I didn’t want to be the fat one! After seeing her Birds Of A Feather co-star Pauline Quirke shed 8st, Linda Robson reveals how much she’s just lost

When Linda Robson first clapped eyes on her newly slimmed-down friend Pauline Quirke, she didn't recognise her.

'I still don't,' she says. 'We've known one another since we were seven and eight years old and she's always been a big girl. You can't believe someone's shoulders can shrink that much. It blew my mind. Even now when we meet it takes me a minute to realise it's her.'

Pauline went from being the size of a sumo wrestler (her words) to the size of a sparrow in eight months flat on a lowcalorie diet plan last year. Weighing 19st 6lb at her heaviest, she was always the talented big girl.

Linda Robson

Linda and Pauline shed the pounds on the LighterLife weight-loss programme

Linda, weighed 14st 7lb last September (left) but after following a diet plan she feels a lot healthier

Remember Birds Of A Feather's Sharon, who chomped her way through enough pizzas and kebabs to stock a fast-food chain Whereas Linda, well, she was Tracey, the slim, blonde one.

Last summer, Linda, 53, discovered their roles had been reversed when she, at 14st 7lb, met up with a trim 12st Pauline. For the first time in their 45- year friendship, Linda was, well, let's say the curvier of the two. Was she depressed

'Well, you never want to be the fat one do you' says Linda. Which today she's most definitely not, having lost 3st in as many months. Pauline, 52, was, Linda says, her inspiration.

'We'd met for lunch in a restaurant the summer before last and I remember thinking, “You're bigger than ever.” She looked really unhealthy,' says Linda. 'I was concerned, but you can't say that to people, can you'

Before losing 8st 7lb, Pauline was suffering with constant back ache and painful knees. Her right hip had worn away and, at only 49, she needed a hip replacement. She was, as she told me last year when I interviewed her, 'morbidly obese'.

When Linda appeared on ITV's This Morning last summer she couldn't believe Pauline was the same person

When Linda appeared on ITV's This Morning last summer she couldn't believe Pauline was the same person

Pauline Quirke

Pauline Quirke

Before losing 8st 7lb, Pauline was suffering with constant back ache and painful knees

Linda continues, 'I didn't see her for 12 months after that because she went to Leeds to do Emmerdale. Then we were on ITV's This Morning last summer and I couldn't believe she was the same person. I just thought, “If Pauline can do it, I can too.” I wanted to look and feel as good as she did.'

Both women have shed the pounds on the LighterLife weight-loss programme – a very low-calorie diet plan coupled with counselling sessions to change the slimmer's perception of food. Not, Linda insists, by doing a Fern Britton and getting a gastric band fitted.

'People couldn't believe Pauline lost that much weight so quickly. I received texts saying, “She must have had a gastric band.” If she had, someone would have found out by now. Anyway, there's no way she'd ever do that. She's too much of a chicken. I've had friends who have had a gastric bypass and there's no going back. You can never eat a proper meal again. One friend is living on boiled sweets. Her whole life has changed for the worst.

Most people eat if they’re depressed… and as you get older, things happen. You lose family members – uncles, aunts – just people you were growing up with.

'Pauline's really happy. She's dressing like I've never seen her do before. Previously, she had no interest in clothes or going out – she always wore trainers and jeans – but the last time I saw her she had on boots and a little black-and-white dress with a belt around it. She's got a store card and she's shopping the whole time.'

Linda says the first week of the diet was hard. 'I was so hungry and miserable and my husband kept asking me what was wrong. But, once you get through it, get on the scales and see how much you've lost you think, “Wow, I'm going to stick to this.”' She actually lost a whopping 7lb so was cock-a-hoop. The weekly counselling sessions have been an invaluable support, too.

'The group sessions help you to reprogramme your mind about food. I go every Thursday and we talk about how we've found that week. I look forward to that hour-and-a-half. You're out of the house and not clearing up after somebody. It's all about us for that 90 minutes. You picture how you want to be. I want to be how I am now, but one of the women in my class has got a picture of Pau l i ne on he r fridge. God knows how many people she's inspired to lose weight.

'Pauline had never been a size 12 so she didn't know that she'd feel any different. I think it's the same for Dawn French and all those people who have lost weight. They were comfortable with being heavier, but now they've lost it they must feel happier, like me. Let's be honest, anyone who's overweight doesn't want to be.'

Linda and Pauline pictured in 1998 on the set of a Birds Of A Feather

Linda and Pauline pictured in 1998 on the set of a Birds Of A Feather

Indeed, when I last saw Linda six months ago she was feeling downright miserable. She told me she wouldn't let her husband Mark see her naked with the lights on and had become so self-conscious about her shape that she'd sneak into premieres through the back door to avoid being photographed.

'There's nothing nice about getting old, either,' says Linda. 'You look in the mirror some days and you don't look too bad. Some days you think you look awful. I have a mirror for plucking, whose magnification is times seven. You can practically see into your brain with it. You can see every vein, every pore, everything. So, yes, ageing is horrible, isn't it When you’re younger you moan that you don’t like your legs or whatever and then, all these years later, you think, “If only I could look like that now.”

