From My Heart: Exclusive Interview With Linda Nolan
by Karen Shaw
“OUR FAMILY DEALS WITH EVERYTHING WITH HUMOUR - IT SNAPS YOU BACK TO REALITY AT TIMES.”
In the history of girl bands, one stands out to prove that classic tracks and a feel-good time will never tire: The Nolans, the ultimate girl group, known for their breath-taking harmonies and extraordinary combination of warmth and anthemic party hits. One of our best loved families in showbiz, the chart topping Nolans sold over 25 million records worldwide. Linda was a member of The Nolans from 1974 to 1983, before going on to find success in musical theatre, appearing with Paul O’Grady in Prisoner Cell Block H: The Musical and in the West End production of Blood Brothers as Mrs Johnstone for two years.
In her new autobiography, From My Heart, Linda Nolan writes honestly about growing up in Blackpool, and reveals the shocking family secrets and feuds that threatened to tear them apart. She also describes her original battle with breast cancer, bankruptcy, losing her beloved sister Bernie and her husband Brian to cancer, leaving her deeply depressed, to the point of feeling suicidal.
Just as she’d learned to embrace life again, and even start dating, the cancer came back, and she was given the news that while it was treatable, it was not curable. Her first thought was to worry about her family, who were still grieving the loss of their sister Bernie in 2013.
“When I got my diagnosis in March 2017, I thought that this is the time to write a book – something for my nieces and nephews. I felt ready to trawl back through the hard times.”
Linda admits at times she found writing painful, as well as being therapeutic and it’s given her a positive outlook on living life with cancer: “It’s shown me that I am stronger than I thought. It has made me appreciate things I took for granted,” she smiles, “I now make time for the little small things that mean more. I make sure that I see my family once a week and speak to them all and let them know what I feel about them.”
Listening to Linda speak, the word brave springs to mind, but Linda shrugs it off: “It’s not that I’ve been brave, it’s that I’ve had no choice but to fight and drag myself through hard times.
“I’m so open about things. There could be someone who’s going through a cancer diagnosis, grieving, losing a loved one and are on their own. I don’t know how they do it. They are the brave people, the ones who drive themselves every day without anyone saying: ‘come on keep going’. It was the love and support of my family saying: ‘come on, have a shower, get some clean pyjamas on and sit on the couch’, don’t lie in bed all day!’ There is help there and you mustn’t be frightened to ask for it. My local mental health team was amazing with my depression, my councillor was brilliant and that was all through the NHS and Macmillan – it’s all about asking. Counselling has been a real saviour for me.”
In her darkest hours Linda was very close to ending her own life, she’d had enough, “I’m so thankful that I picked up the phone,” says Linda, “I realise now that I didn’t want to die, I just wanted the pain to go away. I wanted to go to sleep and wake up and it all be ok. To lose hope is one of the worst things in the world. I had lost hope. When I was so low I’d line the tablets up, later on, when Coleen found out she said, ‘if you’d have killed yourself I’d have murdered you!’
“It’s important to be on stage and we learnt our work ethic from our Mum and Dad, unless you’re very ill, the show must go on.”
A firm believer that laughter is a great remedy, she goes on to say, “Our family deals with everything with humour – it snaps you back to reality at times. When Bernie was poorly, I remember on a few occasions sitting around in the hospital and something funny would be said and we’d all be in fits of hysterical laughter. Comedy is a massive thing in our family.”
Linda and her seven siblings grew up in Blackpool and she has many fond memories, “I remember incredible variety shows. The Blackpool of today looks quite different to the one of my youth. When we were kids there were five or six major shows. If you were going to do a summer season, Blackpool was the place to do it and the theatres were full of stars like Cannon and Ball and Danny La Rue.
Another fond memory she has is the time she was performing with comedy legend Ken Dodd. She had recently been declared bankrupt, and felt apprehensive about returning to the stage. Ken’s advice to her was to go on stage and say, “As a bankrupt Nolan my mistake was having Ken Dodd as my financial manager!”
Her parents, Tommy and Maureen both had a big impact on all their children’s lives, “It’s important to be on stage and we learnt our work ethic from our Mum and Dad, unless you’re very ill, the show must go on.”
There’s nothing quite like ‘keeping it in the family’ and sisters, Bernie, Maureen, Denise and Linda have all played the role of Mrs Johnstone in the hit West End musical Blood Brothers, “Our understudy was one girl for three of us, and I remember her saying, ‘oh no I hate the Nolan days because I never get to go on stage!’
In their heyday The Nolans toured with Frank Sinatra and even shared a sauna with Tom Jones! They have rubbed shoulders with the crème de crème of the showbiz world, so I was curious to discover Linda’s opinion on what makes someone a true celebrity…
“It’s when someone walks into a room and there’s a little murmur and you know they’ve arrived. It’s charisma too, you can’t manufacture that. Cliff Richard is one of those people, a little buzz goes around when he enters a room.”
Linda married Brian Hudson in 1981, he was her manager and soulmate, and when she lost him to cancer in 2007 she was completely bereft and devastated, so much so, that she was diagnosed with complex grief.
“I know that some people never have the kind of love that I had with Brian. I grieved so hard because I had the best love.
“I do talk to God and I question him, and I’ve shouted at him. People say ‘they only take the good ones’, but I think I wish they’d take the arseholes sometimes! I have my own religion.”
“While I don’t have any choice in how long I must live, I do have a choice in how I spend the time I have.”
Unfortunately, for Linda she never had children, she was always busy working, however, her counsellor noticed that whenever she spoke about her nieces and nephews she ‘saw light in her eyes’ and suggested Linda should consider fostering, “so that’s exactly what I did,” she grins, “I had two boys, a four and two-year-old, which was brilliant. It was great to have them, and I made sure they knew they were loved. It was amazing, but then Bernie was sadly re-diagnosed, and I wanted to spend time with her in London.”
With a check up every three months, cancer is and will always be something Linda has to deal with, so wondered how, on a day to day basis she manages to keep so positive…
“While I don’t have any choice in how long I must live, I do have a choice in how I spend the time I have. And I’ve chosen not to spend it constantly stressing about cancer. I’ve chosen to enjoy the little things. I’ve chosen to laugh. And I’ve chosen to look back on my life and thank God for it.”
Quick Fire Questions
I’m In The Mood for Dancing or Don’t Make Waves?
I’m In The Mood for Dancing.
Yorkshire pudding or Lancashire hotpot?
Tom Jones or Frank Sinatra?
Bingo or darts?
Candy floss or Blackpool rock?
Blackpool tower or Eiffel Tower?
South Pier or North Pier?