Local heroes - Denise Welch talks about her TV fame and charity work

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Local heroes - Denise Welch talks about her TV fame and charity work

Local heroes - Denise Welch talks about her TV fame and charity work

Posted: 06 Oct 2009

Local heroes - Denise Welch talks about her TV fame and charity work

TV's Mr and Mrs land top charity honour 

Geordie screen and stage superstars Tim Healy and Denise Welch were honoured in February with a unique charity award by the northern region of the Variety Club. Denise talks telly and charity in an exclusive interview with Michael Hamilton

Pictures copyright George Bosnyak

There wasnít a dry eye in the house when Auf Wiedersehen Pet stalwart Tim and Coronation StreetĎs Denise picked up a prestigious joint Silver Heart award at a star-studded celebrity bash at Newcastleís Civic Centre. 

Itís the first time the charity Ė in its 60-year history Ė has awarded a joint Silver Heart.

Gosforth guitar legend Mark Knopfler played his signature tune Local Hero for the couple live as they received their accolade surrounded by their showbiz pals, closest friends and family Ė a fitting tribute to mark two glittering careers.

Before the lavish ceremony in the banqueting suite, attended by more than 500 guests, I caught up with Denise in a break from her latest TV hit Loose Women, to look back over her acting career.

MH: Apart from the Variety Club you do work for lots of charities.

Denise: Iím a patron of 21 charities Ė some of them are in name only because thereís only so much physically you can do in a hands-on way. But they call me Mother Teresa at work!
We do the Tim Healy and Denise Welch ball in Cheshire Ė where we now live Ė every year. This year we raised £120,000, which was split between two charities. A friend of mineís charity is based in Rochdale and the money goes into research into genetic diseases. Her two boys died of Hunterís Syndrome and we also lost two friends last year to motor neurone disease.

I did the Manchester 10km run two years ago and the Great Wall of China run last September. Itís 4,000 miles long so obviously you donít do the whole thing! I did the rough terrain part. It was about 12km a day and it was the hardest thing Iíve done physically. There are no flat bits. But it was all very rewarding and quite surreal to be there and wonder how they built this amazing thing in the first place.

Tim and I are incredibly flattered and very honoured to receive the joint Silver Heart award from the Variety Club Ė itís their highest honour. And itís great to be appreciated by your own in your home area of course.

MH: You are notoriously candid about your personal life on the Loose Women TV show. Does it cause problems with Tim?

Denise: Not really. Of course he does watch it with his hands over his eyes wondering what the hell Iím going to say next.

If weíve had a row in the morning before I go to do the show he says: ĎCan you please not tell the whole nation today that Iím a complete a...! I still do of course!

I canít say I havenít got into trouble because I have. I just forget Iím on television sometimes. Seriously though, I know my levels.

With Tim and everything I say about him on the show, I think people know thereís an element of tongue-in-cheek about it. Iím playing a bit of a role in the show Ė thatís my persona.

The trouble arises when he hasnít seen it. For example I talked about him on the show using the guest downstairs loo at home. So he goes to the pub and people say: ĎI hear you did a poo in the downstairs toilet, then.í And he didnít know what they were on about.

Itís a good job heís got a sense of humour.

MH: Is there anything off limits Ė anything you wouldnít talk about on the show?

Denise: All the bad things Iíve done in my life are out there, because theyíve been in the newspapers. I canít go all quiet about them because they are in the public domain.

Thereís nothing Tim doesnít know about me. Itís the way I choose to talk about those things which is the important thing.

The more successful presenters on the show are the ones who are very open. The programme only works if the presenters are very truthful.

Weíve tried different people over the years and if they are too young, for example, they may not feel ready to talk about some things. If youíre not going to talk about your life then youíre not right for Loose Women. If you are young you may not have enough experiences to talk about. We poor old slappers have got plenty to talk about!

MH: Whatís the worst thing youíve revealed about Tim?

Denise: Well his toilet habits, of course, and rambling on when heís drunk. I could go on and on! But actually when he came on the show last Valentineís Day it showed how close we really were.

I didnít know he was going to sing to me. I knew he was coming on the show but thought he would just bring a bunch of flowers. Then he sang Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? Itís my favourite song.

The emails flooded in from viewers saying it was the most romantic thing they had seen. Heís such a good singer too. A lot of people donít know that about him.

MH: Youíve been together 20 years now. How did you first meet?

Denise: Although weíve been together for 20 years we first met about 30 years ago when I went for an audition at the Live Theatre Company in Newcastle. He was a founder member and I was just out of drama school.

As it happened I didnít do that job because I was offered another one in London and I was going out with someone in London then.

So we knew each other for about 10 years before we got together but we werenít really that fond of each other.

Then he got mega-famous in Auf Wiedersehen Pet. I thought he was a brilliant actor. I just didnít like him very much and he didnít like me!

We had various relationships in between. Iíd been married and he had a steady girlfriend. Years later we met at supper at Max Roberts (the director of Live Theatre) house and Robson Green was there with his girlfriend. It just happened from there.

It was a slow burn really. We were mates first. You have to be mates really because once the initial chemistry starts to fade, then if you are not friends thereís not much to keep you there.

MH: You are back on TV now with the school drama Waterloo Road and Timís in it with you. How was that?

