Fame, babies and why I'm eaten up by regret, by former superstar Linda Nolan
22:36 GMT, 26 October 2012
Linda Nolan has applied to be a foster parent
Linda Nolan has a baby gate at the foot of her stairs and a large box of toys in the hallway, which is odd considering she has no children.
She is a Nolan sister, though, which means she is ‘Auntie Linda’ — and demon babysitter — to what seems like an entire army of Nolanettes.
We get a little tangled as she explains who is who in the wider Nolan family tree. If it is hard enough to work out all those singing sisters, imagine getting to grips with the next generation. And the one after that.
‘To cut a long story short, I have nine nieces and nephews, and now three great-nieces and nephews,’ she says, eventually. ‘Then I’ve got two stepchildren who also have children of their own. Oh, and I’m a godmother a few times over.
‘Basically, I’m the Auntie Linda that they all come and stay with, so my house is probably as kiddie-proofed as that of anyone who does have children. I’ve had the three littlest ones today. We’ve been out in the park, charging about. They love staying with me — though I confess I do spoil them.
‘They probably get too much chocolate when they are here. And they have been known to have an ice lolly before they go to bed. But it’s my prerogative to spoil them, isn’t it’
Her sisters must delight in having such a willing babysitter, but if Linda, 53, gets her way, these family sleepovers may not be quite so easy to arrange in future.
It emerged this week that Linda has applied to be a foster carer, and she says today that her biggest dream is to ‘become one of those amazing people who lose count of the number of children that have lived with them over the years’.
Today she talks excitedly of how officials have visited her home, and of how she is wading through myriad necessary forms.
‘Obviously, a great support network is important, and you have to list all the people who will be available to help with childcare — so my sisters are getting the tables turned on them,’ she says.
‘Hopefully, they are going to get the chance to babysit. If nothing else, there is no shortage of people who will be able to sing a good lullaby!’
When the news broke this week that Linda was being assessed as a potential foster mum, Nolans fans were surprised.
Linda was the glamorous one (‘the one with the boobs and the hair,’ as she puts it). While her sisters were all popping out babies one after the other, she was the career-driven one, the Nolan who landed a solo recording deal.
The thought of being regarded as in any way ‘mumsy’ would have horrified her — and there are raunchy pictures from that time to prove it. The fact that she was dubbed the Naughty Nolan also speaks volumes.
Not always in harmony: The Nolan Sisters Anne, Denise, Maureen, Linda and Bernadette (pictured left to right)
Yet, appearances can be deceptive. It turns out that of all the Nolans, Linda was perhaps the most instinctively maternal. She says she was certainly the one who all the other sisters expected to become a mum. ‘My sisters have always said that they thought I was the one most likely to have children. Yet I’m the one who hasn’t.
‘I’ve watched them all have their families over the years, and it just hasn’t happened for me.
‘I always thought I would have a family of my own. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t, and not having children is the biggest regret — the only regret, in fact — of my life.
‘It just didn’t happen. There was never a right time early one, and when there was, it was too late.’
The biggest tragedy, perhaps, is that Linda was also the sister who had a stable home life and a marriage that, she admits, ‘would have been the perfect environment in which to bring up a child’.
She met musician-turned-tour manager Brian Hudson in the late Seventies. They were married for 26 years. ‘He was the love of my life, quite simply.’
Yet children weren’t part of their union because Brian had two children from a previous marriage.
‘It wasn’t something really pressing. We did plan to have our own, and he always said, “When you are ready, tell me,” and I thought I would. But it was never a real priority.’
As is so often the case, by the time she had made up her mind to start a family, it was too late.
It has been reported that she regrets putting her career before her potential family, but it is not quite that simple.
‘Brian and I worked together. He was the Nolan Sisters’ tour manager, then, when I went solo, he managed me. /10/26/article-0-05596963000005DC-688_634x568.jpg” width=”634″ height=”568″ alt=”Sister act: The Nolan family now consists of what seems to be 'an entire army of Nolanettes' and Linda has had plenty of practice with children” class=”blkBorder” />
Sister act: The Nolan family now consists of what seems to be 'an entire army of Nolanettes' and Linda has had plenty of practice with children
‘I was aware that time was running out, though. I remember going to my doctor when I was about 42 saying: “I still have time, don’t I” He said I should get a move on.’
She sighs. ‘What was I thinking When I meet women who say they aren’t quite ready to have children, I say: “Get on with it. What if you can’t What if life has other plans” ’
Her own life certainly had devastating plans of its own. In 2003, Brian was diagnosed with skin cancer and suddenly the decisions about when to start a family were not the issue.
‘To be honest, we weren’t even thinking about it. The priority was just getting Brian well.’
But it was not to be. Brian died in 2007, leaving her ‘beyond devastated’. In the meantime, she found herself facing a battle for her own life, having been diagnosed with breast cancer.
She underwent a mastectomy and debilitating chemotherapy, and it is only recently that she has completed the reconstructive surgery that followed her operation. She looks back on that whole time with horror.
