Lisa Riley: 'I found my own way'

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By Michelle Newman

Lisa Riley is on cloud nine. She seems genuinely happy and her enthusiasm is infectious. The last two years have seen the actress and TV presenter go through some of the biggest changes of her life. On a personal level Lisa was resolute in her decision to lead a more healthy way of life, which turned out to be a catalyst for career opportunities, at one point, she only dreamed of.

Professionally she’s busier than ever. A clothing range, a perfume launch and her new book Lisa Riley’s Honesty Diet. It’s a project she’s immensely proud of and you can hear the passion in her voice when she talks about it.

“The testimonials have been gleaming. I literally had a tear in my eye when I was reading them, because I know how hard it is and how hard it is to make such drastic change,” says Lisa.

“Before the release date I was adamant that we got people to try it. I mean I am the evidence, I am proof that it works completely. When I look at old pictures of myself as a size 28 and here I am as a 12 I’m still slightly in denial.

“I’m in denial in the sense that I’ll see a nice cardigan on the Marks and Spencer website and then I’ll go in and still pick up sizes that are too big for me. I don’t know whether that’s a self-comfort thing or fear, but then I hear I’m in a size 12 and I feel fantastic.”

As the title suggests the book is very truthful. Lisa tells it like it is, or at least how it used to be, warts and all. The feeling of being a ‘lost hope’ was all too familiar; fad diets weren’t working and with that brought a sense of defeat. Instead of accepting this, Lisa devised her own plan of action and has been reaping the benefits ever since.

“l never in a million years thought that I was going to lose and keep off the enormity of weight that I have. I tried everything and nothing worked and there was nothing that I could do to sustain what I was being told,” Lisa says.

“I found my own way and it was down to hard work, mass dedication, call it what you want. I realised how much I was lying to myself, how much I was cheating myself out of success. When I wrote all this down and realised that I was allowed time on my own to make change, that’s when change happened.”

The writing process was a cathartic experience for Lisa. Being a ‘little bit brutal’ with herself and realising that the ‘truth does hurt’ was all part of the journey but from now on she is the one in control.

“I’m in charge of me. I know what’s in my cupboard, my fridge, I know what I’m putting in my mouth. I know the do’s and don’ts. I did it and it worked and worked terrifically well.”

As someone who has been in the public eye for more than 20 years – she joined long-running soap Emmerdale as Mandy Dingle in 1995 – Lisa knows that people value authenticity. She also knows that there’s a tendency to pull the wool over viewer’s eyes and that with other body and lifestyle overhaul transformations, they may not have been told the full story.

“I’m 41 now and I realised that an awful lot of people in the media can tell lies, which is unfair because when people are looking towards someone on TV or on radio as a role model they want you to tell the truth,” she says.

This isn’t something she feels comfortable with and it’s part of the reason why she decided to do her documentary, Lisa Riley’s Baggy Body Club.

“I think by doing my documentary and showing people the truth and the hardship of what I’ve been through, that’s why people believe me now even more because there’s no reason for me to lie.”

Regular exercise and training has now become part of Lisa’s every day routine. Even though she says she’s lucky that her confidence has always been strong, she has received some nasty comments from time to time. But rather than dwell on this negativity, she uses it as a motivator to prove her critics wrong.

“The more they say that to me, it just strives me on,” she says.

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“I visualise people making comments that are so visceral and so horrible that it kind of makes me say, ‘Come on,’ to get that last sprint, that last five minutes, I think, ‘I’ll show you.’ Everyone has a place where they go as a force for something better.”

While she’s from Manchester, Lisa has roots that are very close to home with Irish connections on both sides of her family.

“My mum’s side is [from] Tipperary and Dad’s side is [from] Cork. Which is why I’m very, very dark and I’m covered in freckles!”

Lisa was incredibly close to her late mother Cath, who sadly passed away in July 2012. Lisa says she feels her absence the most during the times when she wishes her mum could share in her happiness and success.

“It’s still as hard today, as tomorrow, as it is this week. All my life my mum, as everyone knows, was my world. [Recently] I had the most phenomenal day where I was like a Catherine wheel spinning, but when I’m sat in a taxi 25 minutes from my house, it hits me that I can’t ring her and share that elation with her,” says Lisa.

“I want to be able to ring her and say, ’Oh mum, you want to see it, the positivity, everyone’s just gleaming about the book’ and of course I can’t, I can’t hear her voice. That’s really hard. I unfortunately lost my grandfather [in September] and I keep saying, ‘Now I’ve got a circus up there in heaven.’ It’s a really happy circus because for one thing and one thing alone, I make them proud daily and that really helps me.”

Her new image has made way for new roles and she’s reveling at the chance to sink her teeth into the types of characters she’s always wanted to take on.

“It’s opened so many enormous doors for roles I would never ever have thought I would have been able to get before. And also the variation in roles because obviously the part of an actor is to portray that person and now I can portray so many different people,” says Lisa, adding that she would love to do a period drama at some point.

“I adore doing the meaty gritty [roles] I like playing sinister people, it’s a lot more exciting. As much as I get stimulated by exercise and food I also get very stimulated by my work and there’s nothing more amazing. It’s like getting a really good book, when you get a really good script it makes you want to read it again and again and develop that character and that’s a really adrenaline boost for me.”

And so, to the most important question of all, how does Lisa feel now? In a word, the answer is ‘healthy.’

“Hopefully I’ve gained at least another 10 years of my life,” she says.

“So long may that carry on.” 

Lisa Riley’s Honesty Diet by Lisa Riley is available now

Woman's Way