SHOWBIZ PEOPLE: CLAIRE SWEENEY - SWEENEY ON HER TOD
It's all change for TV star Claire Sweeney - and she's never been happier, as JENNY EDEN reports...
IN the space of six months, soap star Claire Sweeney has transformed her life. She split from her long-term boyfriend, quit Brookside, locked herself in the Big Brother house and in the process became an A list star.
Now her bottom's celebrated as Rear of the Year, her cleavage has earned her a modelling contract with Marks and Spencer and she's got a prime time Saturday TV slot.
Challenge Of A Lifetime, on ITV from September, will let members of the public overcome fears and try dangerous stunts like wing-walking and bungee jumping.
And if contestants chicken out... it's Claire's job to do them herself!
But as daunting as this may be, Claire has faced a far bigger challenge in her life - coping with a break-up.
"No matter what you face in life, the greatest challenge is emotional," says the 30-year-old, who found fame as lesbian Lindsey Corkhill in Brookside. "I'm no daredevil and I don't know how I'll cope when it comes down to doing a bungee jump. But that's nothing compared to what goes on in your head when you break up with someone."
For years Claire and Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper Alan Miller looked set for marriage and kids - until work pressures led to a sad split in October last year.
"It was a very difficult time," Claire admits. "But I thought, I've got to get myself a new life or I'll just sit in the house, moping and crying.
"Mainly, I think I got through the split with Alan because I've got two brilliant friends, Sammy and Andrea. They were great, making sure I didn't wallow in self pity, which could have been the case. It's like a different life when you split up with somebody. Even flirting changes when you're single.
"When I was with Alan I did a bit of flirting but it was in safety because I always knew my boyfriend was waiting at home. Now I'm more coy because the bloke might ask me out!"
Indeed, there are plenty of guys queuing to date Claire. One is the theatre producer Adam Kenwright, 31, who met Claire at a party. Claire says: "I see Adam every two or three weeks and we have dinner or go to a show. But it's nothing serious."
Now that filming for her new ITV series has finished, she is looking forward to partying with her mates and seeing her mum Kathleen and dad Ken in her home town of Liverpool again.
"My ideal big night is when my friends all come round to mine to get ready with a couple of bottles of wine and some music. Then we go out to a few bars for a dance and a laugh.
"Karaoke is always good fun, then we have a Chinese meal and all get home at about three in the morning."
Any nights out she'd prefer to forget? Claire winces. "I had a Bridget Jones moment when I was a teenager. During the date my dress split down the back from the top to the waist. I just about walked backwards up our drive when he dropped me off so he couldn't see my big knickers."
Since being voted Rear of the Year that's not something Claire need worry about. But she laughs at the mention of her celebrated bottom.
"I've been battling against my bum for years," she says. "Now all of a sudden I'm getting an award for it. I'm a pear-shaped size 12 and I just can't take it seriously."
"I'm no model. I have to watch what I eat and every cream cake goes straight to my bottom."
When the chance to join Celebrity Big Brother came up this year Claire had no idea of the huge impact it would have on her career.
"I thought it would be a good laugh and not that many people would watch it - but my mum was much more clued up. She said, `Claire we love you but everyone else might not. If they say horrible things, can you cope, because you're not a toughie?'"As it turned out, everyone loved Claire. Her singing on the show proved a hit - EMI is among labels bidding to sign her. She's set to leave Brookside in September and it's rumoured that she will take over from Denise Van Outen in the West End musical Chicago in the autumn.
Claire says: "I said to my mum recently, `Do you know what? I'm really happy'. She said: `That's the best news I've heard, love'. I got a bit emotional and had a little cry. Life is just grand for me now."