Northern Life interviews actress and singer Bernie Nolan
by Karen Shaw
I’ve Got A Great Life
We heard this week about actress and singer Bernie Nolan who sadly died at the age of 52, following a long battle with breast cancer. As our tribute to her here’s an interview with Bernie which featured in the August/September 2010 edition of Northern Life.
Life’s a funny old thing. It was only a few weeks ago when I interviewed Bernie about her latest venture, performing in the stage play ‘Mum’s the Word’. Unfortunately, just after the interview, Bernie was diagnosed with breast cancer. The producer of the current UK theatre tour of the show, a tongue-in-cheek production about how kids turn life upside down, said: “It is with great regret that we’re losing Bernie from the show – we shall all miss her, both personally and professionally and, it goes without saying, we wish her a very speedy recovery and our thoughts are with her and her family at this difficult time.”
Ever the consummate professional, Bernie had demanded the show continue on tour and even offered to stay on the road during the early days of her treatment. However, good sense has prevailed, and she has now decided it is wiser to take a rest and build up her strength for her forthcoming treatment. In my humble opinion, Bernie has the heart and courage of a lion with an abundance of energy, and she has vowed to win her battle against breast cancer. The 49-year-old mum to Erin has insisted that she will fight the disease and vowed to beat the killer disease, just like sisters Linda, 51, and Anne, 59: “I just want to thank everyone for their support and kind wishes. Please don’t worry about me – I’m going to fight this. Cancer’s a scary word but it can b****r off. I’m going to see my daughter grow up and I’ll fight it with everything I have.”
You’re such a busy lady. How do you manage to get the life / work balance right?
Well it’s really difficult. I have a fantastic husband – that’s the answer. When Erin was born we had to sit down and talk about everything, and I said ‘I’m happy not to work and bring Erin up’, but my husband is a drummer, and musicians don’t tend to get paid a lot, so we decided it made more sense for him to give up work to look after Erin. So that’s what happened; it was just a choice we had to make; it was very difficult decision to make. In a way, I’d rather have brought Erin up, really, but we needed the money, you know. We’d just bought a new house so we had a lot of financial commitments. But he’s fantastic, he’s just brilliant, he does everything. Sometimes I take Erin to work every now and then. For the first eight years of her life I was at home, because I did Brookside and I commuted every day. Some days I would take her to school and others I would pick her up. I lived really close to the studio so, in between scenes, I could come home. So it’s only been in the last few years where I’ve stopped doing TV that I’ve had to start touring and touring is not ideal when you’re a parent. But beggars can’t be choosers!
In your opinion, what makes a good mum?
You’ve got to have patience, and always be there to listen as well. I remember when I was a kid I used to come home with stories about my best friend at school, and they were so boring these stories, but my mum and dad used to sit and listen for ages and they seemed like they were really interested, you know, and I think that was always really important to me as a kid. So I always try with Erin now to really listen to her, and see what she’s doing.
Yeah, love makes them feels secure.
There must have been a lot of love, considering the size of your family!
Well, my parents had six girls and two boys.
Was there lots of sibling rivalry when you were growing up?
Oh yes. As always with all families we used to kill each other but, if anybody else interfered, we’d all gang up on them, you know. Were times hard? We were very poor. If you had a hole in your shoes, my mum would put cardboard in them. I always had hand-me-downs, because I was the second youngest; right through school I never had anything new.
Did that have a negative effect at all?
I don’t think it had any negative effect on me. That was just the way it was.
I imagine it was quite character building?
Well yes, I suppose it was. I didn’t even think about it much at the time. Sometimes, when I was at school, I’d be thinking ‘Oh, I’d love to have one of them’, but I was always brought up in a way where we were grateful for what we got and, if we got anything new, it was like they’d given us thousands of pounds. I think that was better.
Are you like that with Erin now?
Erin doesn’t have lots; she doesn’t have a mobile phone like all her friends have; she doesn’t have a telly in her room or a computer. She wants all of these things and, in time, she will no doubt get them, but she’s only ten, soon to be eleven, so she doesn’t need it all now.
I completely agree; TVs in kids’ bedrooms aren’t necessary. What’s wrong with reading a good book?
Exactly! Erin will have her supper with us before bedtime and then, when she goes to bed, I read to her or she reads to me, because she loves reading.
You began your singing career at the tender age of 13. How did you break into acting?
I left The Nolans in ‘94 and then I got asked to sing in the original version of ‘Oh What a Night’. I’ve been touring with that since then, actually. But that was only singing, and I didn’t get to talk in it at all; the others did, but my part was just a singing part. Then I got a call off my agent asking if I’d come and audition for the part of Mrs Johnstone in ‘Blood Brothers’, so I went in, auditioned and got the part; that’s how I got into acting; after touring for three years, I was just about to sign up to the West End show, but was asked to audition for Brookside; when I got the part of Diane Murray, I was ‘over the moon’; that then led to ‘The Bill’ and that was it!
