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SALLY LINDSAY: CHILDCARE CAN BE SEEN AS A ‘DIRTY WORD’, BUT THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH IT
Interview With Sally Lindsay
by Tom Pitfield & Lolo Stubbs
Sally Lindsay is one of Britain’s best loved actors and presenters, best known for her roles as Shelley Unwin in ITV’S Coronation Street, Lisa Johnson in Sky One’s comedy series Mount Pleasant, and as Kath Agnew in the BBC sitcom Still Open All Hours. As well as Sally’s impressive on screen career, she is also co-founder of the award winning production company – Saffron Cherry – and is responsible for creating and writing a number of hit shows such as Scott and Bailey and Madame Blanc Mysteries. Alongside her accomplished career, Sally is also a loving and dedicated mum of 4; Step Mum to her two step children – Kristabel and Curtis, and Mum to her twin boys – Victor and Louie, aged 12. We were lucky enough to chat to Sally, and we couldn’t wait to find out all about her journey, how she managed to juggle family life alongside such a successful career and what she has learnt along the way!
You’ve had and still have such a successful career, how have you managed to juggle that alongside being a mum?
“Well, I’ve never not had kids really, ever since meeting my partner, Steve; he already had two children when we got together – my step children Kristabel and Curtis – they were 7 and 9 when I first met them, they are now 30 and 29 – which is crazy! And our boys, the twins, Victor and Louie, are 12 years old.
When I physically had my babies, I couldn’t really work whilst I was pregnant – as no-one really wants to cast pregnant people! So, I didn’t really work for a while, but I did sign for Mount Pleasant when I was pregnant though. They were really good, and waited for me throughout my pregnancy, before they started filming, but then they couldn’t wait any longer, so I physically went back to work when the boys were just four and a half months old. It was very, very hard filming again after having the boys, because I was just exhausted! I didn’t have a night nanny or anything, so it was really tough – in fact the first two years were really tough. I did other things as well as Mount Pleasant, but that was my main job. Although it was hard, it was a very supportive environment and I was allowed to have the twins on set if I wanted to, although that didn’t really work for me. I tried it for the first couple of days and the nanny came along too, but it just devastated me. I just couldn’t focus on my work. I already felt like I had brain fog, because I was so tired, but having them there made it so much harder for me to concentrate, and I had a lead role, so it just didn’t work. I think people have to find their own path and their own way of doing things and for me I have to separate work and kids. I know other actors that can have their children on set and that works for them, but the best piece of advice I would give anyone is that if it doesn’t work for you it’s fine. You have to find what works for you.
Having said that, I’ve just been over to Malta to film Madame Blanc, and the kids came out whilst I was over there. It was lovely, but it was still hard, as even though they’re older, when they arrived it overlapped for four days of my filming, so there were a few days where they were hanging around waiting for me to finish work, and I was very aware of that.”
What did you find was the best way to help you separate work and the kids?
“Childcare is obviously a massive aid to help you to separate the two, and I think sometimes childcare can be seen as a ‘dirty word’, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with it! We have Lisa; who has been with me since the boys were 9 days old. I was down in London on my own after the boys were born and I needed help, that was when I was introduced to the concept of a doula and they are known as ‘Mother’s Helpers’. At the time I didn’t want someone to look after the children. I wanted someone to help me – you know around the house etc, and that’s what Lisa did and she is still with me to this day. So, Lisa is like a second mum to the kids, so I can relax knowing they are with someone both they and I are comfortable with. For example last week I had a huge event in town, and then a photoshoot early the next day, and Steve had a recording, so she stayed overnight with the boys, and although it’s very unusual that will happen, (as we normally time everything so that at least one of us is there), it’s very reassuring to have that person that can just take over when things like that do happen. When we’re up in Manchester, it’s my mum that steps in, but when we’re in London it’s Lisa. I think it’s trying to get over the fact that having help with childcare is perfectly ok, or that you’re not a great parent if you hire a nanny. It’s just b*ll*cks, because you need that support! I’ve got mates with different jobs, who only get to see their kids on Saturday and Sunday morning and that’s it, whereas I don’t have that. I have periods of intense filming, where I’m away and I might only get a chance to fly back for the odd weekend, but then when filming is done, I have lots of time at home with the boys and I can be very present. Then, whilst the boys are at school, I will go into my office and write, and run our production company, but as soon as they are home from school, I’m there for them – although when they get to 12, they start ignoring you anyway, [she laughs] but if they want me I’m there. And that’s how I juggle it.”
Looking back, has there been a time you have missed out on something career wise because you were a parent?
“Well, I created Scott and Bailey, and it got commissioned the same week that Mount Pleasant got commissioned, which was also the same week that I found out I was pregnant! But because they could wait to start filming for Scott and Bailey, it had to go ahead and so I was taken off the job. Whereas with Mount Pleasant they waited to start filming and they were adamant they wanted me as their lead.
