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Coleen Nolan: ‘I haven’t had two failed marriages, I’ve had two amazing marriages, because they gave me amazing children’

Parenting in My Shoes: The highs Coleen says are the ‘first smile, the first laughter, and just getting them through life’

“I always wanted 10,″ explains Coleen Nolan, TV personality and member of the Nolan Sisters.

She’s speaking about children. “I wanted 10 because I wanted to beat my mum by two,” she laughs. “And then I got to the third one and thought, ‘nah, she can have the title. I’m not going again’.”

Coleen had her first child with her first husband, actor Shane Richie, when she was just 23 years old. “I’d been performing and going around the world for years, so at 23 I was already mature enough to be ready because I’d done everything. I’d luckily done it all, because of the career I was in.”

She worked right until the birth of her son Shane. “And that was fine,” she says. But when he was born, Coleen found it much more challenging. “No one explains from the time they put a baby in your arms this guilt hits you that you’re never going to be enough. I used to absolutely hate leaving him.

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“He was being left with people that absolutely loved him, and it was never longer than, at the most, a couple of weeks. Never longer than that. But it was still hard. That guilt’s never left me and he’s 35.

“At that point, I couldn’t afford not to work. I think people assume that when you’re in show business, you’re instantly millionaires and you don’t have to, but you actually do.”

Shane (Richie) was just starting out in his career at the time of the birth of their first son, she explains, so she needed to return to work quickly afterwards. “He accepted every gig that was ever offered to him. He was doing pubs and clubs,” she says. “If it was 50 quid he’d go and do it. If it was 20 quid he’d go and do it. So, he really did work hard.”

The second time around, Coleen found pregnancy much less worrying, as she recognised niggles and aches from her previous experience. But her certainty that having two children wouldn’t be any harder than having one child proved to be a little wide of the mark when her second son Jake was born, she explains. “For a few weeks, I couldn’t work out how you looked after two of them, both wanting different [things at the same time].”

Coleen had a miscarriage after having the two boys. “It was actually – a shocking thing to say – but actually it was the right thing, because nature decided. Because it wasn’t a great time for me to be pregnant again, really. Me and Shane weren’t really in a great place at that point and I thought, ‘oh Christ, I’ve got another one coming’.”

The miscarriage happened early in the pregnancy. “It was still sad, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t an element of, I was glad nature took control. Because it wouldn’t have been great.

“We weren’t at the place where we thought we were going to split up, but we were going through a hard time. I think the problem with anything like that is it becomes all-consuming. I remember when my dad passed away, I remember having therapy, because I was going to bed at night and crying about me and Shane, and not about my dad. And I had terrible guilt about that.”

Following a very public break-up with Shane, Coleen had to navigate parenthood while dealing with her own feelings. “We kept it very private at first, so we’d had a good six months to a year really, where we knew it wasn’t good before the press found out. The thing with me and Shane is, through all of it, we never actually fell out. We were still really good mates and our main thing was the kids. I’d seen too many friends, and to this day I see women using kids as weapons to hurt each other, and I can’t stand it.

“We very much protected the boys. We’d never row in front of the boys. I wouldn’t cry. I think a couple of times I did, but nothing like, ‘your dad did this, or your mum’s this’. It was all about them. No matter how amicable it is, at the end of the day divorce affects you. Even if your parents are still friends, it’s still a lot to take on, and they were only four and seven.

“He still came and saw them. There was never a, ‘right, you’re having them on a Tuesday’. If he wanted to see them, he could see them. I think that’s a protection thing from a mum’s point of view, that me and you are going to hurt these kids and I’m not going to let that happen. And if that means I have to swallow my pride, then I’m going to swallow it so the kids don’t get hurt.”

Coleen says people around her found her approach harder to fathom. “They were like, ‘but they’re going around there and they’re going to spend time with him and that girl’. I said, ‘as long as they’re happy, I don’t care’. On a personal level, I cared, but I wasn’t going to put my kids in a situation where they would feel guilty – such young boys going, ‘well we can’t be nice to her because mum’s upset’.”

Coleen says there was plenty of time for her to “curl up in a ball and scream my head off when he took the boys away. Or those moments when I didn’t have them, I could sit down and grieve properly and cry and play sad songs which was quite healing for me. It’s not easy, but I think a lot of anger and stuff when things happen is your own pride. You’ve been hurt.”

Meeting someone else wasn’t something Coleen thought would ever happen again after her first marriage broke down. “I thought the chance of me meeting someone, and also someone that’s going to accept two boys – I just didn’t think about it. And then I met Ray [Fensome]”.

“Ray was very, very, very broody actually,” Coleen said. She worried because she was 35 at that stage, that she might have difficulties conceiving. But says, “soon as we tried, there I was”.