Denise: It was great to have Tim in the last series of Waterloo Road. He plays a security guard. They bring security in when a gun is brought to school by one of the pupils. In the show heís obsessed with my character Ė Steph the French teacher Ė and I keep knocking him back. Tim says itís just art mirroring life!

MH: The gun and shooting was a shocking plot line in the show. Do you worry for your kids growing up these days?

Denise: My youngest Louis is in a nice little rural school in Alderley Edge so itís not a big city school like Waterloo Road with the sort of problems that inner city schools have.

Itís only a drama but sadly this sort of thing is going on in schools in the UK nowadays. Itís terrifying. But you canít worry about it all the time or you would drive yourself bonkers.

But that doesnít mean you donít worry. Of course you do. I have to try not to think about it too much. If I worried about everything that faces them in this day and age Iíd end up having another nervous breakdown.

My eldest Matthew is in a band called Drive Like I Do and heís just recorded his first single called Robbers which is out in March. Heís the writer, singer and lead guitarist and Iím very excited about that for him.

Jamie, who is Timís and my godson, and Matthew are big pals and heís just landed an 18-month record deal in New York. Tim and I are so proud of both of them.

We joke that we just hope the money comes rolling in so he can buy me that house in Beverly Hills Iíve always dreamed of!

MH: What sort of pupil were you at school?

Denise: Ironically Iíve just been back to my old school Consett Grammar for a project for the BBC. Because of my role in Waterloo Road as a teacher they wanted me for a show called Playing the Part.

I had to go and be a teacher for real at my old school. It was the most terrifying thing I have done in my life. They made no concessions that I was an actress. I had to teach these kids, between 11 and 15, English for a week.

As a pupil Iíve got very fond memories of my school. Itís just that I didnít do very well when I was there. It wasnít until drama came into my life when I was about 14 that I found something I loved. I didnít set the world on fire academically.

I was at La Sagesse in Newcastle when I was younger but an all-girls convent school just wasnít my cup of tea. Then we moved to Shotley Bridge and all my friends were going to Consett Grammar while I was having to get on a bus at 7am to go to Newcastle. 

MH: You live in Cheshire now. Do you still have a home in the North East?

Denise: We still have our place in Stocksfield. My sister lives there. We are up normally about every three weeks or so. But I film Waterloo Road in Rochdale so being in Cheshire is really handy for that. All my friends from Corrie live near by too.

MH: Would you ever move back to the North East?

Denise: We love the North East but itís just not practical for us to live there. We do so much of our work in Manchester, so thatís the most sensible place for us to be. If one of us was in Newcastle it would be even harder to see each other. Matthew has his band there and Louis is happy in school too. But the North East is still our home and we go back a lot.

MH: Do you have a favourite role?

Denise: As an actress Iíve always wanted to do well but Iíve never had this thing that I wanted to play Lady Macbeth before I die. In the theatre I won an award about two years ago for a play at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. As a kid I always thought it would be great to play the Royal Exchange and I finally got to play the mother in Little Voice Ė so that was probably my favourite.

As jobs go Iíve enjoyed everything Iíve done Ė even in the early days touring in rep with things like Cry Murder in Skegness! As TV jobs go Soldier Soldier was great from a location point of view because it was like being sent abroad with all your best friends.

MH: Would you ever go back to Coronation Street?

Denise: I couldnít say Ďnoí because you should never say Ďnever.í But why would I want to? Iíve worked continually since I left and I it was my decision to leave. Iíve never asked to go back and they have never asked me. The character has no connections with the Street anymore Ė theyíd have to invent a reason for me to go back.

If I hadnít been working for three years I would bite their hand off, but Iíve been very fortunate that Iíve worked ever since. Iíll be on Loose Women until April. Then thereís a little break then Waterloo Road starts filming again in May.

* Any donations for the charity should be sent to: Variety Club, Suite 25 Aston House, Redburn Road, Westerhope, Newcastle NE5 1NB

Stars in their eyes

Born in Benwell in 1952 Tim has gone on to become a household TV name. He got his big telly break as brickie Dennis Patterson in the classic Auf Wiedersehen Pet, which went on to become the most successful British comedy of all time.

Itís all a far cry from his early days as a child actor growing up in Birtley and attending Pelton Secondary Modern. His late father was a keen amateur actor and stalwart of the local operatic society.

In a long showbusiness career he has starred in numerous TV shows including Casualty, Silent Witness, Coronation Street, Minder and Heartbeat. But he still loves being on stage and he played the gruff pitman dad in Billy Elliot the Musical in a West End run three years ago to critical acclaim.

Like Tim, Denise developed a penchant for acting at the age of 14 when she was cast in school productions. 

She was born in Ebchester, went to school in Whitley Bay and Newcastle and later attended Consett Grammar. Dad Vin is a keen actor and has appeared with her in Coronation Street.

Denise went straight into acting on leaving Londonís Mountview Theatre School in 1979 and, after getting her break at Newcastleís Live Theatre, made appearances in Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Spender Ė starring opposite Jimmy Nail Ė in the Eighties.

But it was when she was cast as Marsha Stubbs in ITVís Soldier Soldier that she became a household name. More success followed when she starred as scheming barmaid Natalie Barnes in the popular soap Coronation Street.

Like Tim she is an accomplished singer and she performed as Petula Clark in the 1999 Stars in Their Eyes TV show.

Denise has also appeared in The Bill, Holby City and Waterloo Road. For the last four years she has been a regular panellist on ITVís popular daytime show Loose Women.

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