Linda Lusardi: Life after Page 3 and my secrets for staying young
With those high cheekbones and amazing figure, Linda Lusardi has barely changed since she set pulses racing back as an Eighties glamour model. On a visit to Belfast, she tells our reporter her secrets for staying young.
It's hard to believe Linda Lusardi recently turned 55. With her unlined olive skin -- courtesy of her Italian father -- and big bright smile she looks at least a decade younger. There's no sign of what she describes as her mother's droopy jowls on her oval face; everything seems to be held up firmly by her extremely high cheekbones.
She has warm, friendly hazel eyes and a compact but still curvaceous five-foot-four figure, which she confirms wasn't affected at all by the birth of her two children, Lucy (17) and Jack (13).
The actress and model admits to hair extensions but says she hasn't had any cosmetic procedures done, and seeing her up close in the Titanic Quarter last week, I believe her, especially when she shows me pictures on her phone of her attractive, fresh-faced elderly parents.
"I don't think I need to have anything done at the minute but I would if I did," she concedes. "I booked in for Botox twice but chickened out. The fringe helps! There's nothing wrong with cosmetic surgery but I'm lucky to have good genes -- you should see my aunts.
"I had oily skin and spots when I was younger but oil in the skin stands to you when you get older. I've my dad Nello to thank for that."
Her youthful looks negate the ten-year age difference with her actor husband Sam Kane, who turns 45 at the end of November. She describes their meeting, in a panto production of Snow White in Darlington, as "love at first sight", despite the assumption by many former Brookside viewers that Sam, like his hairdressing character, was gay. Linda played Snow White to Sam's prince and they went on feature in a video spin-off of the Liverpool soap.
Since settling down in Hertfordshire, they've worked regularly in panto together, Linda graduating to the role of the Wicked Queen, with Sam directing as well as playing the prince. They were joined on stage five years ago for the first time by daughter Lucy -- a talented singer -- as the Forest Fairy, and son Jack in the chorus. Lucy recently joined the Italia Conti Drama College, the prestigious stage school in London.
"I love to hang out with the kids," says their proud mother. "I took them to the Teens Unite charity Purple Tie event at Paradise Wildlife Park, in Hertfordshire, the other night -- it's important for them to support charities.
"I try to do as much as I can. I gave out an award at the Women Of Inspiration for Breakthrough Breast Cancer on Saturday. There were so many brave women there.
"It was heart-breaking to see Steve, Bernie Nolan's husband and their daughter Erin there. Linda Nolan was with them to collect an award for Bernie, who lost her battle with cancer earlier this year.
"It seems no time since she was in my garden for a barbecue and seemed on the mend."
Like the tragic Bernie Nolan and her husband Steve Duneathy, Linda and Sam go back two decades. She says she enjoys being directed by Sam, who still has the "hots" for her -- he's as happy with his wife in her 50s as he was when they first met and tells her that her body is getting better with age.
Of course, Sam is the envy of the legions who voted former glamour model Linda as the 'Best Page Three Girl Ever' in 2005.
Although she has been acting for more than two decades, she still gets the 'former Page Three Girl' tag. She admits if she had her time again she would have gone into acting first, as that's where her heart lies.
Her TV career began when she auditioned in 2006 for a role in Emmerdale, against several more established actresses and was pleasantly surprised when she landed the part of Carrie Nicholls (an ex-girlfriend of Tom King and mother of his secret child, Scarlett).
"Coming from a modelling background it took a while to prove myself with the television producers but I think that Emmerdale helped a lot.
"It was a real discipline learning scripts every single week and having only three nights to learn great big speeches and bringing out emotions with very, very little rehearsal. Most of the time when you do a stage show you have two or three weeks of rehearsal, but with soap you get a couple of runs through at it and then you have to do it on camera."
Ultimately the disruption to family life and the commute to Yorkshire for shooting her scenes in Emmerdale became too much for her. A similar scenario was painted by Lorraine Chase -- star of this year's panto at Belfast's Grand Opera House -- who gave up her role in the rural soap due to the distance of the set from her home in London. Linda left the show after a year.
She says: "I was in Leeds from Monday to Friday and some Saturdays as well, so it really meant that for nearly a year the kids only saw me on a Sunday and a nanny was bringing them up. I couldn't deal with it so that's why I left Emmerdale really. I loved the job and I loved the work but it was just logistics -- it was too far away from home. The kids are only little for such a short period of time."
Apart from Emmerdale, Linda has also worked on Hollyoaks and The Bill (playing the girlfriend of corrupt officer DS Don Beech), and on GMTV with her good friend Eamonn Holmes, the mention of whom brings a smile and a sparkle to her eyes.
She reached the final five in the 2011 series of Celebrity Masterchef, after winning a Celebrity edition of Come Dine With Me, and came sixth in Dancing On Ice 2008, despite breaking her foot in the first week of rehearsal. She subsequently toured with the production and became extremely fit as a result.
"It was a nerve-wracking experience but I had a bottom I didn't recognise when I was skating! It's the best exercise ever for your legs, thighs and bum. I still try to keep fit but I never diet. I used to eat rubbish like pizzas and burgers years ago and then go on crash diets but I always ended up putting on more weight when I came off them. Now I'll have a treat when I want one, but in moderation."
