The Nolans' Bernie Nolan on family life in Weybridge, her favourite dog walks and top restaurants

Just back from the Nolans' reunion tour, Bernie Nolan is glad to be at home in the heart of Surrey again. Here, she talks to TRACY COOK about everything from her busy family life in Weybridge to her favourite dog walks and top restaurant tips

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2010

Just back from the Nolans’ reunion tour, Bernie Nolan is glad to be at home in the heart of Surrey again. Here, she talks to TRACY COOK about everything from her busy family life in Weybridge to her favourite dog walks and top restaurant tips

It’s a bright winter’s day and Bernie Nolan has been out walking her dog, Dexter, a miniature schnauzer, around Oatlands Park in Weybridge – which is why she’s running a little bit late for our chat.

“Sorry, sorry!” she exclaims, as she starts to get her breath back. “It’s just so lovely outdoors and I love being out in the fresh air. It’s great to have the time to get outside again!

“It’s so beautiful round here. We do have such gorgeous places to walk – we’re often in Hurst Park making friends with other dogs, or walking along the river towpath by the Swan in Walton. There’s always a pub nearby when we go for a walk! 

“You really appreciate it when you’ve been away. Our tour only finished two weeks ago and I’m still winding down. I’m tour-lagged! I can’t sleep at night – I’m buzzing still.”  

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Bernie, or Bernadette, 49, is referring to The Nolans’ reunion tour – the glitzy �2 million I’m In The Mood Again show that sold out for 25 nights across the UK. Dubbed the ultimate girls’ night out, it may be 30 years since The Nolan Sisters had their first hit with I’m In The Mood For Dancing, but the comeback tour has proved they can still do it.

“It was amazing – beyond our wildest expectations!” says Bernie. “The whole point of the tour was to say to women, we’re in our 40s and 50s, we’re not size zeros, but we can still have a great time and be happy in our own skin.

“It was fantastic to connect with a live audience and be able to give them a good time. That’s why the show is full of all those diva classics like It’s Raining Men and Holding Out for a Hero. It gets everyone dancing!”

Glittering careerBorn in Dublin, her warm, throaty Irish accent belies the powerful singing voice that a critic once said could cut glass, or reduce an audience to tears in seconds. She was regularly the lead singer on The Nolans’ hits and has since brought out her own solo album, All by Myself. Now, together with sisters Coleen, 44, Linda, 50, and Maureen, 55, and some big songs, big hair and lots of fabulous outfits, The Nolans are in the mood again with a new album and DVD, too.

However, the comeback hasn’t been without controversy. The original line-up also included older sisters Anne and Denise. As The Nolan Sisters, they started singing in 1974, sold millions of records and performed on Cliff Richard’s TV series, The Morecambe and Wise Show and even toured with Frank Sinatra. Apparently this time round, however, record label Universal chose the four sisters who were in the group when it was most successful – and Anne and Denise are reported to have been very disappointed.

“Look, Coleen (presenter of ITV’s Loose Women) suggested we get back together after she did Dancing on Ice,” explains Bernie. “She loved the feeling of being in front of a live audience. We’d talked about it loads of times in the past, but it was never the right time. Then it was, ‘let’s do this one more time before I die!’ Universal put the tour together, I got the call and suddenly it was all in the pipeline.”

For Bernie the icing on the cake was that her husband of 13 years, drummer Steve Doneathy, and daughter, Erin, ten, were able to come, too.

“I’ve been very lucky. It was great to have Steve on the tour – he’s playing drums for us. He gave up his career, really, to look after Erin when she was born and it’s been wonderful for him to have a chance to play again.

“We are very close, but we also like being two independent people. So sometimes he’d go for a curry with the boys and I’d stay in with the girls. The tour was like one big family. We had these eight gorgeous male dancers who were so lovely with Erin, and Coleen’s daughter, Ciara, who is eight came, too, so Erin had a pal. We had an absolute ball.”

