Linda Nolan told David Hennessy why she is glad that her cancer is treatable if not curable even if she is ‘scared to death’ and why the sisters remain hopeful after disappointment in the search for their long lost sibling and why it’s good to look back and say, ‘It hasn’t been a bad life’.
This time last year Linda and Anne Nolan were enjoying a Mediterranean cruise as part of their reality TV hit The Nolans Go Cruising.
However, it would not be long after they returned home that both of them would be diagnosed with cancer just days apart.
They both started chemotherapy at Blackpool’s Victoria Hospital in July last year.
But while Anne shared the good news that she was cancer-free in December, Linda’s news was not so good. Her incurable cancer had spread.
Linda told The Irish World that it has not been easy living with cancer, especially in the midst of a pandemic but that she is determined to not let cancer win.
Linda says: “I’m lucky in the fact that my cancer is at least treatable. They’re still treating me which is brilliant and I have chemo tablets now that I take at home: Ten of those a day, five in the morning and five at night. I’m going to rattle eventually.
“I’m quite well with it at the moment. I’ve got neuropathic pain which is like pins and needles in my fingers and my feet which is quite painful but if that’s all I’ve got to put up with, I’ll be fine.
“I’m just happy to be here. My hair is growing back now.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am scared to death. I don’t want to die. I want to be around for as long as possible but in the grand scheme of things at the moment it’s all going in the right direction and I can at least enjoy life.”
Having received such devastating news, Linda finds she is now less concerned with pleasing people as family and friends are her priority.
“It sounds a little bit weird to say this. It’s given me a sense of freedom in the fact that sometimes I would have plans at home to go to somebody’s brithday party and somebody would come in at the last minute and say, ‘You have to go here and do this interview or whatever’. Now I go, ‘I can’t do the interview, I’ve got Colleen’s birthday’. They kind of go, ‘What do you mean?’ I go, ‘It’s her birthday. I might not be here for the next one’.
“So it’s given me that sense of controlling my life.
“People say to me, ‘You’re very positive’. As I say, there are times when I am crying and scared to death or down or whatever but I think if you live your whole life that you’ve got left like that because of cancer then cancer has won.
“You have to go, ‘Yeah, I’m more important than cancer so I’m going to get on and do things that I want to do’.”
Lind and Anne have been very public with their cancer battle, even documenting their treatment in the recent reality show At Home with the Nolans. They also share the experience in the forthcoming book Stronger Together.
Their sister Bernie passed away from cancer in 2013.
“I think we’re all so open. Bernie was as well. We’re so open about our illnesses because we have an amazing, supportive family and fabulous friends.
“If there’s someone out there who doesn’t have that, a big family or a family they can rely on or whatever, if something I say can help them along the way then that’s brilliant.
“I’ve had messages from people saying thank you so much and somebody got in touch with me to say about the neuropathic pain to try acupuncture with it so I’m going to try that and people saying that I’ve been an inspiration and I say well I’m just doing what I can do.
“I was devastated about losing my hair. For me it was so traumatic. I mean it really, really was. And I’ve said about that and people have got in touch with me and said, ‘Oh my God, I’m so glad because I thought it was a terrible thing to feel that terrible about losing your hair when the treatment is saving your life’. I said, ‘Absolutely because it’s part of us as women’.”
Of course fighting cancer has been made more difficult and lonely due to coming in the time of the pandemic which has prevented the large Irish family from coming together as they usually would.
“My husband used to call us the cavalry. He said that whenever anything happens, good or bad, we all get together and humour is a big, big part of our family dealing with things in general.
“Anne was confirmed first with her diagnosis and normally we would all go around to her house and hugged her and said, ‘We’re here for you’, all of that but of course with Covid, we had to kind of stand at the garden wall saying, ‘We love you and we’re here for you as much as we can be’.
“Maureen immediately moved in with Anne to look after her during her chemo because Anne lives with our 86-year-old aunt and she’s also not been well so Maureen moved in to look after them. We call her Maureen Nightingale now.
“And my sister Denise said, ‘Come and live with me and my fiance Tom’. And I moved in with them during my treatment but Covid, of course, did make it all worse.
“I’m desperately missing my great-nieces and nephews, all the little ones. We see them in the park or they’ll come to the end of the gate when I go out for a walk but just not to hug them it’s been a nightmare in that respect, the same as it has for everybody.
“Like everyone else, I can’t wait for lockdown to at least be eased a little bit but I’ve been luckier than some people who have been on their own the whole time which I can’t imagine.
“2020 was such an amazing year in the fact that we did both our TV series and then with the cancer diagnosis it was a real rollercoaster of a year because it was so amazingly high we were and then so desperately sad.”
Are the sisters closer now for enduring such a year? “I think we are. Going on the cruise was a gamble. I think it was Coleen that said, ‘We may do this. We’re together 24/7 for two weeks and we may never speak to each other again’.
“But it was just fabulous. There was no hassle. It was amazing and it was great that there was no squabbles or arguments.
“Then to get the opportunity then to do At Home With the Nolans was brilliant. It was making memories for us. It’s something that we can keep forever. It was a joy and it did bring us closer definitely.”
At Home with the Nolans saw the sisters search for their long lost half-sister. The sisters have known for years that their father had a fling and the mistress was expecting. They know it was a girl but that is all.
