Coleen Nolan: Losing my sister made me question my own mortality

The singer and TV presenter talks losing her sister and her life on TV in a Letter To My Younger Self

I was touring with my sisters when I was 16. It was probably the height of our career. Touring the world; Japan, Russia, Australia, everywhere. It was a very full-on time. But I’d been performing with my family since I was two so it wasn’t an unusual way of life for me. And I was with my family so it felt very safe. I was – I am – a real homebody and I spent a lot of time just wishing I was back home. I probably appreciate that time now more than I did when I was going through it. I look back now and think wow, that was actually an amazing time in my life.

The hits started drying up in my mid-20s. We were still working but we weren’t really touring any more. We were doing summer seasons and clubs. And then I met Shane [Richie] and had my two boys and suddenly I thought, I’m not enjoying this any more. We were going on stage at half-one in the morning to people who were pissed. And I thought, I’ve left my kids at home to do this? People see the glamour of that kind of life, but they don’t see that it’s really, really hard work. You struggle to have any kind of normality. I didn’t want to drag my own kids around, I wanted them to have the childhood I’d never had.

Coleen Nolan performing with her sisters in The Nolans aged 16 in 1981
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Coleen Nolan performing (far left) with her sisters in The Nolands aged just 16 in 1981

When I found out Shane had been unfaithful, I thought it was a blip and we’d have counselling and everything would be fine. If I could go back I’d leave straight after the second affair. I stayed two years too long. But I was massively in love with him. To me, there was nothing missing in our relationship. He’s said that too, he said he doesn’t really understand what happened. Well, he does… he wanted to have his cake and eat it. I loved him but in the end I thought, I’m not one of those women who keeps turning a blind eye. I don’t deserve to be treated like this. And I don’t think this is a great way to bring up my children, thinking that this stuff is OK. In the end, I think we’ve done OK. We stayed really good friends and we still are.

My sisters still find it hilarious that I do a chat show every day when I wouldn’t say boo to a goose when we were younger. It wasn’t a planned career move. I went on to a talk show to talk about my break up with Shane, and it eventually became a regular job. And I loved it. I realised I did have a voice and things to say, I’d just never had a chance in that massive family. It was the first time in my life I felt truly independent, my own person.

With then-husband Shane Richie at an awards show in London in 1995
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With then-husband Shane Richie at an awards show in London in 1995

I grew up just worshipping The Osmonds. If you’d told the 16-year-old me I’d end up meeting them so many times they became friends…  wow. We chat away about how similar our lives were, touring with our families. But every now and again in the middle of the conversation I suddenly think, my God, this is The Osmonds, I used to cry over them! I’m always starstruck by famous people. If I’m on a red carpet I’m always looking around saying, “Oh my God, look who it is!”

In 1981 the year Coleen Nolan turns 16…

  • US president Ronald Reagan is shot and wounded
  • The Social Democratic Party (SDP) is founded in the UK
  • Postman Pat is first aired on BBC1

If I could have one more conversation with anyone, it would be my mum and dad. Because when they both passed I hadn’t been doing Loose Women for long. I probably went through a phase when Shane and I broke up when I was struggling a bit. I was a single, full-time mum. That must have worried them. I’ve done so many amazing things since they passed. I’d like to go back and tell them, you know, I’m going to be alright.

I think as a parent, and I hate to be sexist, but definitely as a mother, I don’t think there’s a moment after they’re born when you don’t feel guilty about something. Even now – Shane Jnr is 30 this year and I still worry and I still feel guilty. I do ask them, “Do you think when you’re older you’ll look back and think, I wish my mum hadn’t done that?” Bless them, they’ve always said no. But I’m sure there will be some things. I tried to protect my boys during the divorce. I made sure they never heard me and their dad rowing. I never ever used them as weapons, though that would have been the easiest way to hurt Shane. But I knew it would only hurt the boys. I’m very lucky, they’ve turned out really lovely boys. But they’ll always be from a broken home.

I’m not really loving my 50s. I think partly because I lost my sister

I don’t ever try to make my kids feel guilty for growing up, but I tell you what, I do sometimes have this urge to lock all the doors so they can’t leave. Obviously at certain ages there are times you want them to just grow up and sod off. But that passes. I’m lucky we’ve got such a close relationship and we’re such a big part of each other’s lives. And they’re very affectionate, they’re good at giving me hugs. But I can’t control them any more, I can’t ground them or tell them what do to. You do have a moment when you suddenly think, right that’s it, my job is done. That’s all I was here for. So what do I do now? And that’s quite shocking.

For the last three years of my marriage with Ray [Fensome] we did everything we could to save it. And yeah, we could have said, I’m in my 50s, you’re in your 60s, we’re too old to start again. Let’s just stay together and carry on. Because we weren’t rowing or anything. We were just leading separate lives. I just decided, I don’t want to just settle and I don’t want a lodger. So I’d rather you just leave and we can be great friends. And that’s worked out really well. I don’t look back at the last 17 years as a failure. I look at them as being really great and giving us Ciara, our fantastic daughter. I’m much happier, now that the decision has been made. But do I sometimes feel absolutely overwhelmed with sadness… yes. Because when I married him he was the love of my life and we were going to be together forever.

Nolan with son Shane in 2017, the oldest of her three children

If I could go back to any moment in my life it would be when I was in my mid-30s. I’d broken up with Shane and I had thought I’d never be in love again, I’d never have any more children. Then there I was, in love and pregnant. It was such a happy ‘world is my oyster’ time. I loved my 30s, and my 40s. I’m not really loving my 50s. I think partly because I lost my sister – that really makes you question your own mortality. And my kids are growing up, and now there’s my second marriage gone. And I’m thinking, oh Christ, here I go again.

After this interview took place, Coleen Nolan announced an immediate hiatus from all commitments, including Loose Women and her Never Too Late tour. Visit coleennolantour.com for updates.