‘The Celebrity Big Brother producers said they were looking for strong, intelligent women with views - so how could I refuse?’
The former Coronation Street actress speaks to Gabrielle Fagan about health, fitness and her time as a housemate on the reality show.
Coronation Street legend Amanda Barrie has never paid any heed to age. The still glamorous 82-year-old has been on stage and TV since 1959, notching up roles in two Carry On films alongside her long-running stint on the Manchester-based soap. Last year, she also took part in BBC One’s travel series The Real Marigold Hotel and also More 4’s The Baby Boomers Guide To Growing Old.
In January, she became one of the oldest housemates to take part in Celebrity Big Brother. She won over her housemates and viewers with her trademark humour, charm and outspokenness, but few were aware that Lancashire-born Barrie was struggling to hear and dealing with grief after the death of her sister-in-law. The actress, who’s married to crime author Hilary Bonner, tells us why work keeps her mind off death.
You’ve previously talked about your struggle with hearing loss. How are you now?
“I’ve worn hearing aids for three years to boost my hearing, because I have age-related hearing loss, but I discovered how much I needed them when I went into the Celebrity Big Brother house. I didn’t take them with me because they’re so tiny, I worried I might lose them, which was a big mistake.
“I couldn’t hear announcements on the outside tannoys from Big Brother telling us the tasks we had to do. It was a nightmare — I was so worried that my housemates would get punished because I couldn’t understand what I had to do. I kept asking Ann Widdecombe and Jess Impiazzi what he’d said.”
How did you first notice your hearing loss?
“I’d started needing the television on very loud and found it difficult hearing conversations in noisy restaurants. I’m not at all embarrassed about having hearing aids.
“They barely show and they’re quite pretty, although I’d like them to find a way of attaching drop earrings to them to give them a bit of glamour and glitter. Now I tell people, ‘You don’t wait until your eyesight has gone to get them tested, and it should be the same with your hearing’.”
How do you keep fit?
“I hate the gym because I find it boring. If I owe my health and fitness to anything it’s the fact I was a professional dancer for 17 years, starting in the chorus line and going on to revue and West End shows. I was in the musical Stepping Out for two-and-a-half years when I was in my 50s. Muscles do have a memory and I think mine have a long one, because I’m still pretty loose. I could probably still do the splits — even though it wouldn’t be wise to try.”
You were one of the oldest people to take part in Celebrity Big Brother. Why did you decide to enter the house?
“I didn’t feel like the oldest at the time. I don’t feel any age or any sex; I just feel I am who I am. I’ve been asked before to go on the show and refused, but this year they said they were looking for strong, intelligent women with views — so how could I refuse?
“Frankly, I believe working keeps your mind off dying; it’s like occupational therapy. I’ve worried about not waking up in the morning on-and-off since I was in my 20s as I’m an extremely anxious person, partly down to growing up during the war. You have to live minute-by-minute on a show like that, which was good for me. I feel privileged to still be asked to do jobs at 82. I love being thrown in with a bunch of people I’ve never met before and going through a scary situation with them. It’s a bit like a wartime experience — you really get to know people when they’re unsettled and a bit scared.”
What was it like being in Celebrity Big Brother?
“I was in there a month and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I was terrified beforehand, because you’re going into the unknown and have no control. I wasn’t in a very good state when I went in. I had bronchitis — on the first night I had to be rushed off for urgent medical attention — and my sister-in-law had just died, which was hugely upsetting.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve also lost my nephew, who was only 42, and his wife, who was 38, so it’s been a tough time.
“That gave me a perspective. If it got hard in the house I’d think, ‘Well, my sister-in-law would have loved to have this time and opportunity’. It also reminded me that Big Brother wasn’t of cosmic importance. Singing with Boyzone’s Shane (Lynch), giving Wayne Sleep a bath and holding hands with John Barnes in the bed next to me was all great fun, but you’re in a dimension you’ve never been in before — unless you’ve been a hostage. Your entire free will is taken away; you don’t know what time it is or when you’ll sleep or wake up. Just as you’ve made friends you have to find fault with them, because of the nominations. Despite that, I’d do it again — it’s probably good to fend for yourself without your support network every so often.”
Amanda Barrie is supporting the Specsavers Audiologists Listen Up! Campaign to encourage regular hearing checks. For info or to book a free test, visit specsavers.co.uk/hearing