Denise Welch is definitely no stranger to our screens. She’s gone from pulling pints in The Rovers as Natalie Horrocks, before securing a role as French teacher Steph Haywood in BAFTA winning drama Waterloo Road and making regular appearances on ITV’s Loose Women. Honest and often outspoken, her rather turbulent past has been well documented throughout her successful career. Denise has challenged and overcome her demons and her life couldn’t be better. I caught up with her to talk about her latest role in BBC2’s recent groundbreaking drama Boy Meets Girl’. Denise plays the role of Pam whose world collapses when her son Leo falls in love with Judy, a beautiful and intelligent woman. Why on earth would she defy her son’s happiness when he finds love?
“We couldn’t have had a better public response to it. It’s been phenomenal! I had a guy who wrote to me telling me that he had come out – well, she had come out to her mum after watching the first episode.
“But, because her mum watched the show and loved it she decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and tell her mum, and although at the time of writing to me her mum was in a state of shock, she felt that for the first time in her life she felt the biggest weight lifted off her shoulders. And all of this was because of the show.
“Also, a fantastic woman who has been a supporter of the show, Julia, a transgender woman, said ‘I feel I can die happy having seen my community represented in a (socalled) normal way.’
“And then you’ve got people who are unconnected to the trans community, who totally don’t know anything about it, but just love it as a show. They love the fact that Judy just happens to be transgender. So it’s normalised that community.”
According to Denise there was no need to research the transgender community. “I’d got to know Rebecca (who plays Judy), from day one. I was so excited for her. The thought of this woman who’s been through everything that she’s been through is going to play the lead in a TV series! And I kept saying to her: “Becks, although this is going to be wonderful for your community, just try and also enjoy it so that as a woman, an actress in your 40s got the lead in a TV show! Don’t take on the whole ‘trans world’ just enjoy it as an actress.”
“Quite a few people in the trans community have said that that type of humour is exactly what gets everybody through in that community. That’s why women love gay men so much, because, gay men have had to push against the tide all of their life and that’s why they’re usually so hysterically funny – because they have to combat everything with humour.
“It’s very powerful when Pam finds out. It was very important to me that it had to be real and that we were not going to play it for comedy.”
Denise is mother of two sons to ex-husband actor Tim Healy, so I was curious to discover how as a parent she would react if either of them were transgender.
“At the end of the day, no matter how open-minded you are as a person, as a mother you would worry that it would not be the choice that you would make for your child. And that’s not to do with any bigoted views about transgender, it’s because life is hard enough without having to have that as well. So, from a mother of two sons, it was very important how I played Pam’s reaction.”
Her first son Matthew is now 26 and lead vocalist with the Manchester based rock band The 1975, while her youngest Louis is just 14, quite an age gap…
“The age gap between them worked in my favour. I could go and have a shower and Matthew could watch Louis rather than people who’ve got toddlers at a similar age, where one’s putting a pen up their nose and the other’s hanging out of the window! Louis has always worshipped his older brother and they’ve always had a very good relationship and because Tim and I had to work away so much of the time, at one point Matthew was like a sort of second dad to him. And then, of course, there was a very public breakdown of our marriage and throughout all of that Matthew was a rock to Louis.
“Both of my pregnancies were fabulous and then everything turned to s***. I was plunged into a postnatal depression and everything was ruined for me, which is why we didn’t have another one for a while. Louis was not ‘planned’ but a joyous thing. I was so thrilled to have another child that I never thought I would have.
“I’m desperate for grandchildren. I’ve got one son who’s a rock star and one son who’s only 14 and I don’t really want any from him just yet! So I’m borrowing all my friends’ babies. In a couple of years Louis is going to be 16. They’re going to be going out for a pint together!” she laughs.
However, Denise won’t be joining them for a pint any time soon. Her public battle with the demon drink is one she doesn’t intend to revisit again, so when I ask her if she’d like to have a night out with her character Pam, she smiles: “I do find her funny. Maybe when I was a drinker I might’ve gone out with her although I would probably want to punch her!”
Despite Boy Meets Girl being a raging success, Denise is still waiting to hear if there will be a second series. “They always leave you waiting until the eleventh hour. We’ve got our fingers firmly crossed. Right now I’m in a position where I don’t have to take everything that comes to me, but sometimes you go through periods where nothing comes and, as a woman who’s older, that’s starting to happen more and more.
“However, after saying that, the roles or characters are often better for a woman my age, and that’s what I find is happening. I love the theatre and I went back recently – I just got offered another lovely theatre role but I don’t want to do that at the moment. I’ve been too busy writing my first novel at the moment!”
Her latest book If They Could See Me Now, is fiction-based and centred on a fifty-something woman named Harper, who re-evaluates her life as her children are close to flying the nest.
“I hope people will find it enjoyable to read, and not necessarily because the character’s in her fifties. I don’t want it to alienate young people. You know, because what does ‘being in your fifties’ mean now?”
It’s clear to see that ‘our Denise’ has no intention of slowing down, married to husband number three, artist Lincoln Townley, who at 43 is 14 years her junior. “I’m very happily married. I love my time with Lincoln. He’s really busy at the moment so it’s very important that he’s got a support network as well. I do try to get that work-life balance, and there’ve been times in my life when it’s been all about work and that’s when my mental health suffered really badly so I’ve got to be very careful on lots of levels. But, even if I could afford to, I would not want to just not do anything.”
Despite having just returned from Italy, Denise, a firm believer in variety being the spice of life, is busy packing before she sets off to London. “I’m going from being a ‘serious actress’ to judging Gay Porn Idol tonight at Heaven nightclub. I’m not on until one o’clock in the morning, which is way, way past my bedtime!”
“It’s just ridiculous isn’t it? It’s madness – but it’s got to be done! No doubt the energy of the crowd will keep me going.”
Fortunately for Denise, she won’t be alone, as her father Vin (an ex-drag queen) aged 79 will be accompanying her for the evening. “My dad’s revising his alter-ego of Raquel, he’s still out partying! His age will never slow him down!”
Like father, like daughter.