The Mirror - Friday, October 5, 2001
Claire Sweeney was famous as Brookside's Lindsey Corkhill long before Celebrity Big Brother earlier this year. Or rather infamous thanks to her character's lesbian kiss.
The winner of Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes 2000, Claire starts a new career as a TV presenter tomorrow night with the launch of her first series, LWT's Challenge Of A Lifetime, screened on ITV at 5:40pm.
Claire has just moved to London from her native Liverpool. We met at Soho House in London. Bright bubbly, down-to-earth and friendly, she is the same genuine girl that fans discovered on Big Brother.
You know what I wish? If I had one wish? I'd love to eat what I want and not put a pound on. Oh, I would. Love to be one of those people.
I love food. I love, love eating. But unless I go to the gym, I've got to really really watch what I eat. So I'm constantly denying myself. You know, I find it so difficult. See this plate of biscuits there? I'd love nothing more now than to sit here and have a few of them. Part of me, I suppose, enjoys that guilty feeling, that I'm doing something I shouldn't. Like when I have a white Magnum. I think, "Ooh God! That's really naughty." It excites me. So maybe you wouldn't appreciate it as much if you could eat what you wanted. When I was 17, at the Italia Conti stage school in London, dancing every day, all day, I'd never really thought about my weight. In fact, I was too thin. Too thin. I was 8 1/2 stone. I'm 5ft 8ins. I'm about 10 stone now, But I love myself like that. Oh yeah! Every woman thinks she's great when she's thin. I did a show in Blackpool and carried on eating the way I had been, but I wasn't dancing any more. They said, "Claire, sort your thighs out." But when I went to work in Portugal, singing in a casino, I drank hot chocolate and ate toasted cheese sandwiches after the show every night. I came back like a Michelin man. That's when I realized, "I've really got to watch my weight." It was a shock. I lost it, but three years ago, when I came back to Brookside, I put on weight again. I'd come off the cruises, where I was used to dancing and exercising, up partying and very nocturnal. And in Brookie I was in the make-up chare at seven. Come 10, I was ready for my lunch. So I was having bacon and eggs. Come lunchtime, after a crying scene, I'd feel sorry for myself and think, "I'll have a nice big meal," Then I was going home and eating bowls of pasta. I just piled the weight on. I was 11 stone. I couldn't get into my clothes. You know what did it? You know women in real life diet for their wedding? My character, Lindsey Corkhill, was getting married, and I thought, "I'm going to sort myself out." I cut out pasta, watched what I ate, and my ex-boyfriend, Alan, who's a footballer, said to me, "Claire to the gym." I got the Beverley Callard video, and did that every day with my tins of beans in my front room. I lost a stone and a half. But at the beginning of this year I didn't care what I ate, and enjoyed it. When I went in the Big Brother house, I felt the heaviest I've been in ages. But when I came out, people said, "You've got a nice figure." I thought, "Well, maybe it's all in my mind." They'd seen me in every worst state. Without my make-up, my eczema showing, jim-jams on, hair no done. And people kind of accepted me. So I though, "Ok, I'm not dead skinny, but maybe I'm alright. A size 12, normal. Because that's what I am. Just a normal girl. Battling with my bum and my thighs. Which is why it's hysterical that I'm Rear of the Year. Hysterical! For years I've been saying "Mum, does my bum look big in this?" You know, the phrase. And she'd say, "Maybe the next size, love." And then they chose me. I thought, "Why? I haven't got a good bum." I was so embarrassed doing the photo call. When I saw the papers next day it reminded me of those big Caribbean women who dance, bum sticking out. Oh my God!
But then I thought, "I'm not some model, I'm pear-shaped. And I got Rear of the Year. Great! Maybe the fuller figure is back in."
So I've chilled about it, not so obsessed. But I'd still love to lose half a stone. Even doing all the physical things for Challenge Of A Lifetime, I haven't lost anything. I'm still sat on that half stone, convinced my life will change if I lose it. But it won't, will it? In fact my life has changed so much from the way I saw it when I was a shy kid in Liverpool. Very grounded parents, lost and lots of love. I never wanted to be an actress, I wanted to be a dancer. Mum had said, "Why don't you try a hobby, love?" And I won medals. At stage school I got a prize for singing, and when I was 14 I started singing in the social clubs in Liverpool. I did four years entertaining on P&O cruise ships, went round the world three times and met the Queen. I fell into acting. I wanted the part of a singer in Brookside, but got Lindsey Corkhill instead. I can't believe it's been six years. But last year seems like a lifetime ago. I broke up with my boyfriend last September, decided to leave Brookside, turned 30 in April. But it was Big Brother that changed my life. Completely, completely. I came out of that house and my life was just, "Shwerrf!" Like that! Like a whirlwind. People said, "Did you plan to sing in the house?" I couldn't have planned that, we were given tasks and that was one of them. It's extraordinary. Just two lines in a song can change your career. And I'd been slogging away singing for years. I was offered Challenge Of A Lifetime which I've just finished. And I really loved it. It's a dream opportunity. Scary, but very exciting. I'm not a daredevil at all and apart from being on a crocodile farm for two days - they're horrible - the scariest thing was having to do a challenge myself. And Monday was my last day on Brookside. It was really sad. When I went into the dressing room and Dean Sullivan, who plays my dad, gave me a photo album of me in Brookside over the years, I just started crying. God, the upheavals in my life since breaking up with Alan. We'd been together for four years, and I think after that time you know whether you're going to go further or not. And it wasn't. I was very upset at the time but we're still friends. According to some of the papers I'm getting married to someone else, aren't I? It's ridiculous. I am dating Adam Kenwright. He's a lovely guy, friends introduced us at a party. But it's so casual. We're both so busy. He's a theatrical producer. We manage dinner every couple of weeks. We went away for a few days, which was nice. I enjoy seeing him when I see him. With Adam it's early days, and there's nothing to talk about really. I'm really respecting his privacy.
I'm so busy. Do you know what, this sounds so frumpy, if I have a night off, I want to get into a bath, shave my legs and put a mask on.
Watch telly. The energy I put into someone else for four years I'm enjoying putting into me. Enjoying what's happening in my life. I'm going to Africa for Comic Relief this month, to see where the money that was raised by Big Brother is being used. I think it's going to be very upsetting. Mum said, "It's really going to affect you. Are you sure you're up to it?" An emotional challenge is far harder than a physical one. I don't know yet whether there will be another series of Challenge, I just hope people like it tomorrow night. I've got my fingers crossed about that. And about doing a musical, my biggest dream. I don't want to tempt fate by talking about it. It's a real turning point for me. I left Liverpool to move to London this week. It's a big step, isn't it? I'm on the threshold, aren't I? It's like all my dreams are coming true. Mum says, "Just enjoy it, it could all be gone tomorrow." I believe in fate, I always go with my instincts. And I'm very fortunate. I've got a brilliant Mum who I can talk to about anything. I've got a Dad who, if I needed him would be on the next train here. Good mates. I've got my health, and a career that is just fantastic at the moment. It's all a plan, I'm convinced someone is mapping out plans for all of us. Whoever's mapping it our for me at the moment, I thank you. It's great.