Interview Sharon Maughan: We were so poor I never went by car, now I've got my own; Mercedes.
Sharon Maughan has come a long way from her days as the face of the will-they-won't-they coffee ads. But, as Sharon Feinstein finds out, she's come even further from her roots
Sharon Maughan cuts the figure of a woman at the height of success and sophistication as she sweeps into the smart London club - beautifully dressed in a beaded lilac top and matching scarf, complete with white- gold Cartier watch.
And yet this same woman hails from such an impoverished Liverpool family that her mother couldn't afford the two-and-sixpence for Sharon's school photograph - her proud offer to pay in instalments of sixpence a week having been turned down.
When St Gregory's School offered piano lessons for those with a piano at home Sharon was desperate to take them, but there was no piano at home - there was hardly anything at home.
Up to the age of 14, Sharon had never stepped into a car or travelled out of Kirby on a holiday.
Now Sharon, who became an overnight sensation with the Gold Blend coffee adverts, glides around London in a sleek black Mercedes. In her splendid Chelsea home, pride of place is given to a Bechstein piano, and Sharon has no trouble paying for lessons.
Together with her husband of 20 years, Shoestring actor Trevor Eve, she runs a thriving film production company called Projector. And she dominates one dramatic episode of Heartbeat when the ITV series returns in the New Year. She plays Ursula Donne, a local girl rejected at the alter by Lord Ashfordly, who returns years later, now fabulously wealthy, to wreak her revenge.
Speaking openly for the first time about her long journey from the desolation of Kirby, where her seaman father was unable to work for several years following an accident, Sharon says: "When I lived in Kirby there were no shops - a caravan came round once a week to sell us food, and there was nothing for the kids to do. My mother's a very noble woman and wouldn't ever let me feel less well-off than anybody else, but the truth is we were poorer than the poorest families. I went everywhere on the bus. I didn't ever get into a car until I was 14. I was the only girl with four brothers in an Irish Catholic family, and as I got older I had my own room, and in that sense I grew up like a princess.
"When I went to Rada in London I was a virgin and I left a virgin at 21 years old because it was too hard for me to focus on anything but the acting. I had one thing on my mind and I had to hold myself together for that because there were lots of opportunities to lose that and I had no financial back-up. I took my parents out for their first meal in a restaurant when I saved part of my grant. They'd never been out of Liverpool. "My life is utterly different now."
Sharon has three children, 18-year-old Alice, Jack, 15, and six-year-old George. When Alice turned 18, armed with four A-levels at grade A from the prestigious private school Westminster, Sharon couldn't help comparing her daughter to the 18-year- old she once was.
"I've moved away from my roots, I can't be that person any more, and I suddenly thought of my daughter at 18 meeting the 18-year-old me, like in those Hollywood films. I wondered what would she think of me. Would we get on? And, frankly, I don't think there's a single area in which we'd connect. At 18 I was very unworldly, very innocent emotionally and sexually, though very street tough. Alice, on the other hand, is incredibly sophisticated, worldly and very eloquent. All her terminology, socially and culturally, is fantastic, because she's grown up with Trevor and I as parents. My parents were very different. I'll give you an example, and this story is told with love. I did a Granada series called Shabby Tiger and one of the reviews said, `Sharon Maughan has a screen presence that is sonnet-inspiring'. I was so thrilled that I called my parents and said, Did you read the review? They said, `Yes we did, we're so happy for you, but Sharon, what does sonnet mean? We've been trying to look it up in the dictionary all morning.' So that's where I come from. My daughter, on the other hand, has been all over the world."
Sharon says she and Trevor have a good, solid marriage and are first and foremost best friends. She loves the fact that Trevor is attractive to women and describes him as "a sexy Welshman with fire in his belly".
Sharon, 48, smiles: "I've got this fantastic new nanny, and her friend phoned the other night and later said to her, `Who was that sexy man who answered the phone?' Of course it was Trevor. I think he does project an image of strength and sexuality and I like it very much. I don't want to be married to a weed. I'm woman enough to handle it. I love being married to somebody who understands everything I'm going through as an actor. I couldn't bear to be married to a banker or an underwriter. Trevor is my intellectual and emotional equal, we understand each other very well. We don't have a celebrity lifestyle. It's a very real life, if you have children your home is where you are and you take care of them and want to spend your time with them."
Trevor is just finishing a movie based on the A.S. Byatt Booker prize- winning novel, A Possession, with Gwyneth Paltrow. At the same time he's started filming a BBC series, Waking The Dead, with Sue Johnston, Holly Aird and Claire Goose. He's clearly very much in demand, and that's a great relief to them both.
"I don't feel any rivalry," says Sharon. "Instead there's great relief that between us we can make a living and support a lifestyle. Every day you don't know whether that's going to continue. With my very poor background and Trevor's very modest background, we've both grown up with the fear of survival.
"We found a backer to set up our production company four years ago, and were able to realise something we desperately wanted to do. I don't want to move away from being an actor, though, and mostly I'd like to do a series. I'd grab the opportunity of being in Brookside. I'd love it if I got to play a Liverpool woman and spend some time in my home town.
"The Gold Blend years were great. I worked four to six days a year, got fantastic exposure and money and was able to spend time with my children. It's shadowed me ever since, but I think that happens with a lot of people. We thought of Sean Connery as James Bond for ever such a long time. I like to think I've grown beyond it now."
The family lived in California on and off for five years but came back to England for the children's education and because Sharon didn't want them growing up around guns. "It was a liberating experience. There's no class system there and I loved that. But we'd been through the fires in California, the riots, and the earthquake ...we were all ready to come home."
In Heartbeat she plays a woman not that far removed from herself. Ursula Donne grew up in the north of England and spent several years living in America. Now she's come home to destroy the man who broke her heart. "It's a wonderful part, I loved doing it. It really brought out the strong, feisty woman in me."
It's that indomitable spirit which has taken Sharon all the way from Kirby to Chelsea.
"It's a big issue of mine that I've got what I wanted to achieve. But I've worked for it and I try to make sure that my kids know that.
"I can't be the person that I was in Kirby any more, though I remember her and I love her."
FROM RAGS TO RICHES Sharon as Ursula Donne in Heartbeat