Am I Now Turning into My Mother? Sue Johnston Has Battled Bulimia and Bickered with Family. Hannah Stephenson Discovers the Domestic Dramas of Her Life
FOR years, actress Sue Johnston has had issues about her appearance. The former Waking The Dead and Brookside star dislikes the shape of her nose, the lines on her face and neck, and the wrinkly, sagging batwing arms she says will prevent her from ever wearing sleeveless tops again.
Yet meeting her today, she looks at least a decade younger than her 67 years in skinny jeans and trendy motif-emblazoned T-shirt, which shows her enviable figure off admirably.
It's evident the actress who has played Ricky Tomlinson's wife twice - first as Sheila Grant in Brookside and again as Barbara in The Royle Family - has a real sense of fun, judging by the many laughs she's had during her career and charted in her memoir Things I Couldn't Tell My Mother.
She will soon be reunited with her Royle Family pals Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash to film a Christmas special, will be starring as a deputy head in new Sky series Gates, due out next year, and is enjoying spending time with her five-week old grandson, Archer. Life, it would seem, is good.
Yet for years Johnston had other worries - about her appearance, her weight, two failed marriages and living up to her mother's high expectations.
She grew up in a working-class family outside Liverpool and her mother Margaret was a woman who spoke her mind whatever the consequences - but kept her warmer, loving emotions under wraps.
Her only daughter was often the victim of her cruel tongue and Johnston admits she spent years seeking her mother's 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'. I said, 'That's what happens when you get older' and she said, 'Well, mine didn't go thin'. She thought that because she was my mother, she had the right to criticise.
"Another of her great favourites was, 'You haven't looked decent since I stopped dressing you' and she meant it. She was always worried what other people thought and always looked immaculate."
Born in Warrington during the Second World War, Johnston was surrounded by cousins and an extended family. She had a happy childhood and while she dearly loved her mother, who died four years ago, aged 92, after suffering from dementia, it was often a fraught relationship.
"She was almost cruel in her dismissiveness. But in the last four years of her life, she became vulnerable and therefore needed me. She wasn't as cruel, but I also felt that she'd given up the battle."
When Johnston left Liverpool at 21 to pursue a career in acting, joining the Webber Douglas Drama School in London, 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, and the marriage didn't last long. Still, the stigma of divorce hit her hard. . I My Sue published priced "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 Brontes 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. …