One of TV’s Loose Women and ex-girl group star Coleen Nolan talks to Women’s Editor Jo Davison.
Telly’s loosest-tongued woman was about to call.
Just enough time for a last-minute spot of extra research on Google in a desperate bid to find out something the self-confessed Ms Motormouth hasn’t already talked about, at great length, to the viewing millions.
“I was abused and my siblings won’t speak to me,” said the first lurid line I found on the queen of daytime TV.
“My best friend’s gay but I have feelings for him,” said the next.
Bingo; plenty of fresh controversy there, then.
The next one set an alarm bell pinging, though: “My wife wants me to wear sexy pyjamas”.
Err... ahh. These were not revealing titbits about the life of Coleen Nolan, champion of the middle-aged woman. They were segments of other people’s. The ones she is privy to in her latest role as national agony aunt.
When she’s not bitching with the girls on ITV’s Loose Women, or penning novels – her latest has just hit the bookshelves – she’s doing a Claire Rayner with oomph for the Daily Mirror.
When the phone rings and Coleen has finished apologising profusely for being no more than five minutes late (what a love), I confess that for a moment I’d had her down as a candidate for Jerry Springer.
She laughs like a drain. As if we didn’t know it already, she never takes herself too seriously. Then launches into telling me how much she loves being a shoulder to cry on for red-top tabloid readers. “It’s the most favourite thing I do,” she says. “It’s SO me. I’ve always been interested in other people’s lives; I’ll sit for hours listening to someone’s problems.”
Week in, week out, she is deluged with readers’ relationship woes.
To her surprise, many are from men wanting to talk about their sexual problems (“God knows what they think I know about it”).
She’s much more flattered that teenage boys turn to her for advice; she likes to think it’s because they see her as a mother figure – she’s mum to ex Shane Ritchie’s sons aged 18 and 22, after all.
Although she does admit the job comes with fierce responsibilities.
“You know could really mess someone up with one wrong word and that’s scary,” she says, adding swiftly that she passes letters from more troubled souls on to a qualified counsellor.
Just as it does when you’re on the phone to a good friend, the conversation jumps constantly to new topics as they spring to mind.
How is Bernie? “She’s brilliant again, just brilliant,” Coleen says of the sister who has just battled through breast cancer. “She’s just gone on tour with the play Calendar Girls...”
Next up, it’s family fall-outs. Bernie is one of the siblings she’s still talking to. The Nolan Sisters’ sell-out comeback tour in 2009, which coincided with the 30th anniversary of their biggest hit, I’m In the Mood For Dancing, didn’t include elder sisters Anne and Denise.
There was a bitter row with Anne and she, Coleen and sister Linda still don’t talk.
“Yes, it’s a shame but life’s a bitch and then you die,” she says, in that couldn’t give a monkey’s way of hers that transformed her from nice little Nolan baby into one of Britain’s best-loved women on the box.
Next up is weight.
Isn’t it what all women end up talking about – and all everyone seems to focus on with Coleen?
At 45, she’s now a size 14 to 16 “and really happy about it and not going to be bullied into losing weight by anyone.” Absolutely fine. But this IS the woman who motivated thousands of female fans into jiggling around to her fitness DVDs and follow the formula which had slimmed her down to a size 10 four years ago for her second marriage to musician Ray Fensome.
“I kept the weight off for three-and-a-half years. Then I did my back in and couldn’t exercise,” she proffers a little defensively. Can you believe it, it was AFTER that comeback tour. She danced her way across the country for months, then bent down to pick up a spoon. “Something went,” she says. “It was agony. I could barely walk, let alone exercise.”
She went up to a 12, then a 14. She has gained weight easily all her life – at her heaviest she was a size 20 – probably another reason why she’s the housewife’s choice.
“You know what though, I’m just really happy,” she says. “I’ll lose weight if and when I want to – for myself.
“Can you believe a TV boss told me to get a gastric band when I was a size 14? The average UK woman is that size but I wasn’t slim enough for this guy. He was a producer for a rival station who wanted me to work for them.
“Everything seemed to be going well until he said, ‘so what are you going to do about that, then?
“I had no idea what “that” was. So he elaborated. My size was a problem and he suggested I should think about getting a gastric band fitted. He was serious. There’s a lot of pressure on women who work in television to be unnaturally thin and perfect. But it is totally unrealistic.
“I’m never going to be Cheryl Cole or Kylie’s size; I’ve met them and they are absolutely tiny. I will not lose weight just to get another job in TV, even if I’m the only one left who looks like normal women do at this rate.”
What has brought about this new acceptance is maturity. “One of the great things about age is that you get more confident. You care less what other people think.
“When you’re young and insecure it just takes one person to say, ‘you’re putting on weight,’ and you’re crushed, “Now I wouldn’t care. Because I’ve learned that attractiveness is about confidence and getting to a place where you are happy with who you are.”
By the sounds of it, she’s perfect agony aunt material. Particularly when she adds that she worries about the effect she could have on her daughter Ciara, nine.
“I don’t want her growing up watching me constantly moaning and stressing about my weight. That would be such a bad influence on her.”
She’s equally level-headed about fashion. “I look at designer stuff, think it’s lovely, then look at the price and go: Jesus.
“I wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes for £1,000 just because it said Jimmy Choo on them; no way,” she tuts. “I’m a high street girl. So are my sisters. We love bargains; Linda’s the best at finding them. “Primani – a fiver” is one of her favourite lines.
“It’s the way we were brought up in Ireland. Even when we were making hit records, mum would tell us we’d got more money than sense if we bought something that cost more than £100.”
Coleen had to get researchers to help with her latest novel, Denial. Described as “A funny and fabulous read” and a follow-on from her debut, Envy, it’s about five feisty women who work on a chat show called Girl Talk.
It sounds incredibly familiar. What’s to research, surely?
She’s adamant she didn’t have a clue what extravagant clothes and beauty brands the five uber-glamorous characters would wear.
“I had to keep asking people what sort of labels and brands they would go for,” she says “Honestly, I’m rubbish. I thought Louboutins was some kind of ointment.”