TV and Showbiz / 23-05-2020

This Life star Daniela Nardini says she has endured the 'five worst years of her life'

Daniela Nardini proudly declares herself a 'warrior', adding that she comes from a long line of strong women in her family. The actor - forever fixed in the minds of her fans as feisty, foul-mouthed barrister Anna Forbes in the cult 90s BBC series This Life - has every right to be triumphant.

She has endured five of the 'worst years of her life', she says, which began with the death of her beloved father, followed by the break-up of her marriage, and then, in a final devastating blow, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a mastectomy.

It is only now the 52-year-old Scot feels she can speak of it publicly in the hope of inspiring other women to get regular checks.

This Life star Daniela Nardini says she has endured the 'five worst years of her life'

Candid: Notoriously private star Daniela Nardini has opened up about the 'five worst year's of her life' in an honest interview

She said: 'I went through a very dark period. Sometimes I wonder if it was all the emotional stuff I was going through that caused my cancer. A couple of years down the road, I now feel as if I've emerged stronger and a better person really. Anna would be proud.'

It's 24 years since This Life and her career-defining role as TV's first sophisticated 'bad girl' – one which has often been compared to Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag. 

The show made stars not just of double-BAFTA award-winning Daniela, but her co-stars Jack Davenport, who later starred in Pirates of the Caribbean, and Andrew Lincoln, who went on to headline The Walking Dead series.

Such is its enduring appeal the drama was recently made available to a new generation of viewers on BBC iPlayer.

Back in the day! It's 24 years since This Life and her career-defining role as TV's first sophisticated 'bad girl' (pictured)– one which has often been compared to Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag

Daniela, who grew up in Largs, North Ayrshire, where her family were more famous for their seaside ice cream business until her TV success, adds: 'Of course I love that people still enjoy the series. But This Life feels like another life now. It was very exciting and intoxicating at the time. We all got quite famous through it, quickly, which was a shock and a little bit terrifying.

'I don't miss any of it though. I'm glad I experienced it but I don't crave it. What I do crave is good work. It's quite hard to find work that excites you and speaks to you. As you go through life and experience different things you just want somehow for that to feed into your work.'

Nowadays, she and her 13-year-old daughter, Claudia, share a basement flat with its own little garden in Glasgow's West End.

Heartbreaking: Daniela says her struggles began with the death of her beloved father, followed by the break-up of her marriage, and then, in a final devastating blow, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a mastectomy.

It is two years since their lives were shattered by the news that she had cancer and would require surgery to have her left breast removed.

Turning 50 in April 2018, she had been invited for a routine NHS mammogram. Four months later - a time period that still leaves her shaken given the seriousness of her diagnosis - she found herself called back for further tests.

'I thought nothing of it,' she says, 'because they didn't seem to be urgent about it. So, I nipped in on my way to somewhere else and suddenly they were saying there were a couple of areas they didn't like the look of and before I knew what was happening, they were taking a biopsy.

'I remember feeling as if I was in a complete daze, thinking 'What the Hell's going on here?' It turned out it had already spread into one lymph node, so if I hadn't gone when I did, in all likelihood it would have continued through my lymphatic system within months. That frightened me because of my age. What if I hadn't been so vigilant? The bottom just fell out of my world. I had to get my friend to come and pick me up, I was so shaken.'

Brave: It is only now the 52-year-old Scot feels she can speak of it publicly in the hope of inspiring other women to get regular checks

Suddenly facing up to her own mortality, she spent the weeks that followed turning for comfort to 'anyone she knew' who had been through a similar ordeal.

Ironically, one of the people who supported her through the early stages of her illness was her ex-husband Ivan Stein, an Oxford University-educated former civil servant-turned chef.

The pair were together for 13 years, living first in London before moving to Glasgow, where he now co-owns one of the city's top restaurants, The Gannet.

They split, she says, after the death of her father Aldo, 80, in 2015, left her unable to cope emotionally with an already-failing marriage.

She says of their painful break-up: 'I think he worked so much it was a difficult combination with acting. I remember my friend said to me 'Imagine, an actress and a chef, how's that going to work?' She was right. I think we did well to manage 13 years.

'These things happen and we're good pals now and we've got our daughter and we share custody of her, so things are very amicable.'

She added: 'There's still love there between us. Ivan took me to my first hospital appointment. He also helped me sit down with Claudia and tell her about what I was going through. She was 11 at the time and she asked 'Are you going to die?' I said 'No, I'm not going to die, I'm going to get better.' She said 'That's ok then'. As long as she knew I wasn't going to die, she didn't care if I had one breast or two breasts. Throughout all of it, Claudia's been the reason that life was worth living.'

She admits, however, it was a lonely period of her life, particularly with no partner to confide in.

'I think not being in a marriage and having that diagnosis was hard because you don't have your wing man there,' she said. 'I felt quite isolated. At the same time, my mum kept saying 'Something good will come of this' and I was just like 'What else can go wrong?' She was right but it just takes time.'

