Denise Welch at 60: 'I'm not having a meltdown'

18970829-1.jpg

By Hannah Stephenson

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."

18970829-3.jpg

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."

At 50, she had the bags under her eyes surgically lifted - but has no
plans for further cosmetic enhancements at 60.

"I always said that if something was making me unhappy, then I'd do
something about it. And nothing is making me unhappy. I'm in control of
how I look, my skin is good. I'm very lucky genetically that my mum had
good skin.

"I don't even have Botox or fillers any more, because I'm seeing too
many young women with these fillers and they're all turning into
doppelgangers of Kylie Jenner. Every one of them looks the same.

"I'm seeing older women with fillers - and they look like Clarence the
Cross-Eyed Lion. They look weird. I'm just going let my looks be for
now. I would never say never about anything but, at the moment, I've no
plans to do anything."

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 published by Sphere on August 9,
priced £8.99

Catherine Devane