The star talks changing hair texture, on-set makeup secrets and her tricks for tackling brain fog at work
If you're as much a fan of Netflix hit Bridgerton (a record-breaking 82 million households watched series one, alone) as us then you will be thrilled that 59-year-old Adjoa Andoh's Lady Danbury is back on our screens in the new spin-off Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. The new series follows the origin story of Charlotte, how she became queen and her friendship with the formidable Lady Danbury.
One of the most respected women in the Regency, she's graceful, perceptive and fearless in equal measures – not unlike the acclaimed Adjoa herself, in fact. With a career spanning three decades – forged after a rural upbringing in the Cotswolds – Adjoa's CV now includes an honorary fellowship from the Royal Society of Literature, a visiting professor role at Oxford University and leading parts in theatre, film and television, from Doctor Who to Casualty.
But alongside her lauded acting work, Adjoa has taken on another role, campaigning for change in the workplace as No7 Menopause Ambassador. It's part of an initiative headed up by Boots and global women's career network All Bright, following research showing one in ten women, aged 45 to 55, have left employment because of their menopause symptoms. In Menopause Awareness Month, she was a speaker at the No7 x The Allbright Menopause at Work panel (below) alongside Anna Jones Allbright co-founder, Munnaward Chishty from No7 and Gabby Logan.
From left: Anna Jones Allbright co-founder, Adjoah Andoh, Munnaward Chishty from No7, Gabby Logan
Adjoa's been honest about her own experiences with menopausal brain fog at work revealing: "Six years ago, I was performing and directing Richard II at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre so I knew the play inside out. But I had a genuine fear about whether I would remember all my lines. I literally had to do 'drills' to ensure the text stayed in my head."
Now, Adjoa is determined to help others navigate the hormonal change, too. "I want to take the stigma away from the menopause. There's a richness in having a life full of experience. Excitement and discovery can happen at all ages.
"Women are really effective at making ourselves feel inadequate. We need someone to say, 'there's absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are marvellous and doing brilliantly. Your hormones are just shifting,'" the mother-of-three explains.
Unable to take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) herself – due to previously having cancer – here, Adjoa discusses skin changes, her new life mantras and why she does all her own Bridgerton makeup, with Get The Gloss editorial director Victoria Woodhall.
My HRT-free menopause tools
Ditching sugar and processed wheat
"Refined foods are just deadly for me when it comes to exacerbating my symptoms, particularly sweating. Sugar is quite hard to cut out as it's in everything but you have a lot more control over what you put in your mouth than you do over your workplace environment, for example.
"Coffee isn't great for me either but I can't function without it so I'll take a hit on that. I will have the odd glass of champagne but you have just to make choices and decide what your trade-offs are."
Reconnecting with nature
"It's very grounding to see the ebb and flow of nature when you're going through something in your own body's cycle. I've found it literally lowers the blood pressure, calms me and allows my eyes to rest in a wider vista away from the tiny screens we're fixed on for so much of the day now.
"My life has no routine so I just have to build it into my day wherever I'm working. I'll watch the sunrise, swim in the sea at any time of the year or go for a massive walk across the Sussex Downs, with a pair of binoculars, and do some birdwatching. I do it with my husband, too, which is a good way to be more alert to what's going on with each other and offer support.
"I also listen to a lot of classical music from all cultures, and try to lose the frenzy of my day."
"I call this age the 'F It 50s.' It's giving yourself the permission to reflect on the life you want rather than the life you've 'just got to get through.'
"How do I want to live? Where do I want to be? What am I interested in? Who do I want to make alliances with? I now follow that internal voice in a way I didn't when I was younger.
"I imagine it's how it must feel to be a man – where you're not doing your 'power' plus all the other caring stuff. It's very freeing. I love it."
Outsourcing my brain
"I find it really useful to hand over control in some areas of my work, to help with planning and organisation. I have a PA, a publicist and various agents. It means I can rest assured that if anything does start to slide, it will probably be domestic rather than work-related."
My skin and makeup routine
"I'm big on hydrating with gallons of water and moisturising. My skin hasn't gotten noticeably drier during the menopause because I'm from an African culture where you moisturise from the moment you come out of the womb. But skin certainly loses a degree of elasticity as we get older.
"I use cocoa butter and Lucy Bee Extra Virgin Organic Raw Coconut Oil, £7.25, and when I'm in Ghana, shea butter from the trees there. I also like Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate, £57, Boots No7 Menopause Skincare Nourishing Overnight Cream, £32.95, and Boots No7 Menopause Skincare Instant Cooling Mist, £14.95.
"When I started out in acting, makeup for dark skin wasn't great so I've always done my own on the film and television sets I work on, including Bridgerton. Finding concealers and foundations that sit well with your skin is important. There are so many different tones and you have to find out whether you are more yellow, green or red.
"But one of the most important things for brown skin on camera is the lighting. On stage, in television or on photo shoots, they all use a blue light which can make dark skin go grey. They should be using a gold or rose light. Just as makeup artists are getting better at doing makeup for a variety of skins, lighting departments need to know how to work with different palettes, too."
How the menopause transformed my hair
"About ten years ago, I was playing Miss Havisham in Great Expectations at Bristol Old Vic. I went for a 'Debbie Harry' look and would spray my hair white every night. I thought it was the paint changing its texture but it turned out to be a shift in my hormones. I'm mixed heritage – my mum is white European and my father is Ghanaian – so some of my hair is quite tight and curly, and some of it is loose. During that early stage of the menopause, all those differences became more defined so some of it got straighter while other sections got tighter.
"I just reached a point where I couldn't be bothered anymore. I'd had cropped hair a lot in my teens, and again after baby number three – when I'd had two kids in 13 months – so I went for it again. I knew my head didn't have any weird carbuncles!
"Now I go to my local barber, Sophia, in Brixton market. She is originally from East Africa but can cut any hair. When I moisturise my face, I make sure I also moisturise my head."
The power of conversation
"I found it slightly jaw-dropping to learn that 40 per cent of medical students receive no training around the menopause. I think we should all be having conversations about it so it's normalised. Little boys should be learning about it as much as teenagers.
"None of it should be insidious because we should all know about it from the get-go. That way, we won't think we've gone mad or suddenly 'de-skilled' ourselves when our time comes. It's when it blindsides you that it becomes problematic.
"The menopause is certainly a conversation amongst older members of the Bridgerton cast but I know it varies in different workplaces. There are more women now in positions where they can change the culture of an organisation but they don't. They think, 'if I keep my head down, people won't notice I'm a woman and I'll fit in more.' But someone needs to be the one that sticks their head up, so others can more freely approach them about it."