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Interview: Lesley Dunlop - At 45, why I'm feeling broody; Lesley Dunlop on why being pregnant in Where The Heart Is makes her long for another baby. By Richard Barber.

Byline: Richard Barber

It was last September when Where The Heart Is star Lesley Dunlop found out she was expecting again. Although the mum of two is in her mid- forties, she was delighted with the news. Problem is, she has had to wait much longer than nine months to give birth, because this pregnancy is make-believe.

As district nurse Anna Kirkwall, who is having paper factory boss Simon Goddard's child, Lesley has been appearing with a ever-growing bump under her uniform. A couple of weeks ago, the heavily-pregnant Anna had to clamber up scaffolding to stop an attempted suicide bid. And in next week's dramatic episode she gives birth to a baby daughter, Amy, on the pool table of the Skelthwaite Arms.

"It's been lovely," says Lesley. "I became so attached to my bump that I forgot to take it off at lunchtimes. It took me straight back to when I was pregnant with both my daughters.

"I loved being pregnant, so I found myself wandering around rubbing my tummy or putting my hand in the small of my back. It was as though my brain had been fooled into thinking I was pregnant again. I really did get heartburn every time I put the bump back on. It was all psychological."

Lesley was 21 when she first fell pregnant by her then partner, Casualty actor Christopher Guard. They have two daughters, Daisy, 23, and Rosie, 18.

"Daisy's currently working in an orphanage in India," says Lesley, 45. "The way I look at it now is I want her and Rosie to enjoy their single status before they're bogged down in babies, nappies and broken nights.

"I didn't tell my mum I was pregnant for ages. Then we had an argument one day and I blurted it out. I'm sure she was concerned because I was so young, but she never showed it. She was incredibly strong, calm and supportive. Nor was there ever any sense of disapproval from her. And she was the perfect, doting grandmother."

Sadly, Lesley's mother, Marion, died of leukaemia four years ago. And Lesley and Chris, who were together for 18 years but never married, have long since gone their separate ways. Looking back, Lesley wishes that she'd left motherhood until she was a bit older.

"I hadn't finished growing up," she says. "And my twenties passed in a blur of babies. It's lovely now because when we go somewhere - like our holiday to Cuba - it feels like all girls together. I may have had them young, but I'm not trying to be their mate. We have a laugh together, but ours is a mother/ daughter relationship. They've got people their own age to be their true friends. What they need from me is security, strength and the knowledge that I'm always there for them."

Playing an expectant mum did make Lesley feel broody again and she admits she would love to have another baby in real life.

"I'd be thrilled," she says. "I'm 45 so it's still possible. Everyone else would probably be horrified, but I think it would be lovely."

After her relationship with Chris ended, Lesley had a four-year affair with Paul Bown, star of hit sitcom Watching. Then she was with cameraman Jeremy Hiles. Now, there's a new man in her life who works behind the scenes in television, but she's coy about revealing his name. Not all her past relationships have ended amicably.

"Paul and I don't speak," she says bluntly. "I haven't seen him since the day he walked out. By contrast, Rosie and I met Jeremy for lunch the other day. We're really good friends. And Chris, well, he's the girls' father. We've lived around each other for more than 20 years. He's part of the fabric of my life."

Chris and his partner, Casualty star Cathy Shipton, have now got a daughter, Tallulah.

"We've got pictures of her all round the house," says Lesley. "The girls have got a new sister. I think that's brilliant. It's just strange having a new baby in the family that's nothing to do with me. We're all friendly and if there's anything to do with the girls, Chris and Cath come along, too."

What with Lesley beginning her TV career in the hospital drama Angels and now playing a district nurse, and with Chris and Cathy both being Casualty veterans, medicine seems to be a recurring theme in their professional lives.

"I know," she says. "In fact, I nearly accepted a role in Holby City. But I love being in Where The Heart Is. Leslie Ash and I have so many laughs. The team is one of the friendliest I've ever come across. It's the best fun. It's incredibly hard work, but we keep our energy levels up because we all enjoy what we're doing so much."

Now that filming is over, Lesley has started work on a forthcoming drama, Uncle Silas, which co-stars Sue Johnston and Albert Finney. She also plans to use any spare time to get back into shape.

"I've got to lose some weight," she says. "I don't feel as badly about it as I used to, but I don't feel very comfortable. I lost two stone a couple of years ago and it was really difficult.

"First I'll have some beauty treatments because that always makes you feel better about yourself. And I won't have the temptation of all that location food, of course. Then I'll go back to the gym. It's easier to look after yourself when you've got the time. The trouble is, I love my carbohydrates.

"Come to think of it, though, it could be worse... If I really was pregnant, think how I'd be piling on the pounds. At least I could unstrap my bump at the end of each day and enjoy a glass of wine."

l Where The Heart Is, Sunday, ITV, 8pm.


NEWBORN: With the latest arrival in Skelthwaite, baby Amy; THREE OF A KIND: Lesley hugs her daughters Daisy and Rosie
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 28, 2001
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