With an eight-year gap between Coleen’s youngest son Jake and daughter Ciara, Coleen says “it felt like the first time all over again. I think some of that was because she was a girl.”

She was “absolutely thrilled it was a girl. Because the age gap was so big and the two eldest were boys, Ciara was the easiest for me.”

The boys were thrilled with their new sister. She had worried her youngest son Jake might struggle on hearing that his mum was having another baby, but Coleen said “he was obsessed through the whole pregnancy ... and when she was born, he was just obsessed with her.”

Coleen’s conscious of the impact having a mum in the public eye can have on her children. And of the need to strike a balance between being Coleen Nolan and being her children’s mother. “Parents are embarrassing anyway,” she says, “but imagine parents in the public eye. It must be horrendous. If they told me a secret about something, or they were really upset about something, I wouldn’t then go on Loose Women, or do an interview and tell them that. But if it was silly things like me showing a picture of them when they were babies, or whatever, and I’d come home and they’d go, ‘why did you show them that picture’? And I’d go, ‘because it’s cute’. And they got so used to it in the end. And I think they knew that I would never set out to throw them under a bus.

The people that want to defend you to the death are your own kids

“I also worked out their ages. When Ciara got to a teenager and she was at high school, I knew then not to put up pictures of her looking silly. Because you know, when you’re a teenager and you’ve got to go into school, that’s really hard.”

Now, as the mother of adult children, she says she “can’t stand it” when the press pick up stories about her children. “But, equally, they can’t stand it if anything’s printed that’s harsh about me, or not true. The people that want to defend you to the death are your own kids. But they’ve learned to accept that as well, and, sometimes, they’ll be, ‘oh mum don’t worry about it – no one will care by tomorrow’.”

She says she’s “tried to keep it as normal as possible. But their normal is very different to actual normal. I’ve tried to protect them. But do I think it’s affected them? Probably. I think there’s been times where they’ve thought, ‘oh God, I wish my mum just worked in Tesco or something’. Especially with the boys, because it’s mum and dad. I’d be lying if I said there wouldn’t have been moments that were hard for them. Probably more now looking back, or the way that they’ve turned out, they’ve thought, ‘oh, I’m like that because of this’.”

Coleen’s marriage to Ciara’s dad, Ray, broke up, and Coleen says if it hadn’t been for Ciara telling her mum to separate from her dad, she “probably wouldn’t have”.

“But only for the reason that I felt guilt about that. I thought I can’t leave because we’ve got a daughter together. The thing with me and Ray is we just grew apart.”

For the first 15 or 16 years, Ciara was their “glue”, Coleen says. “And then, when she [Ciara] wanted her own independence with her mates, it was those moments, where I thought, ‘oh we’ve got nothing to talk about’. And when I thought about the future I thought, I’d rather be on my own, than be lonely in a relationship. But I kept putting it off and putting it off, because I still felt guilty that this was the second one that was going to end in tears.

“I don’t think your job is ever done as a parent. They’re always at some point going to need you, whatever age they are

“[Ciara] said to me one night, I just want to say something before I go to bed ... ‘I love you and dad. I always will, you’re my mum and dad. But either go or stay and shut up. And in my opinion I think you should go.’ And because she said that, literally the next day I went to the solicitors.”

The best thing about the break up, Coleen says, is that Ciara’s “relationship with her dad is so much better. Because she was quite protective of me when we were going through the bad times, because she knew I was sad.”

Coleen’s relationship with Ray is also good, in spite of their divorce. “He stays here when he’s gigging near here, he’ll always stay here. And he’s just been on tour with me. He’s my guitarist on my tour. We’re all really good friends. And when Shane [Jnr] got married – sadly he’s not married now – it was lovely that Ray was there, his dad was there. We all just get on, and why not, we’ve raised three beautiful kids between us.

“I always say to people, I haven’t had two failed marriages, I’ve had two amazing marriages, because they gave me amazing children, and I’ve got friends out of it.”

Coleen admits she has experienced “terrible empty nest syndrome, even before they’ve left. I’ve found it really hard. I found it hard when I got [to] my fifties,” she says. “I found it hard because they are so grown up. They’ve all got partners ... And I think as [a] woman, I felt, ‘oh, my job is done’, and I felt really redundant because everything I do is for them, even the work I do is for them. And all of a sudden I thought, ‘I don’t know what to do with myself’.”

She says she kept giving herself “a good talking to”, which stopped her falling into a depression she feels. “I don’t think your job is ever done as a parent. They’re always at some point going to need you, whatever age they are. And you’ll always be their mum or dad”

The low of parenthood is the guilt, Coleen says. “The guilt I felt the times I left them – I even do it now when I’m going to London to do Loose Women”, she says laughing at the memory of worrying if her adult children had milk in the fridge while she was gone.

The highs she says are the “first smile, the first laughter, and just getting them through life”.

Parenting in My Shoes