Linda blames her poor diet in her teens, when she struggled to make ends meet on £7 a week as a trainee hairdresser in Palmer's Green in London, and in her modelling years, for her nagging back problem.
She suffers from spinal degeneration, which is notoriously difficult to treat, but has found an improvement through back strengthening exercises in the gym and a supplement she began to take for another condition entirely.
Like thousands of menopausal and older women, Linda was also afflicted with the tear duct disorder, Dry Eye syndrome, a condition which often left her with red, irritated eyes or with tears streaming down her face. Dry Eye syndrome occurs when the eye can't produce enough tears, or the tears evaporate too quickly because the oil gland is blocked or abnormal.
This results in dry or sore eyes, blurred vision, the feeling of a foreign object such as grit in your eye and a burning sensation. While many people think that itching eyes are caused by allergies, the reality is that often itching, especially in the corners, is due to dryness.
"I suffered with this Dry Eye syndrome for over a decade and tried every remedy I could get my hands on but nothing worked," she explains.
She adds: "It was worse when I had to make a public appearance and had to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes. I seemed like I was being really snooty and starry but I didn't have a choice.
"I even had to wear sunglasses when I watched TV indoors just to stop my eye streaming."
"I had laser eye surgery with the best optical surgeon -- a professor -- in the field, which fixed my bad eyesight and it made me feel younger, being able to see. But he couldn't cure my dry eyes."
Relief came in the form of Omega 7 Sea Buckthorn Oil, from Pharma Nord, a high grade supplement containing all the good omegas from Sea Buckthorn, a shrub found on sea coasts, and from Vitamin A in the form of Beta Carotene, which together lubricate the skin and mucous membranes, such as in the eyes, nose and female reproductive tract.
"We women start to dry up all over as we get older, don't we?" Linda suggests with vaguely shy smile. "I mean, I'm going through the menopause; I don't have a problem in the personal dryness sense but my eyes were terrible before I discovered the Omega 7 supplements.
"My eyes came back to normal really quickly -- it really has been life changing for me and I don't need eye drops any more. It's a must in my daily routine and I've noticed my skin's much better now too, especially on my neck and chest. The oil is good for the joints too and I can feel an improvement in my back.
"I also take a Vitamin C and calcium supplements because I don't eat enough fruit or drink enough milk but I eat plenty of spinach and peas for vitamin D, for my bones."
With that she tugs down on the cowl neckline of a black top from her own clothing collection, to show off some fairly smooth brown skin on that famous chest and cleavage.
"I have a really good cream for the neck and décolleté in my skincare line, My Miracle, with caviar in it -- you should try it. I worked with experts in Switzerland to create the range with these divine ingredients, like pure Swiss glacial water and caviar extract.
"And don't forget about my fashion collection Jami -- I have to get all my plugs in! Seriously, though, I love working on it. I do lots of draping styles to hide the tummy, and tops with sleeves for ladies who don't like to show their upper arms."
A quick check on line reveals a sophisticated-looking skin care range -- the neck and chest creams costs, £24.99 -- and a clothing collection with lots of soft jersey separates and stretchy dresses, designed indeed with the mature market in mind, with prices starting at £24.50 for a camisole, going up to £78 for a maxi dress.
Evidently a canny businesswoman, Linda says her best investment was the house her first husband, builder Terry Bailey, constructed for their first home. They paid £60,000 for the land and spent £50,000 to build the three-bedroom detached house in a pretty Hertfordshire village by a lake.
She doesn't invest in stocks and shares but would like to add to her property portfolio with houses to let. In the meantime her biggest expenditure is on luxury cars, which she can easily afford with the rewards from her successful enterprises and thriving acting career.
"I'd never say never to going back to Emmerdale -- it was such fun," she says before heading off to record a local television show. "But for the time being I'm the wicked fairy Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty; it's my 25th panto.
"Thankfully for me acting isn't age-restricted. I've gone from playing Snow White to the Wicked Witch but that doesn't bother me. I'm not that vain!"
* For further info on Omega 3 Sea Buckthorn Oil, visit www.omega7.co.uk
What happened to other Page 3 girls?
* Samantha Fox made her Page 3 debut at the age of 16 in 1983 before launching a pop career three years later -- her first single Touch Me (I Want Your Body) became a number 1 in 17 countries. Alas, for her legion of male fans, Samantha later came out as gay. She lives with long-term partner Myra Stratton. In recent years she has been on reality TV shows, such as I'm a Celebrity and Come Dine With Me, an episode where fellow guests included Calum Best.
* Debee Ashby also started her modelling career in The Sun at the age of 16. Her topless appearances led to her being expelled from school before taking her O Levels. She went on to appear in several adult films but now, married with a family, she lives on the Isle of Man, where she runs a restaurant.
* Kathy Lloyd, from Wales, worked in Topshop for a while before posing for some pictures with the glamour photographer Beverley Goodway, who persuaded her to appear on Page 3. Now 45, she has worked as a TV presenter and is now married with a young daughter