FOR years actress Sue Johnston has had issues about her appearance. The former Waking The Dead and Brookside star dislikes the shape of her nose, the lines on her face and neck, and the wrinkly, sagging batwing arms she says will prevent her from ever wearing sleeveless tops again.
Yet meeting her today, she looks at least a decade younger than her 67 years in skinny jeans and T-shirt, which shows off her enviable figure.
It’s evident the actress who has played Ricky Tomlinson’s wife twice - first as Sheila Grant in Brookside and again as Barbara in The Royle Family - has a real sense of fun, judging by the many laughs she’s had during her career and charted in her memoir Things I Couldn’t Tell My Mother.
Yet for years Johnston had other worries. She grew up in a working-class family outside Liverpool and her mother Margaret was a woman who spoke her mind whatever the consequences - but kept her warmer, loving emotions under wraps.
Her only daughter was often the victim of her cruel tongue and Johnston admits she spent years seeking her mother’s approval.
“I think she was cruel about the friends I chose, how I looked, the way I dressed. I can laugh about it now, but I used to come away steaming with stress,” she says.
“She’d really put the knife in. I remember when she said, ‘What happened to your lips? You used to have lovely lips but they’re so thin now’. I said, ‘That’s what happens when you get older’ and she said, ‘Well, mine didn’t go thin’. She thought that because she was my mother, she had the right to criticise.
“Another of her great favourites was, ‘You haven’t looked decent since I stopped dressing you’ and she meant it. She was always worried what other people thought and always looked immaculate.”
Born in Warrington during the Second World War, Johnston had a happy childhood and while she dearly loved her mother, who died four years ago, aged 92 with dementia, it was often a fraught relationship.
“She was almost cruel in her dismissiveness. But in the last four years of her life, she became vulnerable and therefore needed me. She wasn’t as cruel, but I also felt that she’d given up the battle.”
When Johnston left Liverpool at 21 to pursue a career in acting, her mother found it hard to let go.
“She lost control and that’s when she didn’t know how to be with me.”
That was a long time ago and, Johnston adds, “Ageing is hard for women but I’ve gone into a stage of rather liking it, because I feel at ease. I say what I think and don’t suffer fools gladly - maybe I’m turning into my mother!”
Things I Couldn’t Tell My Mother by Sue Johnston, published by Ebury, priced £18.99