Why do you think they’re stopping production of The Bill?
No doubt it will involve money. It’s certainly not viewing figures because it’s still got great ratings.
Did you enjoy it?
I loved it. I didn’t leave through choice. My character and her story just came to an end; they said they weren’t going to kill me off because they might bring me back. I felt really sad about it but that’s what happens in TV. If your story comes to an end and they feel they want to move on then that’s it!
Would you like to go back in to TV?
I would love to! Maybe a soap, but I’d like to do a TV drama. Actually, the person I’d love to be like is Helen Mirren. She’s got more acting ability in her little finger than I’ve got in my whole body – I know that – but I’d like to do something like Prime Suspect.
You recently became runner-up in ‘From Pop Star to Opera Star’. How was it?
I have no idea, it was really difficult. I just got really fortunate. There were five million viewers each week and I was getting paid for it so, at the time, it was the best job in the world! I absolutely loved every minute of it.
I believe your mum was an opera singer?
That’s true. When my mum and dad met they were both singers. The ten of us used to sing on stage all together at one time and, for years, all round the clubs, from the age two, I was singing – and then when I was thirteen I became a Nolan, and it was just the girls then.
On my wedding day, our wedding song was ‘I’m in the Mood for Dancing’ I love it!
Oh that’s fantastic, brilliant. It’s great it’s been really influential in our success.
I remember watching you all perform it in your boob tubes and red satin pants on Top of the Pops…
Oh yeah, I’d struggle to get into them now!
You were born in Ireland and then moved down to Blackpool; what was your childhood like growing up in Blackpool?
It was great fun. We were always playing outdoors, on our bikes or walking around with our prams out on the street, but we were poor, very poor. All ten of us lived in a three up two down.
Like your daughter, I’m an only child; did you ever wish you had been?
Never. I wouldn’t ever have wished to be an only child, no.
So how do you feel about Erin?
Well, I wish we had more children, but I had a child that died before Erin, and then after her I had a miscarriage, and by that time I was 42, so I thought I’m wasting my time, missing watching her growing up, by trying to have another one, so we stopped trying. We are so lucky that we have got one. Erin would love a brother or sister, she doesn’t like being an only child.
Where’s your favourite place in Blackpool?
Stanley Park is wonderful. But I also like Lytham, I used to live there when we first got married. So I actually prefer Lytham to Blackpool. It’s much classier than Blackpool. Blackpool’s got too many hen and stag dos there now; you can’t go anywhere in the town. I love the North Pier but I wouldn’t go near it at night, ever. It needs a lot of money putting in to it, to be honest. I mean, I loved growing up there, I used to feel so lucky; I remember as a kid thinking it was hard to see the pavement when you were walking because there were just so many people and the beach was lovely and clean; we used to go there every weekend!
You live down South now; do you miss the North?
I miss the people! Everyone up North is just so friendly, but I love living in Surrey; it’s so beautiful, it’s lovely and green, all the state schools are brilliant, and the weather’s always so much better. Every time I ring my family, they are, like: ‘oh it’s horrible up here, what’s it like there?’ and it’s always lovely.
You’re in a volatile business, but what’s the secret of your success
This is the part when you tell me how hard you work and how talented you are….which is it?
(Laughs) Well, both of those, without sounding big-headed. To make any headway in this business you have to have talent otherwise you can’t get on. Show business is saturated with all these one hit wonders, which is great for them at the time, but where are they now?
I’ve always tried to do a variety of different work. I’ve done singing, opera and pop, acting, comedy, soaps and plays. I’ve done so many different things and that’s what you need to do these days. Because variety is dead, you need to be able to do something else in this business.
You’re obviously very disciplined
Yes, and I’m very hard working. I’ve got a family and, obviously, I’ve had to do things that I didn’t really want to do, but have had to because we’ve got to pay the mortgage.
At a young age, you toured with ‘ole blue eyes’ (Frank Sinatra); what was that like?
He was so lovely to us! He really was, and we were brought up on his music. It was so nice because he was my dad’s hero. My dad’s passed away now, but it was so nice to have my dad backstage at the Albert Hall and introduce him to his hero. I’d never seen my dad ‘gob-smacked’; when he did meet Frank, he didn’t say a word. I had to elbow him in his chest! It was brilliant…
Have you any regrets in life, Bernie?
Well I think it’s a waste of time looking back and regretting, because I’ve always wanted to look forward and enjoy life. There are things that I wish had been different, but, no – on the whole I’ve got a great life, a great career and great family which is the most important thing, and looking forward is the thing.
Just to close, what has been the best piece of advice that anyone has ever given you?
Keep your gob shut until you know what you’re talking about.
I’ll leave it there then!