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Like Cold Feet's characters, our lives are totally different now

As the cult Nineties show returns to our television screens tonight, two writers tell how, just like the series’ famous characters, their lives and relationships have greatly changed over the past 13 years

Published 05/09/2016

The cast of Cold Feet
The cast of Cold Feet
Original cast of Cold Feet
James Nesbitt in Cold Feet
Happy family: Karen Ireland with her sons Korey, Teo, and Jesse
Karen with her mum Gwen in the Nineties
Francis Burscough on her wedding day with her dad

The Nineties were dominated by Buddy TV from Friends to Neighbours we were glued to the latest episode to find out whose relationships was breaking up or making up.

But one series which drew an impressive following was Cold Feet, starring Coleraine-born actor Jimmy Nesbitt, which followed the intertwining lives of three Manchester couples at different stages in their relationships. At the start, Adam Williams and Rachel Bradley are a new couple. Adam’s best friend Pete Gifford and his wife Jenny are adjusting to life as new parents, while Rachel’s friends Karen and David Marsden fear the possible disintegration of their marriage. Poignantly true to life but with plenty of twists, it explored all the ups and downs of friendship, romance, relationships and family life. While tonight’s show will bring us up to date with the characters, two writers take a look at how their relationships have changed over this time.

Frances Burscough: When I look back over the Cold Feet years of 1997 to 2003 I realise in retrospect that these were equally tumultuous times for me too. I was still married at the beginning of the first series and I had one son Luke who was four. I worked at a television company in Belfast while Luke went to a child minder and I was loving it but it was increasingly long hours, sometimes filming through the night.

We were a really sociable couple, with a network of friends we’d both made mainly through work since we’d moved to Northern Ireland in the early Nineties. Most of them were also married couples with young kids and we’d see them almost every weekend. There was about 10 of us altogether and we’d either go out to restaurants and split the bill or we’d go to each others houses for dinner parties.

They were always great fun and on the outside everything seemed to be going great, but once we were home alone the cracks were starting to show. We were both spending so much time working that we hardly saw each other and as a result our marriage was starting to crumble. We’d even talked about splitting up, but after a long talk we decided to have another go at things and to be more attentive to each other. I left my job and started to look for something less taxing and closer to home. I was offered a job with PR company and accepted it.

This seemed like a bit of a turning point for me with a new job and a fresh start, but a week before I was due to begin the new job I discovered I was pregnant. I worked there very successfully for six months, but then when I started to get pregnancy complications I had to leave my job.

Meanwhile, my husband had changed jobs and was now working in London so I was looking after two young children on my own without any respite. The pressure got to us both, our relationship crumbled and that was the end of that. The marriage was over and we split.

So you could say that I empathised with the various female characters in Cold Feet as they went through their assorted ups and downs, trials and tribulations, because I was going through a lot of similar ones of my own simultaneously. I did have a network of friends whom I could talk to at the time, but it’s a sad fact of life that when a married couple splits up, their relationships with mutual friends are devastated too.

I found only a few really close friends withstood our divorce. The rest either dropped me completely or gradually cut me out of their lives over a few months. Why? Well I was single again while they were all still married. This for me was one of the worst parts of my divorce and almost as painful as the split itself. I realised that some of the friends I had devoted so much time to for so long were only interested in me when I fitted the bill and complemented their little clique. The moment I became an anomaly, the invitations stopped.

As a result I had to start again from scratch, almost like I was a newcomer in a strange town. While on telly, in Cold Feet, the friendships grew stronger through thick and thin, and survived infidelities and break ups and rows and problems, in my real-life kitchen sink drama I felt like I’d been abandoned completely. Fortunately, around about the same time as my divorce was finalised, I started writing for the Belfast Telegraph and I was able to pour my heart out in that way.

So 12 years later and I’m still living alone with my sons going backwards and forwards to and from uni and things have stabilised somewhat. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the characters in Cold Feet have developed and where they ended up in life. But I must admit that I’ll also be watching it with a tinge of sadness too, for the friends that I lost along the way.

