Canal St chats with Coleen Nolan
She’s been big in Japan, ‘loose’ for almost two decades and is a member of entertainment’s favourite families. A new challenge now awaits Coleen Nolan this Autumn when she appears alongside Beverley Callard and Mina Anwar in the world premiere of The Thunder Girls.
The show, about four members of a girl band reuniting after many years apart, is the debut play by Manchester local and former pop manager Melanie Blake who describes the show as ‘a white knuckle ride of friendship, betrayal and revenge.’
Prior to the interview, I kept accidentally referring to the show as Thundercats, ‘Don’t worry about it’ Nolan laughs, ‘people keep calling it that or Thunderbirds.’
Taking the role represents a fresh career move for Nolan. ‘It’s a totally new avenue for me. I’ve done panto before but this is something completely different. Pantomime is really hard work but if you mess up it makes the show but you can’t do that in a straight play…apparently. I might change all that!’
‘I’ve been very lucky to have been offered parts in some amazing shows before but it’s never been the right time. When my kids were young I didn’t want to leave or uproot them and a lot of the offers meant spending a year in London or being away touring for months on end. Now the kids are all grown up and I’m newly divorced so the world is my oyster.’
Nolan was determined to get her Thunder Girls role through merit. ‘They kindly offered me this part but I wanted to audition because I’ve never done this type of thing before so that’s what happened and thankfully they still offered it to me. There’s five original songs in it which is familiar territory for me and I’ve known Bev Callard for years so the rapport is already there. Mina (Anwar) and I also jelled straight away so it’s been great.’
When ‘Girls’ gather for their reunion decades after splitting acrimoniously, old scores are settled and the one liners start flying. It sounds like a brilliant bitchfest.
‘Oh it really is’, Nolan confirms. ‘It’s like Alexis and Crystal Carrington on stage. The show has everything - laugh out loud moments, really sad parts and amazing ‘I can’t believe she just said that’ one liners. It’s a real behind the scenes look at what really goes on in but a more exaggerated way.’
Having previously managed bands like Steps, Five Star and Spandau Ballet and worked with the likes of Destiny’s Child, The Spice Girls and All Saints, writer Melanie Blake knows the subject matter well. The realism of the piece is something Nolan identifies with.
‘These big gatherings really do go on. When me and my sisters did our reunion tour after 25 years, even though there had never been any acrimony and we saw a lot of each in the intervening years, we still all had to sit down and have a meal to discuss how the tour was going to work and if it was possible to do.’
‘It helps to feel a bit of a connection to the play, especially as I’m doing something for the first time. From an acting point of view what’s exciting is that, apart from the fact that she was in a girl band, I can’t massively relate to my character Anita. I’ve never done anything where I can be someone else for a couple of hours.’
One of the other big challenges is learning lines which is already proving to be a little nerve wracking for Nolan.
‘Oh stop! When we did the read through I realised just how much I’ve got to learn. Whatever I do, I still get nervous. Even after 18 years on Loose Women I still feel it before every show, though it’s mixed with excitement and adrenaline. Ultimately, I’d rather try something and fail than regret not giving it a go.’
Of all her career achievements, the work Nolan is most proud of is participating in last year’s The Full Monty Ladies Night where celebrities bared all to raise awareness of the importance of having regular checks for breast cancer. The Royal Television Society and Broadcast Awards winning programme is now BAFTA nominated and returns in May for a second performance.
‘I have such a love for that project’, Nolan admits. ‘I thought I would be less nervous doing the routine second time around and what it means when you have to get the girls out, but I was just as unsure about whether I could do it. The reason we’re doing it and the lives we could potentially save motivates and moves me every time. I care so passionately about it and how it continues to shine a light on the subject. The live audience is also brilliant because they’re not judging us and don’t really care what we look like. They’re there because they or someone they know has been affected by cancer.’
There can still be a stigma attached to cancer that makes those diagnosed not want to tell anybody. My own lovely Mum felt that way at first but once she was encouraged to let people know and ‘own’ it rather than be controlled by it she felt more empowered. One of the messages of The Full Monty programmes is that talking and sharing is vital.
‘Absolutely’, Nolan agrees. ‘It makes people out there not feel so alone. Many still come up to me and want to talk about it and stuff they hadn’t talked about before. Hearing from women who have gone through it is such an emotional thing. For this second show it was a huge deal to be joined by the great Martina Navratilova. We never thought we could get her or if she would even want to do it but she did and was fantastic. She was such an important person to get because she’s been so fit all her life and always done the right things health-wise yet cancer even got her. I think you still get people who think that if they exercise and eat the right things they’ll never get it but this whole project is about raising awareness that cancer doesn’t discriminate so every one of us has to be aware.’
