Stephanie Waring is one of Hollyoaks’ long-standing stars, playing Cindy Cunningham in the award-winning soap. Her own life has been eventful and sometimes traumatic. Here she tells Armand Beasley about overcoming teenage trauma – and finding love in lockdown.

Back in 1995, Hollyoaks aired its first episode. The brainchild of Brookside creator Phil Redmond, Hollyoaks was initially aimed at an adolescent and young adult audience but has since developed into an engaging drama for all ages often tackling difficult issue-led storylines.

In 2014, the Chester-based continuing drama won Best Soap at The British Soap Awards for the first time and then again in 2019. Will they scoop the coveted award this year?

Tell us about your childhood:

I grew up in Urmston and still split my time between there and Wilmslow. It was a happy childhood looking back, but in my teen years I started to struggle. I was bullied at school because I was a bit overweight. So, when I was about 12, I decided to go on a diet. The more weight I lost, the more attention I got, especially from boys - people said that I was blossoming, and the diet carried on.

My weight had gone from 10 stone to 7 stone 4. I had lost three stone in six months. It was only when my weight dropped down to under six stone that I went to a different doctor who disagnosed then told me that I had anorexia. I became obsessed with my weight, more withdrawn and things just got worse. At four stone I was hospitalised at an adolescent unit in a mental health facility and there for four months - basically my teen years were consumed by this disorder.

What happened when you came out of the facility?

Well, because I was all about control and discipline I came out with really good GCSEs. I took a year out and went to work for my uncle in the south of France before returning and enrolling in business school. I was around 17 and I had some portfolio pictures taken as a few people said that I should go into modelling. When I got the pictures through, something switched on in me, and reignited my desire to act again. I joined Cheshire Actors Studio. Actors and went there in the evenings whilst working as an office junior during the day.

Great British Life: Schoolgirl Stephanie. (c) Stephanie WaringSchoolgirl Stephanie. (c) Stephanie Waring

What was your first acting job?

It was for ITV and I played Tracy Brown, the only surviving victim of the Yorkshire Ripper.

How did you get the role of Cindy in HollyOaks?

Well the original Cindy left and so they had to recast. I got called in for the audition and I think I was the oldest at 18 although I looked younger, which is a good job as Cindy is three years younger than me. At the end of the same day, I was told that I had got the job! It was only supposed to be for four episodes.

And here you are 23 years later!

I know! But I have left and come back on a few occasions.

Cindy has been in some dramatic storylines from her postnatal depression to discovering her bipolar disorder. How do you prepare for emotional storylines?

I was 18 when I had to do the postnatal depression story which revolved around Cindy giving birth to her daughter Holly. I had no idea how to tackle that as I had no experience of that particular scenario, so I had to draw upon my own trauma as well as my interactions with the other adolescents in my facility who suffered with severe depression. As an actor you want to take as much from your own experience as possible, so I revisited the darkness that engulfed so much of my teens, to hopefully deliver what I thought was an authentic performance.

What’s been your favourite storyline?

It would have to be last years ‘Cindy and Luke’ storyline. Luke, played wonderfully by Gary Lucy, was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia and whilst in Majorca with Cindy had an accident that left him in a coma. He dies in the hospital with Cindy by his side. It was heartbreaking but as an actor, it was wonderful storyline to play out…and Gary was an absolute joy to work with.

Great British Life: Stephanie as a young Cindy in the TV soap with baby Holly.Hollyoaks/limestudiosStephanie as a young Cindy in the TV soap with baby Holly.Hollyoaks/limestudios

How has Cindy’s character grown up on the show?

Cindy idolised Jude, Davinia Taylor’s character so I think she tried to emulate her but didn’t quite get it right! Also, because she’s bipolar there’s a lot of light and shade with her. She’s a joy to play as there’s a very comedic undertone to her, even when there may be a lot of drama or turmoil around her.

The British Soap Awards are in June - how do you think Hollyoaks will do?

Quite a lot has changed with the awards…for example, they no longer have best actor and best actress, just best performance. Hollyoaks has a great fan base, and we are competing with some soaps that have a larger audiences like Coronation Street and Eastenders so, fingers crossed we can win something this year as we’ve had some fantastic storylines and performances.

