Would you do something big to celebrate the occasion?

"I don't know what we're going to do, but we're definitely going to do something. We might go back to Lake Como just with Rafferty and maybe do something tiny and then do a big party when we come back. Or we might take some family there, I don't know. But whatever happens, we will definitely celebrate. We love to celebrate things in our family.

"My mum's a big believer, she's had it handed down to her from her great auntie, that your life basically at the end of it all, it's all about the memories that you make, and you have to make an effort to put a stamp on those memories, that you remember them and you've made an effort to enjoy things. It's so easy to look back at all the obstacles, and if you don't celebrate the wins, then what's the point? And so, yeah, we'll definitely make sure we celebrate."

READ: Stephen Merchant talks frozen turkey, Samuel L. Jackson's love for The Office and A Boy Called Christmas

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The singer is looking forward to a bit of normality post pandemic

Was that one thing you wish you'd known before your wedding day?

"I wish we'd have practiced talking into the microphone because my husband set my veil on fire, when he put the microphone down on the table! Then I had to reach over the candelabra to reach the microphone and get it. And you literally see someone's hands in the video, like putting out the fire on my veil. So I wish we'd gone through the vows.

"But if there's any equipment involved… when you do your vows, you just think you're going to say them, to each other, and that's it. And then when there's a microphone, you feel like you're doing a gig. And all of a sudden, Jack didn't quite know what to do with the microphone. I wish that that would be different."

Do you have any advice for future brides?

"I would say, enjoy the process and nothing's ever perfect on the big day. There's always something that goes wrong, and I wish that I'd enjoyed the build-up a little bit more and just laughed along the way more. And remember that ultimately, it's about you and your other half saying that you're going to be together forever. It's not about family politics, it's not about who's got the best dress or the best location. It's about you saying I do and you're going to be there for each other, just remember that because it's so easy to get caught up in the circus feel."

What would be your highlight for next year? What's the one thing you just want to do as a family?

"I want to be able to book a holiday without being scared that it's going to get cancelled or that I'm going to have to quarantine or anything like that. Normality is so fabulous, isn't it? And I think that normality is actually pretty magical. And that's what I want next year."

SHOP MARTINE'S SHOOT:

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Gold sequin open back maxi dress with side split, £125, Club L

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Roxy Metal, £360, Queens of Archive

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Mesh Tiered Skirt Mini Dress, £114.50, Coast

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Selina roll neck jumper, £148, Reiss

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Location: The Mitre Hampton Court

Photography: Liz McAulay

Stylist: Gayle Rinkoff

Hair and Makeup: Gary Cockerill

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