‘It’s the right time to go back to theatre’

Denise Welch is appearing as Trudy in Steel Magnolias, which arrives at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from June 4-9.
Denise Welch is appearing as Trudy in Steel Magnolias, which arrives at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from June 4-9.
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Every day is a juggling act for Denise Welch as she balances her work and being there for her family.

The 52-year-old former Coronation Street actress has been a firm favourite with fans for her honest opinions on ITV daytime chat show Loose Women and has gained celebrity status after several reality show appearances.

But her career began on the stage – and it seems that’s where the star’s heart lies as she returns to the theatre for the first time in eight years as Trudy in the national tour of Steel Magnolias, arriving at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from June 4-9.

When we speak she’s sat in a hotel room in Brighton.

After doing interviews all morning, she’s desperate to go out and see the city where she used to live.

She says: ‘I’m in this lovely hotel with a beautiful sea view and I’ve been on the phone all morning!’

Talking about the tour, Denise adds: ‘It’s a great show to do and it’s going really well. My voice is suffering a little but it’s going fine.

‘It’s a fantastic cast and I’m so glad I did it because it was the right time for me to go back to the theatre.’

Robert Harling’s 1987 play Steel Magnolias is based on six women living in deep south Louisiana and their tales of friendship, humour and love in their own lives.

It was even made into a blockbuster film in 1989, with stars such as Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton and Shirley MacLaine.

But in this year’s national tour, Denise will be starring alongside names such as Kasie Ainsworth, Isla Blair and Cherie Lunghi.

She says: ‘The thing is we’ve also got Robert Harling involved in rehearsals and he said about me ‘‘it’s Truvy.”

‘It’s based on a true story, so I couldn’t get a bigger compliment!

Denise adds: ‘I’ve had lots of stuff going on and I’m still doing Loose Women in my spare time occasionally, but I’m loving doing the show.’

Denise’s career in the past couple of years has focused on her role on TV.

But that’s mainly because she didn’t want to leave her children for long periods of time on tour.

She explains: ‘I get offered things but, because of my children, I don’t say yes.

‘I have two children who are 11 and 23 and obviously the 11-year-old is the one I need to look after.

‘Normally tours are for six months and I’m not interested.

‘But Steel Magnolias came in and I really wanted to do it, so I spoke to the family and let them know how I felt.’

Denise adds: ‘I thought it was a doable amount of time and when I’m in places like York I can make it work and go home.’

After attending the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London when she was younger, Denise went on to have a number of roles on stage.

She also appeared in TV series including Byker Grove, Spender and Soldier Soldier.

She became a household name in 1997 when she was cast as Natalie Horrocks in Coronation Street.

After leaving in 2000 she appeared in a number of TV shows, including playing Steph Haydock in Waterloo Road for four years.

Acting, Denise says, is the most important part of her career away from the celebrity status.

She says: ‘The celebrity side of my career, for which I’m very grateful, means I get seen in a very different light. But I’m like any other working mother.’

Denise even appeared in Celebrity Big Brother late last year, although claims she ‘hated every minute of it,’

She explains: ‘The first week was bad but the second week wasn’t so bad.

‘It was lovely to have won because it meant that people like me!

‘That’s nice, but it was a horrible experience. I didn’t like it, but luckily I came through it.’

Before that she took part in Dancing On Ice, where she felt she had a much happier time.

Denise says: ‘Both shows I said I’d never do and then I did them, so who knows what I’ll say I’ll never do next and end up doing!

‘I made some really good friends and it was a great experience.

‘I can skate a bit now, and lots of the professional skaters’ paths I would never have crossed before, but now they’re very close friends of mine.’

First appearing on Loose Women in 2002, Denise has been part of the show for a decade now, even announcing her split from husband Tim Healy on the show in February.

She adds: ‘I love it. I’ve had a very good time and I love to gossip and have a chat.

‘I couldn’t do it if it was all I did all year round, but I have time on other projects as well, so Loose Women is a real luxury to go back to.

‘But it’s hard and I’m tired. I’m constantly juggling the work load.’

After splitting from her husband, Denise has been in the media recently because of a new relationship with 39-year-old party planner Lincoln Townley. The couple met in a London nightclub.

She says: ‘I can’t really go into this too much as it’s all in my autobiography that I’m going to write. After Big Brother I was asked to do another book as my first went to number one.

‘It’s called Starting Over, which I feel is where I am really.

‘I’ve got to do it, I’ve got a deadline!’

She says she’s really looking forward to the next couple of months. Steel Magnolias begins its Southampton run on June 4.

Denise explains: ‘I can’t wait for the summer. I’m going to spend it with my kids, and not do anything!’

Where & When

Denise Welch will star as Trudy in Steel Magnolias at the Mayflower Theattre, Southampton from June 4-9. Tickets cost £16 to £28 on (023) 8071 1811 or go to mayflower.org.uk.

Denise on...

...going back to performing on stage after eight years

It feels like this is where I should be. It’s nice to remind myself this is what I do for my job.

...taking on a role once played by Dolly Parton

The play preceded the film, but I’ve seen the film and I thought they did it brilliantly.

...reports saying she’s leaving Loose Women

I said I wanted a break, a summer break, which I’m having!

...announcing split from husband Tim Healy on TV

It was difficult and we wanted to be in control, that was why I announced it on Loose Women. It was the best way.

...her plans for the rest of the year

I will be working on a new pilot soon which, of course, I can’t say anything about. I’m looking forward to the summer.