‘I lost Brian, had cancer and my mother died — three huge things happened almost together. I nearly went under.’
Outwardly, Linda is a trouper. She was appearing in panto in Belfast when her cancer was diagnosed and was back on stage during treatment ‘because the mortgage still needed to be paid’. But, later, she crumbled.
‘What started out as grief developed into full-blown depression and I needed medical help. I went on antidepressants and had counselling.
‘I didn’t actually attempt suicide, but I thought about it a lot. I had a conversation with my sisters and brothers about what would happen if they found me dead one day. I said to them: “You would understand, wouldn’t you”
Linda's sisters must delight in having such a willing babysitter but it's not set to last for much longer
‘They were horrified, but in a very Nolan way. I remember them saying: “No, we absolutely would not understand, Linda.”
‘My brother joked: “And don’t think I would have your dog.” That’s what we are like as a family. However black things get, someone always makes a joke.’
Her recovery has been a long haul, she says, but she feels finally that she has turned a corner. ‘The idea of fostering is part of that. My counsellor says that when I talk about it, there’s a light in my eyes she hasn’t seen before.’
The idea came to her a few years back, she says. ‘A cousin adopted a child and was telling me how important the foster parent was, looking after the child before they found a permanent family.
‘Then, more recently, it was Adoption Week and I remember thinking: “Could I do it Why not” ’
The application process, she says, is not quick: ‘Who knows, maybe I won’t make it. But I want to try. I think I have a lot to offer.’
She is understandably nervous. ‘At the minute I’ve said I am interested in looking after babies and young children. I’m a little anxious about whether I would be able to manage teenagers.’
She has never considered remarrying, and laughs off her sisters’ attempts to get her paired up.
‘Maureen says: “Come on, Linda, you can’t be on your own for ever.” She will try to pair me off with any single man. ‘I can’t see it happening.
‘I realise I was very lucky to have what I had with Brian. I don’t think you can expect that sort of thing twice in one lifetime.’
But is embarking on a new life as a foster parent quite an undertaking when there is no one to share the burden
‘I’m not on my own: three of my sisters live close by. We are in and out of each other’s homes and lives. My work is perfectly compatible with having children. It’s not as if I am out in an office every day. If I do a gig, I have plenty of notice.’
The prospect of a needy child finding a home in the heart of the Nolan family may be a curious one, and she knows there will be quips about no shortage of free panto tickets.
Yet the fostering officials seem quite happy for her to go on the record talking about her plans — because, she says, ‘they want to underline how all sorts of people should consider fostering’.
‘There is this myth about the sort of people who foster, but it is entirely that, a myth. The reality is that there is no type.’ Whether her own childhood, and its legacy, will be a hindrance or a help in her application process remains to be seen.
While the Nolans cruised through the Seventies and Eighties with their saccharine image intact, a few years ago it was sullied by a series of allegations from the eldest sister, Anne.
She caused uproar within and outside the family when she revealed that their father had been violent and had sexually abused her.
While none of the sisters has contradicted her account, some have made it clear that they felt such things should remain private.
Bernie, in particular, took exception to Anne’s candour. Coleen, however, told her own story of violence, calling her father a ‘monster’.
Linda is torn. Yes, she saw him hitting her mother, she accepts, but says ‘we all still loved him’.
‘There was violence, but it wasn’t all the time. It was only when he got drunk. Dad was like Jekyll and Hyde.
While Linda's sisters started families, she was the career-driven one, the Nolan who landed a recording deal
‘I don’t think what happened in our home was particularly unusual. It was probably quite common.’
So as far as she was concerned, was it, overall, a happy childhood
Linda was singing from a young age, recruited into the family group before she could possibly have been able to make that decision for herself. ‘But we didn’t know any other way, and the bottom line was we all knew we were loved.’
She concedes that they aren’t the perfect family, though. The cuttings files on the Nolans are crammed full of tales of family rifts and feuds.
To this day, Anne is somewhat estranged from the others because she gave an interview pointing out how hurt she was not to have been included in a reunion tour in 2010.
‘We’ve had our ups and downs — but that just makes us a typical family, doesn’t it’ is how Linda puts it. ‘None of us ever claimed to be perfect.’
She argues, anyway, that having a challenging upbringing yourself is perhaps the best qualification for becoming a parent — even a temporary one — to someone else.
‘I think there is this perception that everyone in showbusiness has this gilded life, but I can assure you I haven’t had that.
‘And everything I have been through has just made me stronger.’
Everyone asks her, she says, how she will bear to be able to give up any child she fosters.
She says that ‘will be the hard part’, but it is part of the deal. ‘I think if I was coming into this looking to fill the void — the child I never had — then it might be a problem. But I know that it isn’t about that.
‘It is about me reaching a point in my life where I realise that I have something to offer, and might be able to help.
‘I’m never going to be a Mum, I know that. It’s simply being Auntie Linda to children who might need an Auntie Linda that I’m aiming for.’