Mum, Marriage and Mr Darcy; Life Hasn't All Been a Laugh for Royle Family Star Sue Johnston, as She Tells HANNAH STEPHENSON

Article excerpt


ACTRESS Sue Johnston, late of Brookside, Waking the Dead and The Royle Family, has a great sense of fun, judging by her memoir, Things I Couldn't Tell My Mother.

But the book also charts her worries - about her appearance, her weight, two failed marriages and meeting her mother's high expectations.

Born in Warrington during the Second World War, Johnston grew up surrounded by a large extended family. While she loved her mother, Margaret, who died four years ago, aged 92, after suffering from dementia, it was often a fraught relationship. She was a woman who spoke her mind but her only daughter often fell victim to her cruel tongue, and Johnston admits she spent years seeking her approval.

"I think she was cruel about the friends I chose, how I looked, the way I dressed. I can laugh about it now, but I used to come away steaming with stress.

"She'd really put the knife in. I remember when she said, 'What happened to your lips? You used to have lovely lips but they're so thin now'. She thought that because she was my mother, she had the right to criticise."

When Johnston left for London at 21 to pursue a career in acting, her mother found it hard to let go.

"She lost control and that's when she didn't know how to be with me."

Johnston married her first husband when she was 24 but they were too young, she says. Still, the stigma of divorce hit her hard.

"At 11 I was reading Pride And Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, featuring these glowering, passionate men that I've been in search of ever since. The Bronts and Jane Austen have a lot to answer for. For years, I thought you were defined by having a ring on your finger."

The distress of the split caused her to stop eating, which led to complicated issues with food.

"I got this drive to be thinner and started dieting. I began to comfort eat and can't tell you the day it went from enjoying food to an obsession."

She eventually went to the doctor, who put her on antidepressants.

"Depression is a malevolent presence, always stalking you. It was like something was constantly on my shoulders, weighing me down. …