For fans who only know Nolan from her TV presenting career, let us not forget that back in the late 70s/early 80s while she was in a band with her sisters, as well as having UK hits, Coleen and Co really were BIG in Japan…
‘I keep banging on to the Loose Women that I was big in Japan and they all think I’m taking the mick but it really was the biggest market for the group. We had no idea just how big until we actually got there by which time we were already number one in all the charts. It was like playing the proper rock star thing. At times the risk of being mobbed was so great we couldn’t even leave the hotel and after shows we had to run straight off stage into waiting cars otherwise we wouldn’t get out. We even had to be escorted by the army through train stations because 1,000s of people would turn up in a frenzy. We had great success in the UK but nothing like how crazy it was in Japan.’
Doing live TV several times a week for 18 years is an achievement in itself not least because of the constant effort required to constantly self edit before speaking.
‘I’m not very good at it though am I?’ she jokes. ‘Of course you have to be careful and think about what you say because it’s live but I kind of like that. It’s really spoiled me because I now find doing anything recorded quite long, hard and boring. On Loose Women we go out, talk live for an hour and that’s it done. It’s important to remember though that times, people and attitudes change and what I thought or said ten years ago could be completely different to how I feel now because life moves on and you grow with all the changes. It’s weird looking back at clips of comments that I really wouldn’t agree with now.’
One of the big aspects of the show is how open, honest and revealing the women are about their lives. I wondered if Nolan ever kept anything back or if she wished she had been more private about her life at times.
‘No because I’m genuinely open like that in life, on or off screen. I do think some things should remain private but I have real difficulty doing that, much to the annoyance of my family. I can’t bear not being truthful on the show. When my marriage was going wrong it was hard for me not saying anything. I knew it was coming to an end for about a year but I couldn’t really talk about it as it wouldn’t have been fair on my husband or the kids not least because the press would’ve been all over it. I was really relieved when it finally came out and I could actually talk about it.’
One of the most unexpected friendships that has formed on the show is the one between Nolan and Janet Street Porter. Surely a road trip documentary is on the cards as their relationship is clearly one that she cherishes.
‘We’re like chalk and cheese but it somehow works’, she tells me. ‘We drive each other insane but we absolutely love each other. I often say to her how weird it is that we get on because we’ve got absolutely nothing in common! Janet keeps saying we should go on holiday together and I tell her I couldn’t think of anything worse. I love her to bits but we just wouldn’t agree on anything. She’s miserable and moody but I love her for it - she just doesn’t care. When she says she hates people trying to talk to her or hug her, she means it! I couldn’t cope with that if we were on holiday together and she couldn’t cope with the fact that I do let people hug me.’
Despite a difficult couple of years with the break up of her marriage, Nolan has found new happiness…with a menagerie of animals. Four dogs, three horses, two cats and two pygmy goats to be precise.
‘I’m sure a therapist could have a field day with that’, Nolan confesses. ‘My kids keep saying I need therapy as I just keep buying animals. Every time I bumped into Paul O’Grady I used to say how I really wanted his life. Now I do and its fantastic. I’ve always been passionate about animals but when you’re in a relationship you’re usually limited as your other half might go for getting one dog but not four. I’ve always wanted lots of animals ever since I was a kid and as soon as I became single again I went for it. I’m going to try to calm down but I think it might only be the start of my zoo. People are already calling me Noah or Dr Doolittle.’
With many significant life events happening in recent years, it is taking Nolan a little time to adapt to the changes being in your 50s can present
‘I’ve loved every decade of my life but I’ve found my 50s really hard. I think you can feel a bit invisible. I guess that was one of the reasons why I took the decision to call it a day with my marriage. I didn’t want us to stay together just because I was in my 50s and scared there was no one else out there for me. My kids have grown up so there’s also the empty nest syndrome. For the last 30 years, my whole life has been based around them. Now it doesn’t need to be to the same level and at times I’ve wondered what my job is now. Perhaps that’s why I’m running out buying animals because they’re always going to need and rely on me. Ultimately though, if you’re not happy, do something about it because life is too short.’
Doing something challenging like appearing in The Thunder Girls perhaps
‘Absolutely’, she agrees. ‘I’ll have a great time on stage then head off for a night down Canal Street. I hardly ever go out these days but whenever I do the only place I’ll go is Canal Street. Everyone wants a good night and a laugh and there’s no stress. I definitely couldn’t do a singles bar now!’
Drew Tosh for Canal St Online
The Thunder Girls opens at The Lowry in Salford, Manchester on 24th September 2019. Tickets available via the link below or 0843 208 6000Read More