While the series ended with hope that they may have found her, Linda says this ended in disappointment.
“A girl had come forward but the DNA test came back and it wasn’t our sister which was really sad actually because the girls, Colleen and Maureen, had spoken to her. It was quite sad and sad for her because this girl had been looking for her dad since she was twelve or thirteen or something so it was quite sad for her as well.
“But we’re still looking and we’re still hopeful.”
Often referred to as Ireland’s First Family of Music, The Nolans (or The Nolan Sisters as they were originally called) are remembered for hits such as Gotta Pull Myself Together, Attention To Me, Who’s Gonna Rock You, Don’t Make Waves, Chemistry and Don’t Love Me Too Hard and of course the track that will be forever associated with them, I’m In The Mood For Dancing.
Last year also saw their greatest hits album Gold become an instant #1 Amazon bestseller and landed in at #10 on the UK Physical Albums Chart and #9 on the Scottish Albums Chart, making it their highest charting album since 1982.
The group were particularly successful in Japan, becoming the first European act to win the Tokyo Music Festival with Sexy Music in 1981, and won a Japanese Grammy in 1992. They would tour with big names like Engelbert Humperdinck and Frank Sinatra.
Does Linda enjoy looking back on such memories? “Yeah, sometimes somebody will call me and they’ll go, ‘Have you got any of your videos?’ I’ll go, ‘Hold on..’
“And then we spend the whole night watching me and have a joke about it.
“We look back on different things, things that we did that we were proud of and moments in our career.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to meet our idols, Stevie Wonder and I loved Donny Osmond since I was 11 and to meet him- He came down to the audience to me to sing with me.
“Stuff like that has been amazing: Touring with Frank Sinatra. I was 15 when we did that and I look back and think, ‘Oh my God’. And our success in Japan where our tour sold out in six hours and we were doing stadiums over there. It was unbelievable so it is great to be able to look back and say, ‘It wasn’t a bad life’.”
After moving from Raheny, Dublin to Blackpool, the girls’ parents Tommy and Maureen launched a family singing group. First known as The Singing Nolans, the line-up also comprised their brothers Tommy and Brian as well as the parents and would sing in working men’s clubs all over the country. This was tough going for kids who still had to get up for school in the morning.
“We loved it though. I especially loved it. Some of the others weren’t as mad about it as I was. I just loved singing and being onstage. I was a bit of an extrovert kid, got over excited about everything.
“It was tough getting home at night, going to bed about three and then dragging yourself out of bed at eight o’clock to get up and go to school and I think maybe a little bit more difficult for the older girls because of their schoolwork and all of that.
“I think for them being teenagers it was hard to not be able to go out to maybe a youth club with your mates or go cinema with your mates because you were singing at night.
“I don’t think there was much choice for them really.”
Linda was nicknamed ‘Naughty Nolan’ due to some risque publicity shots she had taken when leaving the group for a solo career back in 1983.
“At the time Anne had left and then rejoined and then she left again because she was pregnant.
“Coleen joined, then Denise left and my husband, who was my manager, said, ‘We need to do something so it is not just another Nolan leaving the band, that will make people sit up and see that you’re going solo’.
“So we did a photo shoot with a glamour photographer and the main photograph that they used was me draped in a sheet.
“It was hilarious because I came out of the loo, we had been working all day and my husband said, ‘Peter wants you wrapped in a sheet now’. And I went, ‘Yeah, course he does’.
“And Brian went, ‘No, really. He does’. And it was like, ‘Oh, okay’.
“I mean the response was unbelievable. That’s where I got the Naughty Nolan from and it was only because I had done sexy photos we hadn’t done as a group.
“But one headline was, ‘A Nolan with legs’ because we always used to wear trousers or long dresses at the time.
“It was a funny caption and it kind of stuck but it did what we wanted it to do. People got the message that I had left and become solo. It was good in that respect.”
Although considered ‘risque’ for the time, the shots Linda describes would be considered tame by today’s standards.
“My mum even said at the time, ‘I see more at the beach’. I really do think it was because it was one of the Nolan sisters. Six Catholic Irish sisters: You’ve got a sweet image before you do anything, don’t you?
“And at times that was difficult because we were normal. We weren’t outrageous and all of that but we weren’t Mary Poppins sweet. We were just normal girls so it used to irritate at times that people thought we were so sweet. It was a difficult image to move on from. It was a difficult image to put to bed so then we became the Nolans and we had more say in what we wore and stuff like that.”
Linda has stayed busy through her illness and the lockdown and to mark her 62nd birthday next week she is launching her own spirits brand, Hudson’s with a variety of passionfruit and watermelon gin.
“I’m doing my gin of course which is apt actually since I’m a gin drinker. It’s very exciting. It’s helped me a lot, keeping busy during the lockdown has been good. I’ve been lucky in that I can do that.
“I didn’t know what business it was going to be and then my manager who is my partner in this came up with this idea because he knows I like gin and it seemed the right avenue to go down and we could do it while the lockdown was on.
“Some businesses you couldn’t because you would have to be out promoting and all of that but we’ve been able to do it despite the lockdown so we’re hoping it will continue and we’ll bring out lots of different spirits.
“We’re already looking at maybe a spiced rum or something for father’s day.”
Hudson’s Passionfruit & Watermelon Gin is available here.