Actress turned coach Holly Matthews: You can be a people-pleaser or you can create a life you love

Grief, parenthood and an ADHD diagnosis have all had a role in the former Waterloo Road star’s path to self-acceptance. By Abi Jackson.

Holly Matthews
Holly Matthews helps people to create a life they really love by simplifying self-development Holly Matthews (Kayleigh Pope/Kayleigh Pope)

Actress-turned-self-development coach Holly Matthews wants to make something clear. Letting go of people-pleasing does not mean you have to stop being kind.

“It’s getting that balance,” says the mum-of-two and former Byker Grove star, who later had roles in Waterloo Road and Casualty. “And I will often say to my clients – I’m not saying don’t be a nice person or don’t be kind, because you will still be those things.

“To be honest – and it doesn’t have to be a gendered thing, but I work predominantly with women – most women have a nurturer inside of them that will show up even if we put all the boundaries in the world in place for them, they’ll still be really decent people.”

What it does mean, however, is that you’ll have a greater chance of creating a life you love. One where you’re making decisions based on what you really want, rather than acting out of a sense of obligation all the time and then not feeling great about it.

“You can people-please, or you can create a life that you really love – you can’t have both in reality,” says Matthews, 39.

“And I think when you can get enough of what you like about life, you’ve got more room to do the nice stuff, without it feeling like you’re not showing up for yourself or you’re letting yourself down, and that you’re not doing it with resentment.

“It’s an uncomfortable truth, but people think people-pleasing is this selfless thing. But if we people-please all the time, we actually become – and it’s awful to say it, because it’s not the motivation – we become liars and let-downs. Because we’re spreading ourselves too thin, and we’re not being our true selves.

(Kayleigh Pope/Kayleigh Pope)

“We’re giving this shiny, polished version of ourselves, but it doesn’t match what we feel internally, so we end up feeling disconnected from everybody.”

Matthews has always been interested in mindset and what makes us tick as people. Just 11 when she joined the cast of Nineties BBC teen drama Byker Grove – where she’d give speeches to pals in the greenroom about how “life is not a dress rehearsal and we need to get our s*** together” – she also pursued singing, modelling and presenting, eventually starting a coaching business after becoming a mum to daughters Brooke, now 13, and Texas, now 11.

In 2014, life took a major turn for the family when her husband, Ross Blair, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He died in 2017, leaving Matthews a widow at 33. She launched The Happy Me Project just months later, growing her self-development platform and offerings as she navigated grief and single parenthood. Her first book (The Happy Me Project: The No-Nonsense Guide To Self-Development) was published in 2022.

One of her key goals is to “simplify” self-development, empowering people – particularly women – to find their confidence, without over-complicating things.

“My focus is on supporting people, especially people who really don’t understand this stuff. I like to simplify things. I want to make things low-hanging fruit, especially when people are going through difficult times. Because what we don’t need is being talked down to or given some big, long-winded ideas of how to fix ourselves,” she says.

“We don’t need to fix ourselves anyway. And I think the more we can simplify stuff and give people tools, the happier people will be, and the more compassion we can give ourselves.”

Healing is also a key theme for Matthews, and “helping people to recognise that they’re not broken”. There can often be an expectation when we start out with any sort of therapy, coaching or self-development efforts, that we’ll reach a point of being ‘sorted’.

But as Matthews highlights, there is no “certificate” at the end of it where they can say: “That’s me done, I’m a fully functioning adult now with no issues! That would be nice, but I think we’re always evolving,” she adds. “And we’ll get to a point where maybe we’ve done a lot of work around [a certain thing], and we’ll think – OK, I’ve got this sussed a bit now, and then something else will happen and we will shift and change.

“I’ve had that continuously, and I think one of the important things to remember is that what helped you at one point in your life, whatever strategy you used, isn’t going to work forever. You will shift and change, and acknowledging that we need to shift is important.”

In terms of her own big shifts, Matthews says: “When I was the kid on the TV and being an actor, I needed a level of armour, bravado and fake confidence, I guess, to support me with that stuff. When my husband was going through brain cancer, I needed to be hardy, there was a level that I needed to keep going, and that served me.

“But in this new stage of my life, I really recognised, certainly after Ross died, that having that armour up wasn’t serving me at all, because it made me feel like I was always in a fight, and my nervous system wasn’t feeling good about that. I had to do a lot of work on stripping back some of that stuff and recognising that in this new stage, it’s OK, and it’s safe to be vulnerable, it’s safe to let go, it’s safe to not be perfect, whatever that looks like. It’s safe to be messy and imperfect, and actually, that will serve you better.”

Being diagnosed with ADHD around five years ago also helped her understand herself better.

“Something I would say to anybody, neurotypical or neurodivergent, is learn about your brain – learn what makes you tick, learn what triggers you, learn the things that support you. Play around with those things, get ideas, whether it’s from therapy, a coach or books, get ideas and experiment and be the detective of your own brain, and then work out some ideas [that work for you], instead of being in your fight in your own brain.”

Previously, Matthews says she would try and “hide all of the traits of ADHD and neurodivergence, and when I did that, everything was harder. Now I don’t do that, it’s much easier”.

For more information about Holly Matthews and The Happy Me Project, visit