Now, though, Bernie is thrilled to be back home in Weybridge doing normal family things.“Oh, I love my weekends!” she says. “On Saturdays, I tend to go into Kingston. There’s always something I need for Erin – school clothes or shoes etc. And we love Carluccio’s and Jamie’s Italian – although I hate the queuing there!

“And on Sundays, we quite often walk the dog along the river by Hampton Court and stop and have a coffee in one of those lovely caf�s. People do tend to recognise me but they’re used to seeing me around in Surrey. Usually, they just say hello or perhaps ask me to sign something. It’s lovely, really.”

Despite all the walks, Bernie still has to work at keeping fit and trains at the Weybridge Health Club. “I do try to look my best,” she says. “You have to in this business. I lost a stone while I was on tour, dancing for an hour and a half every night! But my weight’s always very up and down. I struggle with it like so many women.” No surprise then that she brought out a successful fitness DVD called 40 and Fit For Life.

Move to SurreyIt was work that brought her to Surrey from the north west of England, where she grew up and lived in the early days of The Nolans. After leaving the group in 1994 to pursue a solo career, she performed in several shows, including the West End hit Blood Brothers, before landing the role of Diane Murray in Channel 4’s Brookside. Then she was offered the part of Sergeant Sheelagh Murphy in ITV’s The Bill, which she played for two years, filming near Wimbledon.

“When I first got the part, we had to move down to London,” she says. “A friend had a house for rent in Hersham in Surrey. I’d never heard of Hersham, but it was just 20 minutes away by train from where The Bill was shooting. I rented the house for six months and just fell in love with the area. Then we found a lovely coach house in Weybridge, where we still are, which I love.

“It was perfect when I was on The Bill. If I had a scene in the morning, I’d nip up to Morden early, shoot it, pop home for lunch and go back in the afternoon for a scene at the end of the day!

“Erin’s more Surrey than anything else. If we ever think about moving out to the country or back up north, she just wants to stay here. She’s grown up here and loves the house and her friends.” Erin, who is at Cleves School in Weybridge, can’t wait to follow her mother on to the stage. “We’ve got no choice there!” Bernie jokes. “She’s already saying she wants to be in films and she wants an agent!”

But although Bernie’s life may look like one big success story, she is no stranger to tragedy. In 1998, her first daughter Kate was diagnosed with Edwards’ syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder and was stillborn five and a half months into the pregnancy. Bernie donated the royalties from her first single Macushla, released in 2004, to the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society. She also walked the Great Wall of China, raising �80,000 for the charity.

Right now, the future looks bright for Bernie. Having just played the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella in panto in Dunstable, she is now returning to tour with the comedy show Mum’s The Word and there is talk of another tour with The Nolans. And while she has recently starred in a number of musicals, including Flashdance, she confides that her dream would be to return to television.

“I’d really love to do a sitcom. Or I’d love another drama series like The Bill. I’m always busy, though. Everyone thinks that because you’re in show business you’re loaded,” she laughs. “But I’m like everyone else, really. I’ve got a mortgage to pay. I’ve got to keep working!”

My favourite Surrey

Restaurant:Oh, there are so many! We like Carluccio’s over in Walton, by the Heart, as well as the one in Kingston. And we went to the Italian, La Casa, on Monument Hill in Weybridge the other day, and had a really lovely meal there. If we’re in Kingston, we’ll pop into Patisserie Valerie – they do such gorgeous cakes.

Shop:Well, if I’m in Kingston, I’ve got to go to Karen Millen. All those gorgeous dresses! I love it. And we are so lucky to have the department stores on our doorstep. You can just get anything you need there. And in Weybridge, we also have a great kitchen shop, tucked down an alley by Waitrose.

View:As a family, we love walking by the river, just watching the world go by. I do like people watching, although it can get a bit crowded sometimes. But if there’s a glass of wine involved...

Place to visit:We go to Hampton Court most Sundays and walk along by the palace.

Place to chill:Mmm, I do like a swim and then a relaxing steam at the Weybridge Health Club on Walton Lane. That’s real me time. It’s a beautiful club, with a lovely pool. It’s quiet, very peaceful and the staff are always very nice to me.