She's dropped four dress sizes on Strictly and won an army of fans. But after a string of disastrous liaisons, Lisa Riley says it's love she's after
22:00 GMT, 23 November 2012
Lisa Riley is the first to admit that she is more Matalan than Manhattan
When Lisa Riley says she once lived – ‘I mean really lived’ – the Sex And The City lifestyle, the mind boggles.
This is a woman who, before Strictly Come Dancing, was most famous for her role in Emmerdale. She’d be the first to confess her image is more Matalan than Manhattan.
But which one of the famous singletons did she model herself on ‘I was Carrie and Samantha rolled into one,’ she says. ‘Or I thought I was.’
So how did Lisa, 36, find the SATC
lifestyle Less glittering than you might imagine, it seems.
‘It’s all a
fairytale, isn’t it’ she says. ‘I mean, it’s a brilliant TV programme
and all that, but the reality of living it – it’s not good. I did all
the one-night stands stuff, but I don’t want it any more. I’m too old
for it now.’
into our chat, I’m starting to think of what a blast of a show SATC
would have been had our own Lisa Riley from Bury been part of the
girl doesn’t know about single-girl dilemmas isn’t worth knowing, and
her musings on men, money and motherhood are funny and sad in equal
she’d be a more healthy role model than Carrie, Miranda et al is
debatable, but it would be hard to find a more super-sized example of
womanhood. We’re not talking simply physique here, either, but
personality. Everything about Lisa is big: laugh, voice, ambition,
heart, life story.
Let’s start with that physique, though, because everyone does. When she signed up for Strictly, it was assumed she’d be the resident ‘chubster’ (her word), clumsy of foot but potentially a comedy classic. How could a woman of her size (24 at the time she signed up) resemble anything other than a gyrating hippo on the dancefloor
In the event she surprised everyone by being a firecracker, and somehow graceful with it. Overnight she became the poster girl for groovy, non-size-10 movers everywhere, and is chuffed with her role-model status.
Overnight she became the poster girl for groovy, non-size-10 movers everywhere
‘I didn’t know I’d be able to dance, but I knew I could move. I’ve always been bendy. And if I’ve challenged perceptions that fat girls can’t be fit – good. It’s about time someone did.’
Ironically, the physical exertion of Strictly has made her drop four dress sizes – and led to four invitations to bring out a fitness DVD of her own. Will she do it ‘Will I hell! Why would I want to do that What do I know about aerobics DVDs I’m an actress. Who am I to preach at women about what shape they should be’
Given her over-the-top personality, it comes as no surprise that Lisa’s love life reads like a soap opera script. There was the boyfriend who went to jail for defrauding residents at the care home where he worked.
Then there was the stagehand who left his wife and children for her – I first met her back then, eight years ago, when she spoke about how she’d found the love of her life. Two weeks later he went back to his wife. She’s tried to find the right man, but has somehow always failed.
‘I’ve been properly in love three times, but it hasn’t worked out,’ she sighs. ‘Am I still looking for a man Yes. I’m desperate!’
So what’s gone wrong ‘Have you got all day’ she jokes, but it turns into quite a sorry – and familiar – tale of having given the time of day to completely the wrong men. She seems to have acquired the idea that the fact she owns her own house means she’s destined to be single.
‘Blokes don’t like it when you’re independent. They have this great British provider thing, and I’m not someone who needs to be provided for. I say, “I can pay for my own supper, thank you very much.”’
She chats away about wanting it all – career, husband, family – and concludes she’s being greedy. ‘I’ve got to realise you can’t have it all. If one thing has to give, it has to be men, I suppose. It’s not fair of me to expect a relationship to be on my terms, which I do because of my work. I’ll say, “You’ll have to come to London next weekend,” or, “I’m in Oldham that week”. Men can’t handle that.’
Some men can’t handle her, full stop. ‘I was always popular with boys at school. The fact I was fat didn’t put them off because I had confidence. I was the one girls wanted to be and boys wanted to be with.’ But having a laugh and getting married are different things. She seems frustrated that none of her liaisons led to more. ‘I’m thinking christenings and weddings are good places to meet men, but it still hasn’t happened. Maybe it never will.’
Does she want children She has a clutch of godchildren and revels in being ‘mad Auntie Lisa’, but seems less than certain about the sort of life children would take her into. ‘I have friends with, on paper, the perfect life.
Her big TV break came with Emmerdale, where she played Mandy Dingle for six and a half years, winning Best Newcomer at the British TV Awards in 1996
'The husband, kids. But some of them feel imprisoned.’ Would she be a good mum A heavy sigh, followed by, ‘My worry is I’d be the sort of mum who leaves her kids in Asda’ – which rather kills the subject, if only through hilarity.
A ‘born entertainer’, Lisa attended drama and music lessons from the age of nine, and was signed by an agent three years later. Her big TV break came with Emmerdale, where she played Mandy Dingle for six and a half years, winning Best Newcomer at the British TV Awards in 1996.
She’s also appeared in The Bill, Fat Friends and Holby City, and had a stint fronting You’ve Been Framed. Unsurprisingly she’s a panto favourite and has clocked up roles in 14 of them.
Her parents married young, were together for 40 years ‘and were still holding hands until the day Mum died’. That day was just a few months ago. Cath Riley – ‘who was just like me, but more so’ – was diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago, but appeared to beat the disease.
A 'born entertainer', Lisa attended drama and music lessons from the age of nine, and was signed by an agent three years later
When it returned earlier this year, however, it was fatal. Lisa was performing in Calendar Girls – ‘Watching someone die of cancer on stage every night. How is that for irony’ – when she got the news. She dropped out to nurse her mother in her final weeks, moving her into her home.
Listening to her talk about it is heartbreaking because the tears flow freely. She didn’t just lose her mum, she says, she lost ‘my best friend, my cheerleader, my everything. I could have stripped off and done a dance in Trafalgar Square and she would have just looked at me and said, “OK. But I still love you.” If I was embarking on a doomed relationship, she’d say, “Is this a good idea”.
'I’d say, “Mum, I know I might get burned but I have to touch the iron.” She always lets me. She’s like that. Or was.’
Her tenses are muddled; her grief raw. She wrote a 20-page eulogy for her mum’s funeral but had to get someone else to read it because even she couldn’t perform for that one.
She’s at pains to stress that her mother’s last months weren’t miserable, though. ‘We had to have the conversations, you know, about the paperwork and insurance policies.
That was hard. But mostly we had a laugh. One day I dressed up in the hospital stuff – the bandages, dressings, all of it. My mum was sick laughing. And her attitude – well, she had the same attitude she had through life. She said, “S*d the b*****ds”, and did it her way.’
Cath died in her daughter’s arms, and has been much missed, mostly on Saturday nights after Lisa’s survived another week on Strictly and wants to share the news. Ironically, she thinks her mother would have been the one person not surprised at her dancing skills.
‘She would have said, “I knew you could do it.” It’s why I’m here in the first place. She’s the one who made me believe in myself.’
Strictly Come Dancing, tonight, 6.40pm, BBC1.