Interview: WHO NEEDS MARRIAGE?; As Carol Jackson in EastEnders, Lindsey Coulson was desperate to tie the knot. Now she's happy without a ring.
When I walk into the North London restaurant to meet actress Lindsey Coulson, I expect to find a woman as dark and brooding as her old screen character, EastEnder's put-upon single mum Carol Jackson.
After all, her own romantic life could seem as tangled as any soap opera script - a broken marriage and a five-year relationship with a taxi driver who happens to be the older brother of actress Patsy Palmer, who played her daughter Bianca.
But when Lindsey's face breaks into a smile big enough to light up the room, I realise this is a woman who has found contentment.
"Harry and I are not married, but we are very happy," says Lindsey, who is smaller and far more attractive than her soap persona. "We have had a baby together and we just don't feel the need to get married - to make that public statement. I have done it once before and I just feel so happy and content as we are."
It is a sharp contrast to her acting roles, which always seem to involve emotional turmoil.
In EastEnders she was desperate to get married, but found out that her fiance "Dirty" Dan Sullivan, played by Craig Fairbrass, had slept with Bianca. In a dramatic climax she aborted Dan's child and left Albert Square.
Now in her latest role, for the BBC's new series of the hit drama Clocking Off, she plays a hardened factory worker who tries to trap a man into wedlock to escape the drudgery of her day-to-day existence.
When Carol talks about her own partner Harry Harris, 36 - "I feel a bit old to calling him my boyfriend" - she positively glows.
She has Patsy to thank for meeting him.
"It is nice that Harry is Patsy's brother. I met him at a dinner party at her house," she says.
Lindsey and Patsy, who also quit EastEnders, still get on well.
"But we don't see each other all the time because of course there is quite an age gap." She's 40 and Patsy's 28.
Since leaving the Square 18 months ago Lindsey has been busy concentrating on her family life.
She had a baby Grace, now six months old, with Harry and has a daughter Molly, eight, from her previous marriage. "Having Grace was a conscious decision, it just felt right for us. Deciding to have a child together was, for me, the biggest commitment."
Chatting over a glass of wine, it soon becomes apparent that Lindsey is a rare breed - an actress who doesn't want to change her looks, size or laughter lines. She says she would never resort to cosmetic surgery.
"We have lines under our eyes because we are real. We have earned our laughter lines. "It's sad how now we are getting celebrities who were fairly voluptuous and looked beautiful and suddenly they are coming out, losing weight and saying, `Now I am thin I am successful'. "Our children are growing up equating being thin with success and its a load of rubbish. Now we have seven and eight-year-olds wanting to be thin. We are living in an unreal world where you can have your teeth, face, eyes and bottom done and what we are manufacturing robots. We need to embrace our uniqueness. I don't find the Adonis, stereo-typical type of man beautiful, I go for the twinkle in their eye, the fact they can make me laugh - that is what is sexy and I think most men would say that of women. I don't think men want women to be as thin as we think they do. Most men I know say they like a woman with a bit of flesh on their bones."
Lindsey comes across as strong and determined, but she is also very warm, with an infectious sense of humour.
She would be the first to admit she didn't get a lot of laughs with Carol, but she would also tell you what a great part it was to play. She was tempted back after a break in 1997 by the Carol-Dan-Bianca love triangle. Since Lindsey left, her other screen daughter Sonia (Natalie Cassidy) has become a teenage mum - just like Carol.
So would she ever go back?
"I think I will fall back on the old soap cliche of never say never. I went back for a wonderful storyline and I think it would be difficult to beat that. Anyway, what would there be left for Carol to do, go moping around the Square?"
Playing such a high-profile role in a soap with a relentless filming schedule brought its own difficulties. In the end it was the constant recognition which persuaded Lindsey to quit.
"I am quite a private person and it was like walking close to the edge of a cliff. I wanted to step back and be myself. I never thought that people would be that interested in my life. Nothing prepares you for it, but the reality is that soap sells and I just had to get real and accept that."
Since leaving EastEnders Lindsey has played a doctor in the BBC's After Hours and will next be seen in Clocking Off, which starts next Sunday. Lindsey plays factory worker Bev, who has never had much luck in life. She meets Mal, an electrician played by Paul Copley, and sees a way out to a more comfortable existence. Before long she has him eating out of her hand, but his teenage sons are not so keen.
"With Bev I tried to play the ambiguity of it all," says Lindsey. "She's had a hard life and you can only wonder at the sort of men that have been in her life before, so you can understand why she is so desperate to get something out of this relationship. I think she does love Mal, but she loves the whole package. He's attractive and has a good job and nice house. She wants it all and you can't blame her when you see where she lives. But then there is that crucial point where she loses their sympathy and the audience are left wondering if Mal will find out what she did to keep him."
Grace was just eight weeks old when Lindsey went to Manchester to film Clocking Off. "It was hard, but I was breast feeding so I took the baby with me. Harry came up for a while and then my parents came up so | was very lucky."
Lindsey goes through all the usual angst of working mothers and for child- care relies on her parents who live nearby in North London and Harry. "There are some jobs I wouldn't take because they are too far away and emotionally it would be too hard for me."
Lindsey didn't follow a conventional route into acting. She left school at 16 and became a hairdresser, while always nursing a "secret dream" that she would be discovered as an actress.
At 20 she went to acting school. She did various theatre and TV jobs before joining EastEnders in 1993, but she has no regrets about leaving soap fame behind.
"I never wanted to be a celebrity - I just came into the business because I wanted to act."
Anything to declare?
Name: Lindsey Coulson
Born: North London
Lives: North London
Most embarrassing moment: Having to dress as a Smurf and stand on the pier at Llandudno for a promotional event at the start of my career.
Happiest moments in my life: The births of my two daughters.
Biggest bug-bear: I hate to see people dropping litter. I detest it and think it is a disgusting habit.
Riskiest acting moment: Playing the lead in Ruby at Hampstead Theatre when I hadn't been on a stage in six years. Best acting triumph: Also Ruby. I couldn't believe anyone could offer me such a great part. Ruby was a sexy, sassy ex-hostess and a wonderful part to play.
Worst acting outfits: Carol Jackson's. I fought for her to be better dressed, arguing that just because she was poor didn't mean she had to have bad taste.
Most exhausting time: During a long night-shoot on Clocking Off. Myself and another actress both had our babies with us and hardly got any sleep so we were like zombies. The director asked us something and we both looked at him and just went: "Ughhh?"
Favourite mode of transport: My little A-class Mercedes. It's like a Tardis, there's lots of room inside.