Karen Ireland: When Cold Feet first appeared on our screens as the UK’s answer to Friends in 1997, I like so many was hooked from the beginning and it became part of the landscape of my life at that period as I identified with all the relationships which were complex and interwoven.

I was newly-wed and had just began a career as a journalist on this paper full of hope and anticipation about my future.

Little did I know my life was about to become something akin to a sitcom plot itself with many highs and lows over the coming years.

In 1999 I gave birth to my first son Jesse, now 16. At midnight, an hour after he was born, my parents, Bill and Gwen rushed through the doors of the maternity unit anxious to see their new grandson and perhaps equally as important to check in on their only daughter.

During the first six weeks of his life they practically lived in my house staying with me all day to help me get some rest and establish a routine.

I will always cherish those days as Jesse was to be the only child of mine my mother would ever see.

Nine months after he was born I fell pregnant again but it wasn’t to be and I miscarried at just a few weeks.

Again my mum was my first port of call and I came home to rest in her house while she looked after Jesse for me.

Then on Jesse’s first birthday, everything changed when mum was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and died a few short months later.

Overcome with grief I spent the next six months in a bubble. I know I was lucky as I had the support of my then husband and a good group of friends around me including in-laws and my brother Michael, but my life changed at that time and as cliched as it sounds a part of me died too.

But fate hadn’t finished with me yet. At the end of that year I gave birth to my second son, Korey now 14, a blessing and reassurance of the moving circle of life.

When he was just five months old, my dad, who we were all living with at the time, was diagnosed with lymphoma and he died a cruel death two months later.

I wondered how I would cope with two young children and trying to deal with the loss of both parents.

Around the same time we had started building our own home, so I threw all my energy into that and looking after my boys.

I surrounded myself with a few close friends, some from school, some from university, church and my two closest friends who I had grown up with — Karen Lyness and Tracey Magill.

In fact Karen’s (my next door neighbour growing up) mum died a few hours after my dad. Their funerals were hours apart in the same church, giving us a unique bond which will never be broken.

A week after their deaths we found ourselves in a tattoo parlour, promising each other we would live every day and not put off the things we wanted to do.

Life would never be the same again but it took on a kind of normality. Church life and my faith became very important to me.

By this stage I had been told I would never have any more children and was scheduled to have a hysterectomy when I found out I was pregnant.

After a difficult pregnancy, most of which was spent in the hospital, I gave birth to my third son, Teo, now 12. I was convinced I would have a girl and longed for that mother-daughter bond which I had, but when Teo was rushed to special care with a pneumothorax, the only thing that mattered was that he was okay. Two weeks later he was discharged and I was now mum to three young boys. I struggled with childcare costs for the three of them in day care and eventually decided to work part-time.

Just when you think you’ve faced everything and dealt with all which life has to throw at you, two years ago my marriage, the one constant in my life (I thought) broke down and I was faced with the stark reality of betrayal, hurt and yet more devastating heartbreak.

This was a time when I needed friends around me and many who had been friends with us as a couple struggled to find where they belonged, as did I.

But as always Karen and Tracey were there to listen to me cry, shout and scream or just sit over a long coffee or glass of wine.

I couldn’t have got through the last two years without their unconditional love and that of my brother’s first wife, Amanda — ironically the only sister I have ever known — and my cousins Paul and Louise.

Fast forward to today and life has changed dramatically. The boys and I are stronger and closer than ever. They have been my reason for getting up and getting on with it every day.

I thought I would never love or trust again but fate intervened once more and I am now happier than I have ever been in a loving and caring and genuinely grown-up relationship. I have found a true partner, companion and most importantly a friend who accepts me for who and what I am. I have been given a second chance and I don’t intend to waste a single minute of it.

If I have learnt anything over the last 20 years it is that you never know what is round the corner so you should never take anything or anyone for granted and live life to the full.

The new series of Cold Feet starts on ITV tonight at 9pm

Online Editors

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