We’ve also a got a new drama coming up with our production company, and that’s really exciting, but because I already film 10 weeks of the year in Malta for Madame Blanc, I cannot commit to this new job, because it would just mean that I would be away to much – and that is definitely that makes a difference in your career when you become a parent, because I simply cannot be away for that long. So whenever any jobs come in I have to find out where it’s going to be filmed, and for how long, before I can consider it.
But a job came in this last week that meant I would be away for November for 5 weeks, but I could manage that, but I do have to really question how long I’m going to be away each time a job comes up. Steve is extremely supportive of my career, in fact he does all the music on our productions, so it’s in his interest to develop the company too. But we’re at the start of a lot of growth with the production company and I’ve got to start making some decisions and deciding which of the shows I’m going to be in. That is purely down to me being a mum – both from a childcare point of view, and of course, me just not wanting be away that long from my boys. I don’t want to miss out on them growing up, I mean they’ll be adults before I know it!”
A lot of people talk about feeling guilty as a working parent; is that something you have dealt with and if so how have you learned to deal with that?
“When I look back, yes I have worked a lot, but most of the time I think we have gotten the balance right, because on the whole it’s myself and Steve that have brought our children up and I remember everything. We have had so many wonderful times together as a family. I think that’s the thing especially in our types of careers, yes, you do work a lot at times, but you also get chunks of time off. I found that the key really is to use those times wisely, so in a way it’s quality, not so much about quantity. I know everything about my children and I feel very close to them – even now as they approach the teenage years, and yes, of course they missed me whilst I was away, but they are very independent because of it as well and I think that’s a good thing.
I think when they were babies it was a bit easier for them when I was filming, because they weren’t aware of where I was going or what it meant. The second year I did Mount Pleasant was really hard though, because they were 18 months old, and every time I left for work they would cry and scream for me at the window, and I used to cry all the way to work. I found it really difficult, then in the end Steve videoed them for me, to show me what they were like a minute I had left, and they were just crawling around playing with their toys or having their milk and they were absolutely fine. I remember thinking that’s just survival instincts from a child. They are programmed to cry if they see their Mum, or their caregiver leave. People used to say, ‘Oh, you must feel so guilty!’ and I’d say
‘Guilty for what? Providing my family with a future? Of course I miss them and that’s hard, but no I don’t feel guilty because I’ve got nothing to feel guilty for!’”
Sally Lindsay and her family, for BROOD Magazine ©
Do you have any routines or staples that you do as a family to help to make sure you have that quality family time together?
“We’re really quite conscious when I’m at home about eating together, we always sit down and eat together every single night. If we’re at home, we make sure we all sit round that table! We might only have 20 minutes while they’re eating, but we get to talk to them about their day etc. And we also make sure we go out to eat somewhere every week, as that means we’ve got their attention for at least an hour and a half, and we can properly chat. We also make a big deal of Sundays – I’ll cook and their dad will take them to football in the morning with their Grandad, and then they come back and then we all eat together, so Sunday’s are really important for us. That’s something we’ve always done from day one and I find that really important, and even when I’m away the three of them will eat together and send me pictures. We also like to pick a box set series to watch together. And another thing we do like to do is walk the dog together at weekends, because myself or Steve will just do it during the week, but we all go together at weekends and it’s during that walking time that they ask the most random questions, and there are no phones to distract them, or us so that’s always nice. I always want my boys to be able to talk to us, no matter what they’ve done, or how bad it is, we always want them to know that they can tell us. It’s a funny period as a parent at the minute, as they are growing up there are new things every week that I have to learn to let go of, and as much as they are learning to manage things for themselves, it’s important for them to know that we’re still there whenever they need us.”
What benefits do you think your children have gained from watching their parents have such successful careers?
“I think that because of our busy lives and the fact they have always been around that, and seen us working, it has given them a level-headedness and independence that I don’t think they would have had if we’d have always been around – hovering over them. I can see that more and more as they are getting older. Don’t get me wrong we’ve done plenty of taxiing for them and taking them to various after school clubs etc, [she laughs] but essentially the boys had to fit into our lives when they came along.”
What is the one major tip that you would give any other parents who are juggling a career and bringing up their brood?
“Diary syncing is so important if you’re both busy parents. That’s what we do. We have a Friday diary check, where we sit down and forensically go through our diaries for the next week. And it’s surprising because even though we’ve been through it a million times, there is always something that we’ve forgotten. I think if we didn’t do that every week our entire lives would fall apart! [She laughs]”
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When I started to really see that my feelings of guilt came from the thoughts I had about myself, I started to see guilt as a wonderful alarm and indicator for me to actually lower my expectations of myself, relieve the pressure and be much more patient and compassionate with myself! It is simply and indicator that our thoughts have gone off in an unhelpful direction.