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I've had good sex with men.. but there was never that bond I felt when with a woman; STREET STAR AMANDA BARRIE ON COMING OUT.

Byline: SALLY MORRIS

ACTRESS Amanda Barrie is doing something she's been unable to do before - looking an interviewer in the eye as she answers questions about her private life.

The reason is that in her just-published autobiography she has publicly acknowleged being gay.

It's a brave, honest and funny book, complete with an eccentric, pushy mother, drink, drugs, mental breakdown and even a seven-year threesome with her husband, actor Robin Hunter, and a female lover she calls Sally.

She didn't intend it to be so, but it has also been her liberation.

"I really can't tell you how my life has changed. It's like magic.

"I'd always had a horror of being found out. I think it's probably a generation thing and I couldn't pin down what the fear was - maybe that people would say, 'That's disgusting'. But I can now look people in the eye and do interviews, things I was afraid of before.

"When I first went into Coronation Street as Alma, 14 years ago, I was 'shopped' by someone on the show, someone trying to sell my story. I was so badly hit by it I seriously thought it would be easier to kill myself than walk back into rehearsals.

"The story didn't get out and I spent years editing my life. I never said 'we' did something this weekend, it was always 'I'. But over the years, I made friends with lovely people like Sue Nichols and Helen Worth - they completely accepted me. But there's one person that I really feared who's still there.

"I used to warn the younger kids joining the show to watch out for innocent questions about their partners until they'd worked out who to trust, because someone there sells these things."

Coming out for 67-year-old Amanda - whose seductive milk-bath scene as Cleopatra in Carry On Cleo still appears on T-shirts - has been a big risk.

"Everyone thinks it's OK to be gay in the theatre or TV but actually that's only for men. Look around and you see lots of gay men who are building a career on their sexuality - Graham Norton, Dale Winton, Julian Clary - but for women it's different. I even thought that if I wrote this book they wouldn't let me do panto in case I contaminated people. But I'm the genie in Aladdin in Birmingham at Christmas."

Sitting in her flat in the heart of London's Covent Garden, where she's lived since the Sixties, Amanda is relaxed and looks years younger than her age.

She's currently appearing on TV in the prison drama Bad Girls and will star in pantomime from the end of this month.

When her book first came out Amanda admits: "I was more worried about what Mr Kipps, my newsagent, thought than anything. But he's been absolutely fine and people keep coming up to me in the street and hugging me."

Amanda has had a number of important relationships with both men and women. The first was with Bernie, an older girl at her boarding school, St Anne's College, near Blackpool. She says it wasn't a schoolgirl crush but a powerful, emotional bond that she believes changed her life. Sadly, Bernie died when still very young and Amanda was devastated. "It was the level of relationship that you look for all your life. A best friend that you also go to bed with."

Amanda was sent to boarding school - from which she was expelled - after being kicked out of an earlier school. She found academic study difficult and was a bit of a brawler. She would launch into fights with fellow pupils and once, as a teenager, attacked her father's girlfriend.

The feistiness could be put down, in part, to her adored mother, Connie, a formidable woman who pushed her on to the stage at three and never stopped pushing her from then on.

Whatever Amanda needed to succeed Connie would get it for her - even if that involved shoplifting.

"She could justify anything for me, so I had to stop saying what I liked or needed in front of her. She was unconditional in her support, and if I'd confessed to murder she'd simply have said, 'Quite right, I never liked them, now where shall we hide the body?'"

CONNIE would, Amanda thinks, have liked her daughter to be straight and to have given her grandchildren, but she accepted very early on that Amanda was different.

"When I told her I thought I was gay she immediately said, 'Oh darling, I think I am too', which was such nonsense."

Amanda's many relationships included singer Billy Fury and Crossroads actress Heather Chasen. She ended up marrying actor Robin Hunter in 1967. They remain married - "I'm hopeless with paperwork" - and Amanda speaks of him with huge affection.

"There was real friendship between us, but it isn't the same depth as with a woman. I have had fulfilling sexual relationships with men but there was never the same emotional connection."

It was during their marriage that she began an affair with an actress she refers to as Sally, who then moved in with them and they all lived - and slept - together for seven years.

"I don't think Robin felt threatened. He had a great sense of humour and our threesome was a very happy time. In fact, Sally came to see me the other day, but living a life that wasn't right for me made me physically ill."

Amanda suffered a mental breakdown and spent years in therapy as her emotional instability manifested itself in eating disorders and agoraphobia. It probably didn't help that she and Robin drank heavily and she took Purple Hearts.

"To be honest, we didn't even think of them as drugs, it was just something everyone did," she says.

In her book Amanda also reveals a 15-year affair with a wealthy Spanish woman, but now she's in a relatively new relationship which she won't discuss. Coming out, she believes, is a private thing.

"Should I have done it earlier? I don't think it would have been the same. Mind you, compared to all the stuff that's come out in other people's autobiographies, I don't know what I was so worried about. It seems like rather a homely tale."

-It's Not A Rehearsal by Amanda Barrie is published by Headline priced pounds 18.99. To order your copy at the special price of pounds 16.99 (free p&p to UK addresses) simply call 08700 703200 or send a cheque or postal order payable to Mirror Direct to Amanda Barrie Offer, P.O.Box 60, Helston, TR13 0TP.

CAPTION(S):

RELAXED: Amanda says she feels liberated now that she can look people in the eye and talk about her private life; SEDUCTIVE: Amanda with Sid James in Carry on Cleo; FRIENDSHIP: Robin and Amanda; TV ROLE: Amanda as Alma in Corrie
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 1, 2002
Words:1139
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