SHE is the Emmmerdale favourite who shed 12st – and now Lisa Riley is looking forward to marrying her fiancé.
The actress returned to our screens in January 2019 as bubbly Mandy Dingle after 18 years away from the soap, and last month she celebrated another incredible milestone — three decades in showbiz.
Lisa, 44, who confirmed her engagement to musician Al in May 2018, is feeling better than ever and is particularly pleased with her curvy booty.
In an exclusive chat with The Sun ahead of our her upcoming explosive scenes with nasty ex-boyfriend Paul Ashdale, Lisa said: “I love my 40s and I have never felt better.
“I am curvy and I love my bum. I wear a four-inch mini skirt on set and we joke it might not be J-Lo but it’s mine! But it’s important that everybody should live the life they want to. Nobody has any rights to judge a person about the way they look.”
Bury-born Lisa left drama school at 14 and her birthday last month marked 30 years in acting. She started out in musical Worzel Gummidge at Oldham Coliseum Theatre, then two-part BBC2 drama Blood & Peaches aged 15.
She joined Emmerdale in 1995 as Woolpack barmaid Mandy and her character’s ill-fated romance with bumbling Paddy Kirk became a firm favourite among fans.
After quitting the Dales in 2001, Lisa went on to star in drama Fat Friends, host You’ve Been Framed, join the Loose Women panel and come fifth on Strictly Come Dancing in 2012.
It was her stint on the BBC dance show that first prompted Lisa to lose weight, saying she wanted to prove to people she wasn’t a “chunky monkey”. She dropped 4st and became the show’s first female contestant to lift up her male dance partner.
But the devastating loss of mum Cath to breast cancer aged 57 that same year pushed Lisa to overhaul her lifestyle. She ditched junk food and takeaways, cooked healthier meals and took up exercise, going from a size 30 to size 14 in just under two years.
Lisa says: “I am so proud of everything I have done. At my funeral, the priest is not going to say, ‘Thank you for coming, Lisa Riley was fat!’. He is not going to mention my size, as it doesn’t matter.
I love the fact I can inspire people to be healthy and make them believe that if they want to make it happen they can.
“I love the fact I can inspire people to be healthy and make them believe that if they want to make it happen they can. But I have given so much more to people and my career.”
Lisa does not want her weight-loss to overshadow her other achievements and says she empathises with superstar Adele, 32, whose own dramatic transformation has been a huge topic of debate.
Lisa says: “It’s as if we are going to forget how many Grammys she has won and all of a sudden go, ‘She has lost an awful lot of weight’. Let’s talk about her talent and how phenomenal she is.
“Of course she looks stunning, amazing and sensational but it’s about how she has turned a corner in her life — just as I did when mum died. I was petrified of developing Type 2 diabetes and I have got a feeling that she will have had some light bulb moment that triggered her, too.”
Lisa has not touched a drop of alcohol for five years and no longer smokes. She recently revealed her sex life has reaped the rewards. But the extra time spent with Al at their London home during lockdown helped the couple realise their life belongs back up North. They now plan to move back to Yorkshire to be nearer to Lisa’s dad, Terry, and her work.
Lisa says: “It’s made me appreciate time and so on my dad’s 70th birthday in May, Al and I told him that we are going to move up North for good. We had the best chapter together in London but now it’s time for a new one.”
With social-distancing restrictions easing, the couple are also busy planning their wedding, though they have not settled on a date or venue.
Lisa, who has been with Al for six years, says: “I joked recently I would be prepared to get married on Zoom if necessary and lots of my relatives got in touch worried I meant it.
I joked recently I would be prepared to get married on Zoom if necessary and lots of my relatives got in touch worried I meant it.
“My dad wouldn’t even know how to turn on Zoom. But I don’t want a big wedding or a magazine deal. That’s not who we are. We are probably going to disappear to New York and take his mum and my dad. I loathe fuss and I love the simplicity.”
Until their engagement announcement, Lisa had gone to great lengths to keep Al out of the spotlight. She explains: “That’s because every relationship gets screwed up.
“I need that normality, I need that regular. Regular is what you need in our industry. We go to the supermarket, get dinner and have a night in and that’s why it works. We are just normal and it’s the only thing we have because everything (else about me) is out there.
“It also proves how much he loves me because the ones before were like, ‘OMG I really want to do the red carpet’. I should have smelled the rat then. They weren’t there for the right reasons.”
Lisa is heartbroken that her mum won’t be there to see her marry her “soulmate and best friend”.
She says: “People talk about, ‘How can you not eat cake’, but that is easy and a walk in the park. Living without my mum, now that is hard. The fact I can’t ring mum on my birthday kills me.
“But I feel she is there with me every second of the day and that is how I deal with the daily struggle. I have also kept a journal ever since she died and if I am having a bad day, I read it and think, ‘Wow I am so blessed’.”
Lisa regularly urges women to check their breasts for abnormalities and says she does it daily, knowing she could be at risk.
She says: “I have to be a realist, my gene profile regarding cancer is horrendous. There is always that tiny grey cloud. Mum was around my age when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I am very aware of self-checking and I do it all the time.”
Filming is back under way on the Emmerdale set but Lisa says it is very different post-lockdown. Some of the safety measures producers have introduced are a one-way system and colour-coded areas — and kissing scenes are banned.
She says: “We can’t even have feet touching. We have got little bubbles and we are using the dirty-eye acting method instead of kissing now, which actually leaves the audience wondering what the characters have been up to.
“I’ve got a friend who was supposed to go on a theatre tour and now she is doing deliveries. It’s very tough for our industry and the extra mile our production team has gone to is amazing.
Mum was around my age when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
“They even disinfect Mandy’s handbag after every scene, and I am the one holding it. With all the rigorous procedures, I feel safer on the set of Emmerdale than I do going out to the supermarket or at home.”
Over the coming weeks, her character Mandy will be seen wrestling with her emotions as Paul, the estranged father of her surrogate son, tries to woo her back.
She says: “He’s been so horrible to her in the past but nobody believes Mandy. But there is a deep-rooted passion between them. She doesn’t know whether to give him a second chance or not. But when he tries to concoct a meal for her to get in her knickers, she finds out and she isn’t happy.”
Lisa says she is rooting for co-star Dominic Blunt, who plays Paddy, to get his directing debut on the soap. It was Dominic, she says, who persuaded her to return to Emmerdale earlier last year.
Lisa adds: “I would love it if he directed me. I am so happy at Emmerdale, it is like a family to me. I feel very lucky to be back working and in a job I adore.”
But there is one role that could possibly sway Lisa to leave. She jokes: “I’d love to be a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. How that hasn’t happened is a travesty.”
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