As the date of the mastectomy approached, she felt 'drained' by all the uncertainty over whether or not to have her left breast reconstructed immediately.

She recalled: 'Some said I shouldn't have reconstruction, while my doctor said I should. Then there are the questions that torture you, such as 'Will it come back?' A friend told me I should just go 'for the double' and that way 'I'd be sure I'd be okay'. It was a very personal decision, but for me it was the right one - I went with my doctor's advice and had one removed and then reconstruction. They took muscle from beneath one of my shoulder blades to form my new breast. It's a terrible, life-changing decision for any woman to make but I think, for me, it would have been harder if there had been no breast at all and more months of waiting.'

It was former Doctor Who actor Christopher Eccleston's surprise admission last September that he had been secretly battling anorexia and poor mental health for years that finally flicked a switch in the intensely-private Daniela and made her realise she would gain more, like him, from sharing her own experience with others.

She said: 'It had a profound effect on me. It's quite taboo for a man to bring that up and I thought it was so intimate and brave. Anyone reading it who had been through a difficult time, could relate to it.

'For some time, I was in turmoil. Now I've had some distance to process what's happened to me, I've decided to speak out too and maybe someone reading it will take a bit of strength from my experience.

'I'm warning women to have regular check-ups and make sure they attend call-backs. The consequences are so much worse if this disease is not caught in time.

'Fortunately, the prognosis for me has been very good. I didn't need chemotherapy, I just needed radiotherapy and I was put on the cancer drug, Tamoxifen. One unfortunate side effect is you do gain weight, so physically I feel like I've had to go through quite a transition of acceptance, as well as gratitude that it was caught early.'

During her recovery she has turned to art therapy rather than acting to help her move on from her illness.

She added: 'For a while, I lost interest in performing, not because I felt physically I was not right but I just felt mentally and emotionally not ready. Acting is a very personal thing for me, as I suppose it is for other actors. But you've only got yourself to use and if there's not much 'self' there to use, it's futile even trying. At its worst, I would have struggled to even remember a line.

'To make matters worse, Tamoxifen puts you straight into menopause and rushes everything on.'

She pauses and with a sudden laugh, adds: 'This is really going to get me a new boyfriend. I mean one breast, the menopause, this is going to bring in the men. Never mind, Anna Forbes would probably say 'F**k off' anyway!

'Besides, I'm not sure I want another man, I've finally got the place looking the way I want it, all the colours I want, nobody to answer to, nobody to criticise it, and I'm like 'What would I do with one'? That's probably quite a good place to come from.'

Her self-consciousness about her gradual weight gain has led her to mainly focus on voice-over work for the last couple of years. But she admits she now feels in a stronger place mentally and is ready to return to acting.

She said: 'I'm feeling ready to take the plunge again and I'm open to work. I've been working with a young producer on ideas, working on a film script together, so it looks like my confidence is returning and I want to take charge of things a bit more.'

She's also become a firm fan of recent BBC drama hit Normal People, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal – seeing parallels with the instant success of This Life.

She added: 'I loved it. I was thinking of those young actors and hoping there was someone to guide them as producer Tony Garnett did with us.

'Normal People is sort of similar in that there are quite candid sex scenes and that's the sort of stuff we did. I was confident at that age and pretty skinny. In This Life, we were naked a lot and had sex and it was all quite realistic, so maybe that's what made me think of the similarities, though none of our scenes were anywhere near as explicit as Normal People. I loved the honesty of their sex scenes, it's sort of reminiscent of French cinema. It's just there and it tells its own story. It gives it more depth.'

Lately, she says, she's been discovering that acting is 'just one strand' of her, adding frankly: 'It's the one that earns me money but it's not the whole of me.'

Instead, she's been painting, mostly women. She explains: 'I don't know if it's a psychological thing or not but I've been naming the paintings after the women in my family because I come from a long line of strong women and I think part of you becomes a warrior when you come through a battle with cancer.'

She's just finished one of herself – complete with mastectomy.

Wistfully, she adds: 'It took a lot of pain and heartache to get here. But I'm a survivor and I feel strong. I feel like I'm finally the woman I wanted to be.'



This Life cast – Where are the others now? 

Andrew Lincoln: Played Edgar - aka 'Egg'- in both seasons of the popular drama. He went on to play the main role in zombie series The Walking Dead, finally leaving the show last year after nine seasons.

Jack Davenport: Played Miles Stewart. Since then he has been cast in many roles but his most famous was as Norrington alongside Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Amita Dhiri: Starred in the show as Milly Nassim and has since gone on to appear in a number of top TV series, including The Bill, Holby City and Silent Witness.

Jason Hughes: Played Warren and went on to star in Marcella, Midsummer Murders and Three Girls.

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23-05-2020 21:15, source: dailymail, by James Foster
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