'People age but when you’re in the public eye you age in front of everybody. You bump into complete strangers in the street every day and they say, “Oh, you’ve put on a bit of weight , haven’t you” Because they’ve seen you on TV they feel they know you and they can say that to you. It’s not nice, but you know it’s true because you can’t get into the size 18 jacket you used to wear.

I don’t want young things, but I still want to be
able to buy something without having to go to Evans.

‘Now they’ll say, “Oh my God, you’ve lost weight, haven’t you Are you trying to do what your mate’s done” Yes I am.’ In truth, Linda looks fantastic. She’s wearing a slim-fitting black jumper dress with a stylish Ralph Lauren scarf and has just had her highlights done. When we last saw one another she hid her figure beneath the sort of tent-sized dress that could have seated a small wedding party. She’s shinier somehow, brighter, too, and seems to have shed five years along with the pounds.

‘I bought a pair of boots in a normal shop the other day,’ she says. ‘They’re not elasticated or stretchy. They zip up. I remember last year I went everywhere trying to find a pair to fit me but they were all too tight.

‘This is from Topshop,’ she says,
tugging her dress. ‘I don’t want young things, but I still want to be
able to buy something without having to go to Evans. Instead of spending
hours finding something to wear to cover up this, to hide that –
wearing big scarves or bags over your shoulder – it’s nice to be able to
buy normal clothes and look forward to going out.’ /01/26/article-2092023-11770F83000005DC-110_306x492.jpg” width=”306″ height=”492″ alt=”Birds Of A Feather: The National Stage Tour runs from 6 March to 7 July 2012″ class=”blkBorder” />

Birds Of A Feather: The National Stage Tour runs from 6 March to 7 July 2012

‘I’ve struggled with weight over the years, particularly after having Louis. When I had Lauren I was 26 and went back to being a size eight to ten in a couple of weeks. But I put on four stone with Louis and found it quite hard to lose it afterwards. Then I had Bobbie at 38 and struggled again. After that I hit the menopause. I was in my mid-40s doing a play in the West End – I would get on stage and have a hot flush. My mascara would be running down my face. I’d had friends in the past who complained about their hot flushes and I’d think, “Get over yourself.” Then it happens to you and it’s like your head’s going to blow off.

‘You feel sad because you know you can’t have another child. It’s not that I wanted one, but when you know that it’s not an option any more, you’re saying goodbye to all that. You stop getting wolf whistles from builders like you did when you were younger. I’d never been interested in that stuff, but when it stops you think, “Hello, I’m here!” You stop caring about you. Instead, you’re always doing stuff for the kids, driving them here and there, cooking for the family and looking after your mum.

‘The weight creeps up so you wear elasticated waists, big baggy tops and you don’t really look at yourself in the mirror. When I’d see myself on TV, I’d think, “Bloody hell.” Then I would tell myself that the camera puts pounds on. You end up thinking, “This is just the way I am now.” I hadn’t weighed myself for ages because I knew I was overweight so didn’t see the point of driving myself mad by getting on the scales.’

Linda was ‘gobsmacked’ when she stood on the scales at the beginning of her diet plan and discovered that she was 14st 7lb. ‘I thought, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’ve
let it get to that state.” I was more than three stone overweight. My feet used to kill me. But when you think what you’re carrying around it’s too much for one pair of feet. I’d be waddling around, huffing and puffing. Now I just feel so much lighter. I can touch my toes and lift my leg as high as I like. Last year I couldn’t reach my toes because my belly was in the way – and I’m not snoring any more.’

Ah yes, the hiding-your-body-in-the-bedroom thing. What does husband Mark think of his slimmeddown wife ‘He’s said, “That’s enough now. You look good as you are.” I still put my granny nighties on. I don’t think I’ve ever been a dressing up in sexy underwear person. But we did go away together a few weekends ago for the first time in eight years. We had a massage together. That was really lovely. You forget how much you actually like each other.’

And Pauline ‘She came to see me in pantomime before Christmas. I came out of the stage door and someone was shouting, “Robbo, Robbo.” I didn’t know who it was, I just didn’t recognise her. When she saw me she said how well I looked. And she’s been really supportive. She sends me texts encouraging me and asking for updates on how it’s going.’

Linda’s grinning like the cat that got the cream, except for the fact she’d sooner stick pins in her eyes than guzzle anything so calorific. Would she have stripped down for a massage a few months ago ‘God no,’ she says. ‘Last summer I wore dresses on the beach. I didn’t even want to put on a sarong. At least now, when people see us in Birds, they’ll see three slim old birds rather than a couple of overstuffed ones.’ With which she’s up, smoothing her dress down and off with a wiggle of those slim hips.

Birds Of A Feather: The National Stage Tour runs from 6 March to 7 July 2012, with the first performance at Cardiff New Theatre. Visit www.birdsontour.com