Do you have a particular storyline or performance you think could win?

Yes. Niamh Blackshaw who plays Juliet, has delivered some incredible performances throughout her cancer diagnosis storyline. I really hope she gets the recognition that she deserves.

What’s in store for Cindy this year?

Well, I’m in the middle of a very exciting storyline at the moment as Cindy, Grace and Zara have decided to rob a bank to save the market! There are some great comedy moments as well as drama. It’s a lot of fun to play, however, the repercussions for Cindy may not be as much fun.

Are there opportunities for you to take time out to do other acting work?

If I was approached to do a play in a national theatre tour, then I would need to take that to Hollyoaks to see if we could schedule the time in. I would love to do something like a period drama at some point. But I’m having so much fun with Cindy at the moment. I did Dancing on Ice a few years ago and of course Owen Warner did I’m A Celebrity - Hollyoaks are good at trying to accommodate opportunities.

Would you ever be tempted to do I’m A Celebrity?

That’s the one reality show that I would really like to do. When I took a break from Hollyoaks a few years ago, I filmed a drama in Sydney called Crash Palace, and I had a great time living out there so the opportunity to go back out to Australia would be great. The jungle would be a totally different kind of challenge, but I would love it!

As a woman in her 40s in the public eye, how do feel about life, perception and social media?

I wish I’d cared less a long time ago. In my 20s I was really bothered about what I looked like. In my 30s it was about people’s perception of me , especially with the rise of social media back then. But now in my 40s I’m a lot happier , even though I’m still quite sensitive, I don’t let other people’s negativity spoil my life. I do however wish that I knew in my 30s what I know now about health and well-being especially with the onset of the perimenopause .

How did you know you were peri-menopausal?

It was the insomnia that flagged up that something was different. It got so bad that I would be in tears with exhaustion, but just couldn’t sleep. It was the lack of progesterone as well as oestrogen that had triggered insomnia, low energy and brain fog. I went on to hormones for a while but now I’m not on anything. The game changer for me was nailing my nutrition which, at the moment is what I call a ‘Keto-biotic diet’: so, fats and protein with leafy greens and I cycle it with starches on and off plus occasional intermittent fasting. My brain is sharper and I’m so much happier, plus I can sleep!

Do you feel that there’s a lot of pressure to look good on the red carpet?

Yes. But saying that I now don’t feel as pressurised now. I tend to keep it glam but I usually pick up a dress last minute and I have one of my oldest friends from school, Lisa , looking after my hair.

Great British Life: Stephanie with her fiance Tom Thornton-Brooks. (c) Stephanie WaringStephanie with her fiance Tom Thornton-Brooks. (c) Stephanie Waring

You got engaged to your fiancé Tom Thornton-Brooks two years ago, how did you meet and when’s the wedding!?

We originally met very briefly way back in 2013 as I was invited to the opening of one of his clubs in Manchester as Tom is in the hospitality industry. In late 2020 his name popped up on Facebook as ‘people you might know’, which triggered my memory of him so I sent him a friend request. He accepted my friend request and we were just messaging each other online - then he asked me out for dinner and that’s how it started. He’s lovely and we are very happy. Regarding the wedding plans…. maybe next year, there’s no rush.

Quick fire questions:

Fitness regime

Weight training, Pilates and yoga three to five times a week. I also do a lot of walking.

3 favourite beauty products

I do like the MAC concealer palette and I use a L’Oreal waterproof mascara. When it comes to skincare, I’m quite minimalistic and just use a vitamin C serum and a basic moisturiser.

3 favourite places in Cheshire

I love Carrs Park in Wilmslow for a fresh air day out.

Symposium and The Grove in Wilmslow are owned by my co-star Ashley Taylor Dawson and both are great. The Grove has live music too.

My favourite restaurant is Coast in Prestbury where Tom and I always have our date nights - we love that place.

Finally, what advice would you give to you younger self?

Balance is everything, so care about yourself and don’t worry about what people MAY think, because they are actually not that bothered about what you’re doing or what you look like. Chill out!