My Dad always encouraged me to “dream big but work harder”. That’s something that has always stuck with me and is the number one reason for my life successes.
I grew up in Salford, Manchester in a typical working class family. My mum worked at Marks and Spencer’s and my dad was an electrician. With 3 years between me and my little sister, we were either best friends or worst enemies, there was no middle ground.
Life was very normal. We knew, every Wednesday, it would be Tater Ash* for tea. We would do the big shop** on a Friday with my dad, then he would take us to the video shop on the way back for our Friday film night. Saturdays would be on our beanbags in front of the TV watching Gladiators, then on Sunday morning we’d use Mum’s sofa to re-enact the previous night’s episode.
Growing up, up north, we’d have dinner at lunchtime, call all my mum’s friends “Auntie”, even if they weren’t related to us and we’d have gravy on our chips***and chips in a barm****.
*Basically, a really cheap meal of potatoes, carrots, onion, corned beef and an oxo cube. Every Salford mum makes it at least once a week.
** When you go to the supermarket and fill 2 trolleys with food so your mum’s freezer is never empty, ‘cos that’s a crime.
*** that’s the only way to have chips.
**** A barm cake is a soft, round, flattish bread roll.
At the age of around 7, my mum took me and my sister to a local dance group. I’m not sure if on that first lesson she realised that dancing would quickly take over our family life. You see, if I do something I do it properly, give it everything I’ve got. So for the next 8 years we spent nearly every Sunday, as a family, at a disco dancing competition, sequins and all. Even my dad joined in.
A year or so down the line, a family friend had mentioned that her daughter had started Drama classes. I was intrigued and had to know what it was like. I joined Laine Management, and after my first class, I’d got the acting bug and I knew that acting was what I wanted to do.
With a few classes under my belt, I was sent to my very first audition, a Workshop at Granada Studios for the new series of ‘Children’s Ward’. Things were getting very surreal; that sort of stuff didn’t happen to someone like me. Me and my mum got the bus to Manchester, I think she was more nervous than me. I still remember that workshop to this day- it was two hours of constant acting, and I was in my element.
A couple of days later my Agent called to say I had landed one of the lead roles in the series and I would be needed for 10 episodes. We were all so excited, well except my sister- but I promised I would buy her a leather jacket with my first pay cheque, so she soon came round. I felt at ease on set and it was probably the best first job anyone could ever have! This thing that was a dream was becoming a reality. With hard work, determination and a fair amount of luck, I landed every role I auditioned for.
My life quickly became days of filming then back to school for a few days, before moving on to the next job or audition. I remember one particular job, ‘My Wonderful Life’, when they always sent a really posh car to pick me up.
We had spent our life using my dad’s work van to get anywhere, so all of a sudden being sent a posh car to take me to filming felt very exciting. On one of the days, I wasn’t filming until the afternoon, so I went to school that morning and it was arranged that they would pick me up from school. I thought I would look really cool in front of my class mates when my driver arrived, but that was the day they sent a minibus!
It was in 1999 when I landed my biggest role, playing ‘Zara Morgan’ in ‘Hollyoaks’. It was the year of my GCSE’s and the school and my parents were very clear that I was going to have to work very hard to be able to do both. In fact, one of my teachers was quite vocal about his disapproval in what I was doing and predicted that if I did both school and ‘Hollyoaks’, I would get a D in his subject. Obviously, I proved him wrong- I got an A. I had a lovely career with some great roles, you can take a peek at my Acting C.V here.
I spent 6 years in ‘Hollyoaks’ playing ‘Zara’ and it’s difficult to describe my time there in one paragraph. It was like my version of university. I learnt so much and had a ball doing it. I never really understood the fame side of it all. It felt too insincere for my honest, what you see is what you get, way of life. So, I never moved to Liverpool (where ‘Hollyoaks’ was filmed), instead I stayed in Manchester and commuted every day. My time at ‘Hollyoaks’ was coming to an end my contract was up in a few months and I knew I needed to retrain if I stood a chance of getting any roles once I left. I joined The Manchester School of Acting and re-trained in Acting. It was important to me that I had a solid foundation to work from, and the 3 years’ intensive Actor training at The Manchester School of Acting gave me that.
It was just after I left ‘Hollyoaks’ that I was approached by Endemol to narrate one of their television shows, series 2 of ‘Celebrity Scissorhands’. It was a dream first Voice Over job. I spent 3 weeks in the Marriott Hotel Regents Park, London, voicing an episode every afternoon ready for it to go out the next day.
I thrived under the pressure and demand of narrating an hour-long episode everyday, it certainly taught me the importance of looking after my Voice. They were really interested in exploring my cheeky, playful, northern charm and it complemented the show really well. The instant excitement that the variety and challenge of Voice Over brought, made it my new passion. I teamed with the brilliant Voice Agent Excellent Talent, who I still work with today, and the work kept coming. I continued to work as both an on screen Actor and a Voice Over. I landed roles in ‘The Street’’, The Innocence Project’, ‘Shameless’ and ‘Casualty’. I also narrated reality shows for Love Productions, CAN Associates, as well as campaigns for brands such as NHS, Heinz, Sony, Britvic and many more. More of my Voice Over credits can be found here.
In 2005, I moved out of the family home to my own flat in Monton, Manchester. Monton has a little high street with a few restaurants on and it was one of these restaurants that was going to change my life. One evening I went to “The Bistro” in Monton and spoke to the owner about a painting he had on the wall. This painting was beautiful and I wanted to buy it for my new flat. The man said he couldn’t sell it, as his friend who had painted it was travelling, so he couldn’t contact him.
I tried really hard to get that painting, but the man wasn’t budging. The Bistro became my go to restaurant and the owner and I became good friends. It turns out the man who was brave enough to say no to me, who stood by his morals, who was driven and passionate enough to own his own restaurant at the age of 24, who drove me mad and made me laugh in equal measures, was in fact the man of my dreams. I knew as soon as I met him that I was going to marry him, cheesy I know, but 15 years later we are married with two amazing children and the painting is hung up in our bedroom.
I continued to train as an Actor at the prestigious Manchester School of Acting. The Alumni speaks for itself and I found my training there outstanding, so when I was asked by Mark Hudson if I would like to train as an Acting Coach, I jumped at the chance.
I spent a year shadowing Mark learning everything I could from one of the most ‘in demand’ acting coaches in the UK. I enjoyed exploring my style of coaching and it wasn’t long before I was running sessions at the school alongside Mark. I have been coaching there now for 13 years and I use my experience and industry knowledge to help actors develop their craft and help them realise their full potential. In 2011, I set up the youth arm of the school for 13-17 year old actors.
It is highly focused on professional acting, rather than traditional drama classes, clubs or theatre workshops and is for those who are seriously exploring a future career in acting. Such is its success, that the course is in great demand.
And somewhere amongst all of this, I found time to have two brilliantly funny, confident and passionate children, George and Matilda. Me “The Man” and our kids still live in Manchester and love picnics and days out on our bikes. We have a caravan by the sea, and every time we go there it reminds me of my childhood, where it all began.
My family mean the world to me, and being a Mum is the best job in the world. I hope I can pass on what my dad taught me, to “dream big but, work harder”.