Interview: Alice Barry, star of Shameless
WHEN Shameless star Alice Barry turned up for our interview I had to do a double-take before I recognised her.
The Burnley actress looks smaller and more attractive in real life (perhaps it's the fact that she's not wearing Lillian’s trademark glasses) but still you can imagine she gets away with doing her weekly shop without too much bother, as she looks so un-showbiz.
Alice had suggested we meet at The Inn on the Wharf, Burnley, and we found a quiet table and settled down to chat over a pot of tea for two.
“I was born-and bred-in Burnley, in a working class family like everyone else,” began Alice.
“I love my roots. I grew up in Burnley and I won't move away. In fact, I promote Burnley as much as I can; it's a lovely place. You go to London and nobody speaks to you. In Lancashire, a stranger will speak to you and your neighbours will always invite you in for a cup of tea."
Brought up the eldest of four children to a driver father and a weaver mother, Alice has fond memories of her childhood.
"Those were the days when you could leave your door open and not get robbed," she said.
"As the eldest, I sometimes helped out looking after the other three, but we had a good mum. She took care of us all and it was a happy upbringing. There was plenty of love in the house."
Alice's parents have both passed away, as has one of her brothers, but she still has a sister and brother who live in the area and her son Terry lives locally.
Nowadays the pride of her life is her 21-year-old grandson Sean.
"He's in the Army and going to Iraq in May," she said. "I worry about him, but he says 'Grandma, it's my job'.
"He loves Shameless. I went down to visit him at the camp in Wiltshire and his Army friends all wanted to meet me. They all carried me onto the top of a tank! It's lovely that he's proud of me."
And Alice is still friends with the girls she met at St Mary Magdalene's School, Wellfield Drive, Burnley.
All pretty normal.
But although she still does her shopping at Burnley Market (she worked in the market cafe for years before finding fame), Alice isn't your average Burnley woman.
She took up acting later in life after bringing up her family and had something of a fairytale rise to fame.
"There came a time after my son had grown up when I thought 'It's my time now'," said Alice.
"I decided to audition as an extra and did that for about a year. Then one day the director sent for me and I thought 'Oh no, I'm getting sacked.' But he said 'You're such a character Alice, we'd like to see you act.' I was in the right place at the right time and since then I've never looked back."
Alice's first regular TV role was playing Peggy Hargreaves in Clocking Off. Regular appearances in Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights followed, then Bob & Rose, Linda Green, The Royal, and Coronation Street.
But it was only when she took on the role of Lillian Tyler in Shameless that Alice became a familiar face.
This year is Alice's fifth on Shameless and she considers the role of Lillian her finest.
"I absolutely adore playing Lillian," she said, her face lighting up with enthusiasm.
"As soon as I put on Lillian's glasses, I'm her. She's such fun to play because I get away with so much. Before Shameless I never swore, so saying the F-word was a bit difficult at first, but now it just comes out. I even sometimes say it when I'm not acting now!"
And over the years Alice has helped to refine her character.
"When she first came on she was a right scruff. At the start they used to paint grey in my hair and veins on my face because she's had a hard life, but gradually I've got them to let her be a bit better dressed."
Although she prides herself on being down-to-earth, Alice admits she enjoys the glamorous side of her job.
"I went to Baftas when we won the award. It was fantastic," she said.
"I love showbiz parties. I go to the Television Awards too. You meet everybody who's everybody. You do a circuit of the room, as they say, and mingle.
"I don't get starstruck but I do like Stephen Fry. I was chatting away to him at one of these dos — it's like chatting to your solicitor!
"I'm not really affected by fame. I enjoy both sides of my life but I'm still always myself. Sometimes people say 'I can't believe how normal you are' and I think 'what do they expect me to be?' I don't put on any airs and graces at all, I'm just me."
Alice is widowed and takes partner-in-crime and best mate Jeff Hewitt to the showbiz bashes.
"Me and Jeff go everywhere together; on holiday, to parties. We're soulmates," she said.
"We enjoy hanging out at The Bull's Head in Marple, that's our local, and we always have a laugh together. Our Terry tells his mates about his mother down Manchester clubbing at 2am!"
But if she ever wants a bit of romance, there's one famous man who had his eye on her, Alice revealed.
"I was at a showbiz party with Jeff when David Gest came up. I was busy staring at his face, looking at all the work he's had done, and he said to me 'Alice dear, when you come to Los Angeles you'll have to come to stay with me.' I said 'Oh. Right. Thank you.'
What the future holds for Alice is a mystery, but she's a firm believer in fate.
"I've got two mottos," she said.
"I say whatever's meant for you won't pass you by," and I also say "Life's like a lemon, you've got to squeeze it as hard as you can."
And with that, Alice Barry is off into Burnley to buy some kitchen roll and then to meet a friend for coffee.