Music was my big passion at 16. I wore big green patch dungarees that I got from Afflecks Palace in Manchester and German paratrooper boots with red and white fly agaric mushrooms painted on the side – I was into all things psychedelic at that point. I went to X-Records in Bolton and got a couple of Gong albums. Anything psychedelic or trippy. I was trying to get dreads at the time. I was all over the place – fads would come and go and I’d jump around trying to find my tribe.
I had just started a diploma in performing arts at Salford College of Technology when I was 16. Going from a smaller town to a city can be a culture shock. Manchester was the centre of everything at the time and Bolton, even though it was only 15 miles away, in some respects was 15 years away. Salford College was a 10-minute walk to Manchester. There was a lot of clubbing – I started around 14. Being slightly larger of figure, I could get in. Although sometimes you’d not be let in and have to go to the back of the queue and try again.
I knew I wanted to perform in some way. After two weeks at Salford Tech they took nine of us to one side and told us we wouldn’t stay the course. I was told I wasn’t an actor because I was too quiet, too introverted. Anybody who I’d been to school with would have laughed at that. I was just sussing it out and it wasn’t quite what I had expected. Everyone was in sweat pants and jazz shoes – I had no idea what all that was about.
I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I’m not that good at accents – what was
I thinking? It sounds weird, but sometimes you know your destiny. And that is why I stuck at Salford Tech. I knew if I didn’t follow this path, I wouldn’t get what was meant for me. I sort of knew I would have a career – I just didn’t know what the career would be. My younger self would be surprised that I haven’t been typecast as I expected to be.
Everyone told me I would do comedy – the big, funny girl. And that was fine by me. Victoria Wood and Julie Walters were massive influences. Then my first job out of drama school was dinnerladies, with Victoria, who is one of the best writers this country has ever produced. You are so spoiled after that. I realised you can be the
best actor in the world, but if the writing is not there, forget it. I wonder why I didn’t make more of an effort with Victoria. But I was so overwhelmed and socially awkward. I was in awe of her. I am still not good at absorbing things when they happen. It is only when I look back that I take it all in.
My ideal was to get a comedy troupe going and write sketches, but I never found my gang. I met Diane Morgan when we were auditioning for Manchester Theatre School. We didn’t get in, but she has done alright for herself. We said we’d write stuff together – because we couldn’t imagine what we wanted to do would be on offer. If I could whisper in my younger self’s ear, I would tell her to stick at that. At Christmas, when I watch Morecambe and Wise, I get a real pang: why didn’t I stick with comedy? I would have had more control. As an actor, you are at the mercy of roles that come along. Sometimes I think I’m a bit of a mug still doing this.