Hello Magazine April 3,2001
Brookside's Claire Sweeney on life in the big brother house and the truth about that night with Keith Duffy.
Claire Sweeney had dealt with rape, a marriage break-up and a potential lesbian affair--- all in her role as Brookside's Lindsey Corkhill. Nothing though, in the series, could have prepared her for the instant glare of publicity following her appearance in Comic Relief's celebrity version of Big Brother.
The 29-year-old Liverpudlian won the nation's heart with her liveliness and quirky sense of humor, even though she lost out in the final vote to comedian Jack Dee. She admits she had no idea just how successful the show was going to be--or just how much it would thrust her into the spotlight.
Viewers had no idea that behind the cheerful outlook, Claire was dealing with the heartache of her break-up with her ex-boyfriend, Blackburn Rover's goalie Alan Miller, who had voted for her on Big Brother.
And after hanging in there to the show's finish, Claire found herself being linked romantically with housemate Keith Duffy from Boyzone, though she insists they're just good mates.
With her Brookside contract coming to an end in October, on chapter in Claire's life is drawing to a close. But she's been tipped for the top and though she was pipped to the post on Big Brother, there's little doubt career-wise, she will come out a winner.
Claire, what was it like being in the goldfish bowl that was Big Brother?
"I still feel like I'm in that goldfish bowl. Funnily enough, it was very peaceful- no telephones, TV or music. Just conversation, and we all got on really well."
Had there been a downside?
"Well, I went out with a group of friends to the Met Bar one night - ten of us including Patrick Keilty, Phats and Small and Keith Duffy. Some of the boys including Keith left before me and when I went outside there were lots of camera flashes. The next day there was loads of speculation because Keith and I had been in the house together. I was shocked - where did that come from? When something very innocent happens and people start analyzing it, it is strange. Keith has a gorgeous wife, Lisa, and he adores her. The way he was talking about her in the house was really lovely."
Didn't you get bored at time?
"Yes, but we were given tasks to do so that took up a lot of the time. We were also getting to know each other."
Did you know any of the other contestants beforehand?
"Yes, I had met Vanessa before."
Did your perception of them change once you got to know them better?
"Yes, I thought Anthea was a lovely lady. I had read about her marriage and all the bad publicity, so I was surprised to find how nice she was. As for Vanessa, she has been through a lot and I wouldn't wish that on anyone. We all had bad days when we got upset but the public happened to see that one."
Like Vanessa, you have also had your own trauma, splitting up with your boyfriend Alan Miller.
"Yes. We broke up last September after four years. I think Vanessa has been through a lot more than me and very publicly as well, so I couldn't make a comparison. She is very brave. I am quite a chilled out person anyway and I am getting stronger everyday."
So you have got over the break?
"Yes. We are still good mates and there was no one else involved. He voted in my favour on Big Brother."
Did you have a hunch Jack would win?
"Yes, I think I did. Before I went in, when they asked me who would win I said Jack Dee. I wasn't sure when I was in there but then I though he had to because he is so funny."
But you're funny as well. Was it because he is a man?
"No, not at all. I never thought I would win, and I was surprised I was still there on the Friday."
How has your life changed since the show?
"People recognise me a lot more now and for myself. It used to be, Oh, there's Lindsey, or Jimmy's daughter, but now they say, there's Claire. I've been very lucky because the press had been very supportive and positive with me and I really appreciate that."
What did you and Jack do while you were waiting for the final vote?
"We watched a video because we knew we had a couple of hours to wait. We chatted about our plans and what might be happening outside, and we had another bottle of wine. I think he was surprised because he felt he wanted to go."
What was your funniest moment?
"The first morning Chris Eubank jumped on each one of us girls and kissed us good morning. It was very funny. I voted him out on the first night which was very difficult as we didn't really know each other then and I didn't really have a reason."
What was your best moment?
"When we were having a Country and Western party. I suggested line dancing and Jack Dee pointed out we had no music, and the next thing we knew, Dolly Parton's Jolene came though the speakers. It was the first time I had heard music all week and it was great. I was always singing as well because it was so quiet. You couldn't shut me up!"
How did you come to be in the Big Brother house?
"I met Richard Curtis at the BAFTA's a two years ago and we got on really well. He remembered me and asked me to do it."
Lindsey, your character in Brookside, has had a very colorful life. Do you think her character is realistic?
"Yes, sometimes people's own lives are far more exciting than anything you see on TV. No one know what goes on really. I was 22 when I first played her, and the I was 26 when I went back. My character is a lot tougher than me, as people now know from Big Brother. She has been through a lot more than me."
Have you ever felt that life was taking a strange turn and you didn't know how to deal with it?
"When I came out of the Big brother house and I saw the attention we were receiving and the coverage the show got I couldn't believe it. When we were in there we didn't realise the nation was glued to it, which was great for Comic Relief. I can't believe the money it raised. My mum had said to me, 'The spotlight might glare on you now, do you think you can cope with it?' but I hadn't really anticipated how much."
You are very close to you mum. Do you live near her?
"Yes, about ten minutes away. I've got a flat on the docks in Liverpool. I am very close to my family and I miss them a lot, even when I was in the house. I haven't spoken to my mum today so I'll have a chat to her later."
How are you coping with being single again?
"I've got fantastic friend. I've had a couple of holidays and spent a lot of time down here in London as well. Life has changed really, but the nice thing is Alan and I are still friends. We only actually lived together for six months when he came up to play for Blackburn - before that he was in Birmingham for a lot of the time.
Did you grow apart?
"After four years together it just wasn't right. But I am very supportive of his career, as he is of mine. Sometimes in relationships you get to the point where it has to develop further or it is better to split up."
Did you have a lot of support from people on Brookside after the break-up?
"Yes, I am very close to Sue Jenkins, and Phil Redmond has been very supportive to me over personal thing in the last year. I'd like to so thanks to him. I had an up-and-down year but I got through it thanks to my friends."
What else has helped you through?
"I try to keep my sense of humour and I do laugh. I think you've got to, especially when things happen that you have no control over. I'm quite grounded and it is to do with influences and the way you have been brought up and who you are."
Describe your ideal man.
"Someone bright, intelligent,with the same interests as me. Different people have different qualities and charms."
Have you found anyone else?
"No, and I am not looking. If it happens, it happens. I don't mind being on my own."
Are you concerned that you might get affected by fame?
"No. Everyone I have met on Brookside and in the Big Brother house is very grounded and no one thinks they are more special than anyone else, so it doesn't have to happen."
What's next for you? You've talked about doing the musical Chicago.
"Well, it is one of my favourite musicals but I'm contracted to Brookside until October and still committed to it. I've never made any secret of the fact I'd love to do musicals. It has always been my ambition. But I don't know where I'll end up. I never thought I would end up in Big Brother!"