Home Life Weekend

'I'm hoping they will have found a cure for death before I get there'

Corrie's Alma Sedgewick, actress Amanda Barrie, tells Gabrielle Fagan how being in her Eighties isn't stopping her living life to the full

By Gabrielle Fagan

Former Coronation Street and Bad Girls star Amanda Barrie may be 81, but she's having the time of her life. She's recently appeared on The Baby Boomers' Guide To Growing Old, BBC's fly-on-the-wall documentary, The Real Marigold Hotel and Holby City.

Amanda, who played Alma Sedgewick in Corrie for two decades, first shot to fame in the Sixties in the Carry On films.

She was married to actor Robin Hunter from 1967-2004, revealed her bisexuality in her 2002 autobiography, It's Not A Rehearsal, and married crime novelist Hilary Bonner in 2014.

It's difficult to believe that Amanda is now in her eighth decade and part of the reason may be her attitude towards ageing.

She says: "I never think about my age except in the mornings when I look in the mirror and think, 'Who is that?' I have this theory that, if we could scrap birthdays and all be hypnotised so we didn't know our age, it would be much better. And I've lived my life backwards really, because I got married for the second time at 79, and had a gap year the year before that. I'm hoping that they'll find a cure for death before I get there!

"The best thing about maturing is not being dead, and the worst thing is losing friends. I'm definitely not mature yet - whatever that means."

She has her own recipe for holding back the years.

"Be a bit sensible about smoking, drinking and putting on weight, but most of all, keep a sense of humour about everything. Realise that you can't be happy all the time, or on the go all the time - we're a bit like the weather, we have seasons."

Given her public image - never mind her previous marriage - we wondered what difference did revealing her bisexuality make to her life?

"It was an enormous relief," she admits "because up until then, I'd led this secret life, and what I'd call a life that was edited. If you're with a group of people who you know are going to be judgemental, what you tend to do is edit what you say the entire time. So I'd say, 'We went out' - never, 'She and I', to edit the gender out.

Keeping her secret was especially trying during her stint on Corrie: "It was difficult when I was on Coronation Street. I was always worrying it would come out, because at that time, there were people there who might not have been prepared to work with me. It's changed so much in 16 years - I watched Corrie the other night and virtually everyone seemed to be gay!"

She candidly adds: "I was really quite fearful after I wrote my autobiography, explaining everything about me. I thought people might throw stones at me in the street or something, but it was quite the reverse and everyone was lovely."

One thing she is adamant about is her refusal to have cosmetic surgery, especially a facelift, although that was not always the case as she explains.

"I wasn't born a natural beauty, so I was regularly tempted when I was on Coronation Street, but I'm glad I never did because you can end up with a facelift-face, which loses character as well as the wrinkles. I comfort myself with the fact people still recognise me as 'Alma' from Corrie - I call it 'getting Alma-ed' - so maybe I haven't changed that much. Actually, I'm secretly hoping more people have facelifts and leave the 'old' roles for me.

"In Holby City recently, I played an old lady and all I had to do was lie in bed - what a perfect role!"

Amanda is also a person who believes in being positive in life as evidenced by her reply to the question of 'what was the best advice you ever received'.

She says: "I heard this brilliant question and answer on a TV programme: 'If there are two wolves and they're both inside you, and one is evil and a killer, and the other is a peacemaker, which one would win? Answer: the one you feed'. It means you can feed your mind with whatever you want, but it's better if it's positive, and I've always believed in that."

But she doesn't need to rely on the advice of others when it comes to stating the one person or thing she could not live without.

"My wife, Hilary; we've been together 14 years and married for three. We're very happy and I joke our wedding made our dog Coco legitimate! Also, my make-up, which is vital. I can get up in the morning and feel awful, but once I've done my face and hair, I'll miraculously feel OK. I always say if it gets to the stage where I'm ill and they're threatening to turn off the life support, they should put my make-up on before they do, as it's so often like a miracle cure for me."

Surely she must be at a stage when thoughts of retirement cross her mind? Far from it, she says: "No, I'll carry on as long as people ask me to do things. When I spent a month in India for The Real Marigold Hotel series, it was wonderful because I made new friends, especially Miriam Margolyes, Lionel Blair and Bill Oddie, who I want to adopt. At my age, that's brilliant, and I'm lucky I have so many friends in show business.

"I'm loving the way there's an 'archaeological dig' going on now to find old actors and put us on TV so people can marvel at us and say, 'Wow, she's not only still around but walking and talking!' I suppose we're interesting because we've been 'marinated in life', so we've got a bit of richness and interest to us."

She admits to having had a few health problems over the years "including a hysterectomy, chest and eye problems, and I've had anxiety all my life. I was brought up during the war and think I absorbed it from the adults around me. Weirdly, I don't have it in a real crisis.

"I think I'm just someone who sees life in black and white with no grey in the middle, but I'm also a survivor who's very resilient and played life by her own rules. I ran away from home aged 13 to join the chorus line and realised from a very early age I was the only one who could look after me."

Amanda Barrie appears on The Baby Boomers' Guide To Growing Old on More 4, which explores the world of Britain's over-65s through the eyes of 13 pension-aged celebrities

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