Sipping a black coffee served with a side of sparkling water, Lisa Riley leans in and smiles, "Everyone has owl eyes. If I’m in a restaurant, on a plane, anywhere, people are looking to see what I eat – or if I eat. Then they comment on what arrives and go, ‘Oh, you are good.’ But this is just my life now," she says with a shrug of her shoulders.
And a completely different life it is. When we arrive to meet Lisa at the publishing house for her brand new weight loss and fitness book, she leaps up out of her seat, gives us a massive kiss and big swaying cuddle, and looks gorgeous in a short blue mini dress that shows just how much weight she has managed to shed. In fact, she lost 12 stone – over half her body weight – in 18 months.
"What spurred me on was my health. I ate the right foods and exercised more. But of course every single day I get accused of having a gastric band. I read all the nasty comments and think, ‘Why am I even looking at this?’ I did it through good old-fashioned willpower, driven by me finally wanting to buy nice clothes and underwear."
But was it hard adjusting to a completely new lifestyle?
"Yes, because the transformation was so extreme. I’m still in denial when I go in a shop and pick up a size 12-14. But that day at the BAFTAs earlier this year when I looked in the mirror I was in floods of tears because I couldn’t believe it was me.
"I get that people think it seems impossible, but when I had that much to lose, it was always going to be hard work. Clichés aside, I have another chance at life. Especially because of my gene pool. You can’t live your life like a ticking time bomb. But you can curve it somewhat. That’s what I had to do."
Lisa found fame aged 17 as Mandy Dingle on Emmerdale and went on to have a successful acting and presenting career across shows as diverse as You’ve Been Framed, Scott & Bailey, Fat Friends and Strictly Come Dancing. But she’s overcome so many personal struggles through the success. Having lost her grandad, two grandmothers and her beloved mum to cancer, she fears she also carries a cancer gene.
"I haven’t had the test," she explains very matter-of-factly.
"I can’t live my life waiting for cancer to hit me. My mum didn’t know, my granny didn’t know, none of them knew. But I am fearful. I have loads of extra checks now. The doctors are all over me! And I encourage women to check themselves. Never feel like you’re wasting a doctor’s time. Just don’t consult Doctor Google. That will have you dead and buried," she says with a loud laugh.
With a new image and a new outlook on life, Lisa has begun to reconsider other areas of her life. Happily settled with partner Al, who she’s been with since 2014, she had always said she didn’t want children for fear they’d lose their mum too soon, just as she did. Then one day that changed and she decided to explore IVF.
"I think I felt a bit pushed into it," she says honestly. "When I lost the weight people would do that tilted head thing and say, ‘Now you have the body, is it children next?’ So I looked into it. But my eggs are absolutely sh*t. There’s nothing they can do and I’ve embraced that now. When I tell people, they look at me like I’m devastated and gasp, ‘But are you OK?’ Course I am! I’m very happy in my life."
The beaming smile that doesn’t leave Lisa’s face is down to her ‘soul mate’ boyfriend, who she has remained fiercely private about. Now they’re engaged, we had to ask about her big white wedding, but she gives us a cheeky scolding for prying.
"So many people want to tell you everything about who they’re sleeping with, but that isn’t me. I live my life in the public eye and give everyone everything. Anything! But if my life is like Trivial Pursuit, can I at least have one piece for myself? Please?" she says, mock praying towards us.
Despite not wanting to talk about him, rather adorably she can’t stop herself.
"I’ve had so many failed relationships in the public eye because people have been with me for the wrong reasons. Al isn’t. He isn’t with me because I’m Lisa Riley. I’m Lisa Jane to him, my birth name. I’ve found someone who likes the same kooky sh*t as me. Everyone deserves a somebody, and I’ve had so many rubbish somebodies that I want to keep this one for me. He’s mine."
Clearly besotted (she shows us pictures of the two of them on her phone and says, ‘See, why would I want to ruin this?’), we imagine he was an incredible support when Lisa underwent four major operations to remove over a stone of excess skin from her
frame last year.
"I’m sh*t at doing nothing and hate people doing things for me, so I was silly and went back to work too soon into my recovery. My partner and friends all waited on me, and Jo, the lady who nursed my mum when she was dying, was the nurse looking after me. I couldn’t wash for 14 days. For four days I had to sleep on the floor because a bed was too painful. But I’m so pleased with the outcome, I wouldn’t change it for the world."
Lisa insists that despite being borderline unrecognisable, fans still remember her from her Emmerdale days.
"It’s been 20 years since I had Mandy’s leopard-print on, and people assume I still watch it but I have no idea what’s going on. They go, ‘Do you see who Paddy’s with?!’ as if I’m still married to him. I swore to myself as an actress that I’d get out of a soap, otherwise you’re branded for life. And I did. Although I do feel like I let people down when they meet me. They want the tomboy Dingle girl. That isn’t me at all."
Where’s the weirdest place she’s been recognised?
"Once someone watched me go into a changing room, then barged in pretending it was an accident. I assume because they wanted to see my body. I just said, ‘You want to see my scars?’ and just stood there for all to see. An old dear also stopped me in M&S the other day and said, ‘Sorry for staring. We thought you were Lisa Riley, but she’s miles fatter than you.’ That was a belter. I was howling."
As we get ready to go and Lisa picks her lunch (a healthy salmon salad, of course), we ask her what else she’s looking forward to.
"Lots of exciting TV projects are coming, even some in America now I am much more employable there," she says with an excited squeal.
But we’ve heard rumours of a certain I’m A Celeb show now she has a bikini body.
"Oh, they dangled the cheque every year, but why the frig would I want to go into the jungle?" she laughs with her signature booming cackle.
"I just want to work hard, spend time with my gorgeous family and enjoy this new stage of my life."
Lisa starts to get emotional.
"I look at pictures of obese me all the time and think, ‘You did this all by yourself.’ Now I walk with my head high. I want to make the most of every single day."
How does Lisa spend her Sunday?
Lie-in or early rise?
I quite often work on a Sunday, and if I don’t it’s off to see family in Manchester, so a 6am start. Then I watch Shark Tale for the 100th time and pretend to my nephews that I haven’t seen it.
Healthy breakfast or fry-up?
Fry isn’t in my vocab anymore! Gluten-free porridge with soya milk and a handful of cherries.
Roast out or in?
Ooh, can I have a bit of both? I love getting everything perfectly timed, but love a fancy roast out too. I make lists about lists, so I’m good at food prep.
Hungover or fresh as a daisy?
Next month it’ll be three years since I touched alcohol – and I used to love a Malbec. Now I’m just Cinderella and on a night out I leave before midnight, before people start drunkenly repeating all their stories.
Chores or relaxing?
Chores. People laugh because my house is like a maternity ward, it’s that spotless. I clean for the cleaner. Gone are the days of buying 18 family-size bags of Kettle Chips, now it’s kitchen cleaner I buy in bulk.
Lose Weight For Life by Lisa Riley is published on 12 July (Michael Joseph, Trade Paperback, £16.99)
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