■ The actress, 60, on Loose Women, avoiding Michael Madsen, calendar girls and her new novel, A Mother’s Bond
What lies at the heart of A Mother’s Bond?
I’ve always been fascinated by adoption. When I was little my aunty adopted two babies and I was fascinated by the story of how these children were picked to come into our lives. One of my friends has discovered two siblings she didn’t know she had. Adoption is at the core of this story. The premise is, if you tell a lie early in your life how far would you go to conceal that lie if you knew the horrendous impact it would have on your current situation?
Do you enjoy the writing process?
It’s like childbirth — I say I don’t know why I’m putting myself through it but when it’s done and I get my first compliment I forget all the hardship and start planning another one. I obviously must think I’m like Barbara Cartland — I take to my bed and write longhand and shout to my husband and son to bring me tea and toast.
Do you have any favourite authors?
Marian Keyes, Susan Lewis, Jojo Moyes. I love of bit of Martina Cole. I met her years ago in a nightclub in my drinking days and we became friends. I’d never read one of her books and she asked me to write a foreword to the anniversary edition of her first book, Dangerous Lady, and I read it and loved it. I’m reading Matt Haig at the moment — I read quite a lot of books about mental health as I’m a mental health advocate.
What do you think of his books?
I love Matt Haig and I’ve read his Reasons To Stay Alive. I know him a bit and he’s been a support to me. He’s a real inspiration. His books are from the heart and when I do my talks about mental health I say I don’t have a medical background, all I can do is tell you what helps me get through my episodes.
What does help you?
I took any form of self-medication out of my life — I haven’t had a drink for six years. Giving up alcohol or drugs doesn’t stop depression but it stops compounding it. Matt has more anxiety than I do — mine is more depression. It’s not reactive, I have no control when it comes, it can come when I’m having a fantastic time in my life. I call it having an unwelcome visitor but I know he will always leave — I just have to enjoy the times he’s not there and sometimes there’s a long, long time in between.
You’ve joined the cast of Calendar Girls on tour. How’s that going?
It’s been a really intense rehearsal. There have been rewrites going on all the time. I love the singing in this show — it’s not about being Celine Dion, it’s about being real, and they wanted actors who can sing. The main strength is you’re a good actress and the fact you can hold a tune is a bonus. The songs are performed from the heart. It’s one of the most moving pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. It’s 20 years since the real calendar girls did it — they wanted to raise £500 to begin with and have now raised over £5 million for cancer research. The songs and speeches are about cancer and every single one of us in the show has been touched by cancer. I cry every time. We all remember someone. It’s a nod to the people we’ve lost and how friends and community come together to support you.
You went back to Loose Women recently. Would you go back permanently?
There’s no such thing as permanent. Even when I did it for ten years I was an actress and did Loose Women outside of doing a series such as Waterloo Road. Then I gradually did more and more Loose Women episodes. It’s five years since Carol [McGiffin] and I left, and it felt the right time to go back and do a couple of shows. If I have days off from Calendar Girls I’ll see if I can do more. I needed a break and didn’t want to overshare my life — I’m in a better place now and was thrilled to be asked back.
Has the show changed since you left?
The current producer has taken it back to where it should be — vibrant discussions and great sense of humour. You can mix subjects of great pathos with humour. I was welcomed back by the girls and it was fabulous.
Did you ever patch up your differences with Michael Madsen after Celebrity Big Brother?
No. I’d never want to see Michael Madsen again in my entire life and I’d cross the street if I saw him. I haven’t stayed in touch with anyone from Big Brother but I’d be delighted if I saw Natalie [Cassidy], Kirk [Norcross] or Romeo again but it wasn’t a great time in my life. I hated every minute of it. I like watching the show, not being in it.
What lessons has your career in showbiz taught you?
It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.
A Mother’s Bond (Sphere) is out now