News for nerds

I don’t know which memory came first: falling down the stairs and knocking down our Christmas tree, being bought my first nail varnish and getting it on my Wonder Woman pyjamas, or accidentally setting my brand-new parka on fire the first day I wore it. Each probably reveals something about my soul.

Pop stardom was my plan for a while, although briefly. Coming from an Irish family, I’d often walk into the living room to find 15 musicians going at it. My voice was my instrument, how I discovered self-expression. But deep down I wanted to be a barrister fighting for justice.

When Brookside started I was 16, and totally convinced that I would go back to my A-levels. I thought acting would be a hobby – never a job. I treasured and adored my education, but I left it behind.

Kindness is my greatest strength, but at times it’s a weakness to my detriment. I always see the good in people: there comes a point where that means I’m not as wary as I should be. Loss and abandonment scare me, far more than snakes or spiders. All this, I think, can leave you vulnerable.

Herbs are my obsession, particularly rosemary, with its healing qualities. I’m fairly confident I grow the best in England, and am incredibly proud of mine. The secret is to grow the bush next to a steam vent, where your house’s heat is expelled. Maybe it’s the Celt in me, because I really believe in the power of turmeric, too.

The first time I performed on stage was to an audience of 2,000. I made my Broadway debut at 22, alone in New York, and petrified. Those nine months taught me a lot, but I learned the most from one night of swing-dancing when – full of post-show adrenaline – I visited a club. “Stick your damn ass out and for God’s sake relax!” a gentleman in his 80s barked at me. He was so right – until then I’d been frigid.

I love hugs. Touch is just as important as our other senses. We all talk a lot, but an embrace can express so much more than any word could manage to.

I nearly died on a photoshoot in 2001, when I was told to hold in my bloated stomach. Next morning I was rushed to hospital: I had two litres of blood in my stomach from an ovarian cyst. If I’d got there five minutes later I’d have died of septicaemia. I know I went back to work way too soon, but I’m still trying to work out how it changed me.

A child’s mind develops its future personality by the age of three, at least I think that’s what I read while pregnant. I made sure my daughter only felt and saw love in those years, and I’d like to hope I’ve kept that going. We are best friends. I tell her I’ll help her with anything and forever, as long as she’s straight with me, so I know how to guide her.

Take me to the pub with a big group of friends; let me lose sense of time and smile until my face cracks. It’s my happy place.