'Dateline' correspondent Andrea Canning on raising six kids, her viral Charlie Sheen interview and what she misses most about Canada

By Alison Eastwood

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).

Photo: © Constant Van Ruymbeke/ HELLO! Canada

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 girls, who attend public school in Westchester, N.Y., love their second home in Canada. Photo: © Constant Van Ruymbeke/ HELLO! Canada

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.

Photo: © Constant Van Ruymbeke/ HELLO! Canada

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!”

Andrea chatted with HELLO! Canada about everything from what it’s like raising six kids to her thoughts on Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan and what she misses most about Canada.

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!

"We have built-in baby sitters," Andrea jokes of her five little helpers. "They get diapers, they feed him. They love holding him." Photo: © Constant Van Ruymbeke/ HELLO! Canada

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.

Andrea says heroic Tony is the one who gets out of bed for Tripp’s nightly feeds. While the couple would have been just as thrilled with a sixth girl, she says having a baby boy was ‘meant to be’ – the male embryo was more viable for transfer during IVF. Photo: © Constant Van Ruymbeke/ HELLO! Canada

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 your friends watched it?

Yes, we all watched it! And I remember meeting him right after. 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 fireplace with his back to me. And he turned around and I swear it was out of Top Gun or something.

Photo: © Constant Van Ruymbeke/ HELLO! Canada

[Singing] “Take my breath away…”

[Smiles] Exactly! That’s the perfect song for that moment. And then we went to Denny’s and talked until like six in the morning. And that was it.

Were you surprised that you had such a connection with a military man? Did you know any before Tony?

Well, both my grandfather and great-grandfather had met their brides through the war. And I had met military men before through work. But not anybody that I knew really well. I wasn’t surprised – I guess I just never really thought about it. And then you’re just in it, and you’re like, “OK, this is working.”

What’s Tony’s best quality?

Kindness. You can ask anybody. He’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

He’s a real people person.

He really is. I always say to people, “If you have a problem with Tony, there’s something wrong with you.” Because why would you ever have a problem with him?

He seems very empathetic .

Very much. And he literally would give you the shirt off his back. He’s that kind of person.

It must have been an adjustment for 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 Side apartment with a baby and a wife – after living a block from the beach as the bachelor fighter pilot!

You had a long-distance relationship at first, didn’t you?

We did. Even when we were married. We were apart for the first 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, in Westchester County, N.Y. And it’s just the most perfect place to raise a family.

How much time did you take off with each baby?

Not long. The first one was two months and then it was like six weeks after that. That’s all they give you [in the U.S.] Now, this time I’m taking four months. They’ve upped it.

Wow. Because in Canada now, you can take 18 months!

I would not mind that at all.

How do the girls feel about your job, now that they’re old enough to understand?

Well, this is the life they know. From the first one to the last 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 was like, “Well, if I don’t go back to work, that means I would have to quit my job. Do you want me to quit my job?” “No, you have a cool job.” Well, all but one [said that]. The five-year-old said, “Yes, please quit your job, Mom.” But the other ones were all like, “No!”

Do they watch you on TV?

They do… And they used to be on GMA all the time, whenever there were segments that needed kids.

What’s your proudest moment professionally?

Making it to a national newsmagazine in New York City on one of the big three networks… I’m also proud of landing the Charlie Sheen interview [after he was fired from Two And A Half Men ]. My biggest for sure.

Photo: © Constant Van Ruymbeke/HELLO! Canada

That interview went viral – 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 come about?

I aired a story about Charlie on Good Morning America. The sound bite ended with Charlie on the radio 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 I remember thinking to myself, “If only I had his cell number, I bet I could convince him to do the interview.” But I forgot about it. I don’t have his cell number. So I go back to my office, my phone rings, and it’s Charlie’s publicist. And he says, “Would you be able to talk to Charlie?” So Charlie called me and he said, “You know what? You’re the first person to laugh in a good way about me. I can tell you didn’t take me too seriously. Let’s keep talking.” He just happened to catch the segment. Ten days later, I did the interview. And I look back on it like, “Oh my gosh, what just happened?”

Who would be your dream interview?

Tom Cruise, if he would spill the beans on everything about his religion and personal life. I’m sure it would be fascinating.

"People move here just to be happy," says Andrea of Blue Mountain. "It's a happy place. It's shiny, pretty, you just feel really good here. I wish we could drive here every weekend." Photo: © Constant Van Ruymbeke/HELLO! Canada

What do you think about 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 are picking apart everything she does. I don’t envy her – I mean, yes, it’s great to be a princess, but also you’re really under the white-hot spotlight, and that’s tough. People are comparing her with Diana. With Kate, [she and William] just quietly started this relationship in college. It’s much different than Harry suddenly dating an American actress.

What would you ask Harry and Meghan if you had them in the hot seat?

“Is there anything about this you regret? What would you do differently?” I’m sure she has no regrets. They seem really in love. She got her baby. They seem like a good match. I don’t know. There’s no princess handbook, unfortunately. “Here, don’t do this. Do this.”

Just like there’s no mom handbook, especially when you have six kids!

[ Smiles] Yeah!

What do you miss most about Canada?

Ketchup chips! And Tim Hortons. I take the girls there every single morning when we’re here… I once walked into a Dunkin’ Donuts and ordered Timbits [by mistake]. They were like, “Huh?”

What are your hopes and dreams for your children?

I want them to follow their dreams and find something they’re passionate about. And to all be best friends forever.

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