Life began at 50 for Calendar Girl Denise Welch
Baring all, bikinis and booze: author, actress and presenter Denise Welch talks to Hannah Stephenson about her mammoth year
DENISE Welch is under pressure. Rehearsing for a nine-month tour of the musical Calendar Girls, trying to squeeze in appearances on Loose Women and making time to publicise her latest novel, she admits she's missing home and her family in Cheshire.
"At the moment, my life is absolutely chaotic. I've just got so many balls in the air," she admits. "I'm away from home – I've been home once in three weeks and I'm missing it."
The Waterloo Road and Corrie actress turned 60 in May. Today, she lives a much quieter life with her third husband Lincoln Townley, a contemporary artist, than she did when they first met and were both drinking heavily.
Welch has shared the stories of her sobriety and depression with millions during TV interviews in the past few years.
She and Townley gave up drinking at the same time six-and-a-half years ago and she has often said that it's completely changed her life. So while turning 60 was a milestone, it wasn't as much of a transformation as giving up alcohol.
"Sometimes I feel every year of my 60 years, and other days I don't at all," she reflects.
"I have a very active, busy life, which in the main, I enjoy. I don't know what 60 feels like.
"When I see the number 60 written down, I think of my mum and dad's age. I don't relate it to me. I feel better mentally and physically than I have in a long time. I feel more in control. I can cope with things better. I'm not having a meltdown.
"I've got a young husband [Townley is 15 years her junior] which always puts a smile on my face. We love our holidays and I'm very lucky to be an in-demand actress, presenter and author.
"A lot of people say they're invisible at 60 and can't get a job. I'm lucky that I have several."
Her latest novel, The Mother's Bond, is a story centred around adoption, in which a teenager from one of the roughest estates in the north east becomes pregnant and gives her baby son up for adoption, going on to live a very different life with a loving husband and children.
All is well, until her long lost son turns up on the doorstep and threatens to reveal her secret, which could tear her family apart.
"I've always been fascinated by adoption," Welch explains.
"I used to have this dream that I would suddenly discover I had a long lost brother somewhere, and we would fly into each other's arms like on Long Lost Family.
"Also, in the last eight years, a good friend has discovered two siblings that she didn't know she had and I'm fascinated by that. That became the base of the story."
The book has been launched during rehearsals of the musical Calendar Girls, written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, which opens in Leeds on August 16, at the start of a nine-month regional tour. Welch is cast as Celia (played by Celia Imrie in the film).
She'll be baring all alongside Fern Britton and Ruth Madoc, in the most tasteful way and for the sake of comedy, she observes.
"I have lots of strategically placed cakes and buns. We haven't done it with our clothes off yet as we're still in rehearsals, but I'm not nervous about that.
"It's the least of our worries. We're all of a certain age and too long in the tooth to care. The production's not for titillation, it's for comedy."
Indeed, she has no qualms about her curves these days. After she gave up drinking, Welch says that eating replaced her alcohol addiction and she piled on the pounds. But after following a weight-loss plan involving some cognitive behavioural therapy – she's an ambassador for LighterLife – she shed two stone and has kept the weight off for five years. She even posted pictures of her bikini-clad self on Instagram recently.
"When I do those photos, I'm basically empowering women. I'm 60 and not bad for an old bird – and you can do that too. It's not about standing on a beach going, 'Hey, look at me! Miss Fabulous!'
"The reaction I get from women who are having a low day or feeling down on themselves is, 'Today, I saw you and I thought - right, I'm going to pop that bikini on and walk along that beach...' That's why I do it.
"I try to build women up. Real queens fix each other's crowns, they don't rip them out of their hair."
Welch, who has two sons Matthew and Louis, from her marriage to actor Tim Healy, and a stepson, Lewis, has found ways to manage her depression, admitting she will probably be on anti-depressants for the rest of her life.
"Nothing stops depression. Giving up alcohol won't cure depression, but it stops compounding it.
"Generally my episodes are just for about two, three or four days, then it will lift. My depression is endogenous. It's a hormonal chemical reacting in my body of which I have no control. You've just got to learn how to manage it.
"I know I have an unwelcome visitor who will make uninvited calls, but he will eventually leave."
There are more books on the cards – she's planning a non-fiction title to follow her two previous memoirs, Pulling Myself Together and Starting Over.
"Now, I've completely started over. The old me is somebody that I look on with sympathy a lot of the time. If I had a pound for everyone who has asked me how I turned my life around in my 50s, I'd be a very rich woman.
"I want to harness that and write about it. The working title for my next book is Staying Sober, Staying Slim, Staying Sane."
:: The Mother's Bond by Denise Welch is out now, published by Sphere, priced £8.99