Sweeney's sweet success
femail.co.uk - 4th October 2001
She has braved the company of Anthea Turner, Vanessa Feltz and Chris Eubank as a voluntary participant on Celebrity Big Brother.
Now Brookside actress Claire Sweeney is about to take on a challenge of a different kind - one which will see her face some of the toughest ordeals of her life.
From Saturday, Sweeney will become the face of Saturday evening prime time TV when she hosts ITV's Challenge Of A Lifetime, a successor to Davina McCall's 'Don't Try This at Home'.
The series sees Sweeney inviting members of the public to overcome their phobias by carrying out a range of daredevil challenges.
If the participant refuses or fails to carry out the challenge, then Sweeney herself has to take their place, be it bungy jumping, rock climbing or any other death defying stunt producers of the show have dreamt up.
Sounds like a difficult job? At least Sweeney can rest assured that the programme is likely to transform her into a household name, something which 12 months ago the lesser-known actress could only dream about.
The 30-year-old Liverpudlian, who plays tough-talking lesbian Lindsay Corkhill in the Channel Four soap Brookside, made a very wise decision when she volunteered to appear on Celebrity Big Brother to raise money for Comic Relief in March.
Her girl-next-door looks and laid-back attitude won her legions of fans and when she emerged from the Big Brother compound wearing skyscraper heels and a snappy white suit (she narrowly lost out to comedian Jack Dee) she looked every bit the A-list celebrity she is gradually becoming.
Since her departure from the Big Brother house, the offers have been rolling in. As well as her £250,000 contract to present Challenge Of A Lifetime she's been signed for a reputed £300,000 a year as the face of Marks &Spencer's underwear and she will replace Denise Van Outen as Roxie Hart in the hit musical Chicago in the New Year. And if that's not enough, she won this year's coveted Rear Of The Year award.
It's all a long way from Sweeney's roots in Walton, Liverpool, where her mum, Kathleen, and step dad, Ken, saved every penny they could to put her through a private dance school in the city, where she won numerous prizes for singing and dancing.
After finishing school, Sweeney spent the next two years at the Italia Conti School in London alongside the likes of Naomi Campbell and Martine McCutcheon. Then, after appearing in one edition of Brookside, she decided to get some real-life singing experience and joined P&O ferries as a cabaret singer. Four years later, she wrote to Brookside producer Mal Young asking for a job and the rest, as they say, is history.
While Sweeney's character in Brookside's personal life has seen its fair share of highs and lows, developments in Sweeney's own life have often been as dramatic.
Last year saw the breakdown of her four-year relationship with Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper Alan Miller. She also had to suffer the jailing of her step father Ken Sweeney, who was put away for eight months for evading excise duty on smuggled goods. On top of that, her real father Albert Brown, who she hasn't seen for 25 years, sold his story to a national newspaper talking about his love for the daughter he doesn't really know.
But things seem to have finally come full circle for Sweeney. As well as the lucrative job offers, she has bought a luxury riverside apartment in London, is negotiating a record deal, and a new romance is in the offing with theatre producer Adam Kenwright.
Whether Sweeney cuts the mustard as an A-list presenter will be revealed on Saturday. But if things don't work out, she can always return to Brookside where bosses have left her character open should she ever wish to resurrect it.
For now, though, Sweeney is content to do what her fellow soap actors told her when the job offers started rolling in: 'Go for it, it's a once in a lifetime chance.'
Challenge Of A Lifetime is on ITV1 at 5.45pm on Saturday October 6