Busy Bernie is full of get up and Chicago

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FOR a good few years now we’ve barely been able to turn a corner without bumping into a Nolan sister either on stage, telly or in a concert hall.

And with a reunion tour of the ladies organised for next year and panto season looming there are few busier showbiz siblings than Bernie Nolan.

No sooner has she finished her extensive run as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton in the enduring hit musical Chicago than she’s the villainess in Sleeping Beauty on the south coast.

But the West End veteran and former regular on Brookside and The Bill is loving every minute.

“It’s brilliant,” she says eight months into the tour. “Before I did the show I’d only ever seen it once, years ago, but I loved it. It’s so different to any other. It’s all black and white, mostly black.

“The band are on stage and the music speaks for itself. It’s also a great, strong story and Bob Foster’s choreography is great.”

As Mama she is the Keeper Of The Keys, the Mistress of Murderess Row. “She’s in charge of all the girls in the jail. They call her Mama and she makes sure they get little treats and things. They pay her – she’s not an idiot.

“Actually, they love her but they’re scared of her as well. She’s the boss and also quite friendly with the famous lawyer of the time, Billy Flynn; she can get him to come and represent them, and they usually get off if he represents them.

“It’s a good role. She’s not a baddie, but she’s not a goodie, either, so don’t mess with her. I’m not as bossy as her, but I don’t suffer fools very well. I’m not hardened by the business, though, and I’d say that’s because I come from a big family. They keep your feet on the ground and I’ve got a wonderful husband and daughter.”

Bernie was the first of the Nolans to make the crossover to musical theatre. Not wishing her career to remain one dimensional, she took on other projects – sort of the Michael Jackson of the Nolans – including kids TV series On The Waterfront in the 1980s.

She finally stepped away from the group in 1994 and made her name in the West End, joining Blood Brothers in 1998 for three years.

Her first role was a singing part in the original Oh, What A Night, but her CV includes three tours of the play Mum’s The Word, playing Hannah the mum in the original tour of Flashdance and Calendar Girls last year.

“That was a very poignant role for me as I’d just had a mastectomy, then had to go topless,” recalls Bernie. “But it was great to show there is life after a mastectomy.

“I haven’t had my all clear yet and although I am optimistic I am realistic. I just take each day and enjoy my life – what will be will be. The main message for me to women is to get checked early. Keep an eye on everything.”

Bernie’s sisters followed in her footsteps once The Nolans called time, including taking on Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers. Maureen has just finished her stint.

“I recommended all the others for the role,” she says. “When I was in the group years and years ago whenever we were off I used to go do rep musical theatre. It was natural progression, but it wasn’t planned.

“Everything that happened to me in my solo career just happened. I auditioned for everything I did. For Blood Brothers my agent was asked if I’d like to do it. The same for Brookside, because they came to see me in Blood Brothers. And The Bill.

“Our name helped – when we did auditions we’d get private auditions, so that was nice.”

One more for the road from siblings who got the world ‘in the mood’

TICKETS go on sale for The Nolans farewell 2013 tour tomorrow – and a sell-out is expected.

But it wasn’t always that way, reveals Bernie ahead of a February 19 Sheffield City Hall fixture that will reflect on a time when The Nolans shifted 25 million records and were out-selling The Beatles in Japan.

“I stayed on until the very death really, in 1994,” she recalls, admitting that by then money to live had become the motivation.

“We started to do gigs I didn’t want to do, like bingo halls, and we started to use backing tapes. That was the real end for me, I couldn’t bear it; we couldn’t afford to pay a band.

“We didn’t fall out or anything, but I said to the girls ‘I’m going to try do some stuff solo because I’m not enjoying it now’. There was the odd great gig and we had lots of fans. There just wasn’t ‘the’ gigs any more. All the cabaret clubs we used to do were closing. Unless you were huge and doing a big tour there were only bingo halls left and the odd summer season, but that wasn’t my favourite thing either.

“I thought ‘I’ve got to do something’. I’d had enough of being in the band, to be quite honest, and I wish I’d left earlier, left when we were at the height of our success. I think I’d have probably done a lot better.”

Bar a 30th anniversary tour three years ago, the Nolans have been carving their own way in the entertainment world ever since I’m In The Mood For Dancing made them global stars.

Even so, Bernie says she was “absolutely amazed” how well the last reunion tour did.

“My biggest worry was nobody would come. We’d been asked to get back together and tour loads of times. I didn’t want to go back and it be a big flop. But boy did they come, in their droves. It really astounded me, the love and affection there for us. They were fantastic audiences, out for a good night, the best thing ever. The over-riding message was to reunite for good.

“All our fans come and see us individually. Coleen and I have been on telly an awful lot, but they wanted to see The Nolans, as a group. I think they missed us.”

The Farewell Tour, however, really is it for the band, formed by the girls from Dublin who grew up in Blackpool, she insists.

“We’ve all got to a certain age and it was hard enough trying to get us together for the last tour. But we had such a great time we wanted to do one last one together.

“It’ll be all new choreography, lots of old songs people know but also big songs everybody knows, solos, and we’ve got dancers. There’ll be a lot about our lives and careers on screen and stuff. It’s going to be interesting and very poignant.”