Gemma Quade speaks to Denise Welch on school days, marriage and TV
SHE may live in Cheshire but The Toon is never far from Newcastle-born Denise Welch’s mind.
Her role as a teacher in school drama Waterloo Road means she’s kept happily in the family home in Cheshire, she shares with fellow Geordie actor Tim Healy.
But Denise’s schooldays on Tyneside weren’t academically happy affairs.
She may be playing a teacher, but she admits she wasn’t the best pupil in her own school days.
“I was not a swot in any degree whatsoever,” she says.
“I had a great time at school but I had very little interest in the academic side of it. I wasn’t hugely rebellious or disruptive, I just wasn’t turned on by it.”
All that changed when Denise took part in a school play at the age of 14. Greatly encouraged by her drama teacher, she soon discovered her real passion.
“It was something I could do, something I lived for, and it was something that gave me kudos for once at my school, because I was never going to get it academically.”
Even though Denise had finally found something she really enjoyed, she never thought about acting as a career. Instead she toyed with the idea of becoming a drama teacher herself, before her parents persuaded her otherwise.
“I would have hated it,” she cringes. “I have complete admiration for them, but playing a teacher is about as near as I want to get to it!”
Denise reckons teachers these days probably have a harder job than ever before, mostly because of the lack of respect they get from pupils.
“Kids are completely taking over the asylum,” she says.
“Teachers have absolutely no powers of discipline, and unfortunately the parents of these horrible children don’t support the teachers at all. The children know that’s going to happen so they have no boundaries, and children need boundaries.
“I’m not in the hang ’em high brigade, but I certainly don’t think that being pulled out by the ear and being slapped over the knuckles with a ruler did any of us any harm.
“When you go to school the teachers are the boss and when you go home, your parents are the boss, end of story. That’s how it should be.”
That’s certainly how Denise runs her home life. She’s been married to Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star Tim Healy for nearly 20 years, and they have two children, Matthew and Louis.
Matthew, the eldest, is already showing signs of following his parents’ footsteps into showbusiness, although it’s singing in a band rather than acting that he is into.
“I’m gradually developing an ear for it because I have no choice – they rehearse in our out-buildings,” she laughs.
“They are good kids, but we’ve said to him by this time next year if the band hasn’t happened he has to think about uni or college.”
It’s clear that Denise loves being a mum, and she admits that being away from her family filming different shows has driven her to the brink in the past.
“When I was doing Down To Earth, Tim was at home a lot of the time, but I was terribly down in the second series because I was just never at home and I felt so stressed,” she says.
That’s why she was so pleased when the part of Steph in Waterloo Road came up, because the show is filmed in Rochdale, less than an hour away from her and Tim’s Cheshire home. “I can’t deny it’s very, very difficult because Tim’s away doing a play in the West End so in theory I’m being a single parent.
“We have late schedules a lot of the time so I’m dealing with childcare on a day-to-day basis. It’s hard, but I’m very lucky I’ve got such good friends and family to rely on.”
As for the future, Denise says she and Tim would quite like to work together.
Earlier this year they presented an episode of Britain’s Favourite View from the city they were both born and bred in, Newcastle. They had such fun, she says, that they’d love to do something else.
“We would do something, but the things we’ve been offered television-wise over the years has been really rubbish sitcom stuff. If the right thing came along we would really like to.
“I know I slag him off on Loose Women all the time, but he is one of my favourite actors!”
For the time being though she is content playing her bitchy character in Waterloo Road.
It’s all change down at Waterloo Road, however, for the third series of the school drama.
Avid fans will remember we left our favourite teachers on a bit of a low note last year, when Izzie, played by Tyneside favourite Jill Halfpenny, died at the hands of a drug dealer in the school’s playground.
However, the school welcomes several new faces as term starts again on Thursday, most notably former Men Behaving Badly star Neil Morrissey, who plays harsh but fair deputy head Eddie Lawson.
Actress Denise Welch, who plays Waterloo Road’s man-eating French teacher Steph Haydock, says that all new staff members have settled in fantastically. “We were concerned as to who would be cast because we didn’t want it to spoil our little happy bunch of merry men,” the 49-year-old says with a smile.
“But they are all absolutely lovely. Obviously we are sad that the others have gone, but it brings a new dynamic and a freshness to it.”
For Denise, she’s just happy that her character is back to her old self after the last series saw her steer away from the more comical moments.
“I felt that in order to explore other sides of her character, we lost a lot of her humour, and to me that’s her thing – she’s inappropriate and out of that comes the humour,” Denise explains.
“I think she can have a nasty streak to her, but I do think she’s quite lonely and sad.
“I love flirty, sometimes bitchy, sex-mad characters! They are much more fun to play, and that’s why last year when I thought they were softening her up I thought, no, don’t do this! You did it to me in Corrie, you did it to me in Down To Earth, don’t do it again!
“Luckily she’s back to that humour and immediately sets her cap at the 26-year-old music teacher – as if!” Denise chuckles.
“She’s absolutely bamboozled as to why this isn’t being returned, until she finds out a few episodes down the line he’s gay.”
Luckily for Steph, that’s not the only romance on the cards, because there is still the ongoing, will they won’t they, storyline involving Jack (Jason Merrells), even though the headteacher is happily holed up with his girlfriend Davina .
“She’s reluctantly accepted that, but she’s still there hovering for any crumbs from the Jack table.
“As soon as he’s drunk or depressed, Steph zooms in. She’d rather have sex at those costs than none at all!”
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Name: Denise Welch
Significant other: Actor Tim Healy – aka Dennis in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
Career high: Playing Natalie Horrocks/Barnes, Coronation Street’s blowsy landlady of the Rovers Return
Career low: Had a role as a copper in the dire late night Hollyoaks: In The City
Famous for: Making her name on Soldier Soldier, and spending three weeks in the UK pop charts after singing Cry Me A River on the show
Words of wisdom: “Even though my work is important and I have been moderately successful, my feeling about it is that I do it, but finish as quickly as I can so I can get home to my boys.”