Linda, Maureen and Denise Nolan told David Hennessy about the family’s recent trials with cancer, their search for their long lost Irish half-sister and why they had to toast Bernie with vodka on her recent birthday.
“If you had told us at the end of last year that in 2020 we would do two television series, two of us would be diagnosed with cancer and have our treatment and we would have a successful album, we would have laughed in their face,” Linda Nolan told The Irish World.
Both Linda and Anne Nolan were both diagnosed with cancer early in lockdown when they had just returned from filming their hit TV Show The Nolans Go Cruising.
They now return with At Home with the Nolans which sees both sisters face cancer treatment.
And while the cruising reality show featured Coleen, Linda, Anne and Maureen, At Home with the Nolans also sees them joined by their sister Denise who has not been seen publicly with her sisters since 1978.
“Obviously the cancer was a shock.
“We were on such a high (after the cruise). Anne, Maureen and myself went into lockdown at Maureen’s house. It was like still being on holiday, wasn’t it?
“I remember when we were in Spain and Maureen went, ‘Oh my God, twelve people have died from this virus’. When you were out of it, you couldn’t understand it and Denise was telling us all and it was like, ‘Wow, we’ve just had this amazing time’. Then we came back and it was straight into lockdown.
“I don’t think any of us really knew how serious it was but, of course, the bombshell was when we both got diagnosed and it was straight back down to earth.”
“We had such a great time on the cruise. We were on such a high and then we came back, we were in lockdown for about a week and then Anne found a lump and she found out it was cancer. Within three weeks, we were sorting our our treatment for chemotherapy.”
The diagnosis was all the more harrowing for the fact the lockdown and restrictions meant the family could not rally around them like they usually would have.
“My husband used to say that we were like the cavalry. When anything happens, good or bad, we come together and we go around each other’s and we help each other out and of course, with this, we couldn’t. I would just phone Anne and say, ‘I’m sorry’.
“Maureen immediately moved in to live with Anne so she would be her support and in her bubble and Denise said to me, ‘You come and live with me and my partner while you have your treatment.
“But it is scary with Covid because our immune systems have been depleted so if we got Covid or even the flu, we could die. I think people were worried about getting treatment at hospitals but we had all our treatment during the first lockdown. It was the safest place to be because they were extra vigilant with the social distancing and everything. Our treatment went really well but it is tough with Covid and lockdown.”
Maureen adds: “Covid made a horrendous time even worse. Covid made everything worse for everybody really, didn’t it? But especially people with serious illnesses who were without the support of their families.
“Also, we’ve had a few friends who have died, not from Covid but again their relatives have had no support at funerals. It’s horrible really, isn’t it?”
Denise says: “It was horrendous when they were both in hospital. At one point they thought Anne had sepsis which would have killed her. We were in bits and we couldn’t visit her. It was in heavy lockdown. You couldn’t even go in if they were dying at that time and then Linda went in with pneumonia. It was awful. We’ve only got good things to say about the NHS. They’re absolutely incredible. The food was vile! We were smuggling things in for Linda but they said the NHS were incredible.”
Linda jokes, “I was glad to be away from all of them, the truth be known.”
Denise responds, “As long as you drop her in a few crunchies, she’s fine.”
“I’m anybody’s, yeah,” Linda agrees.
Thankfully the news does look with both Anne already getting great news and Linda telling The Irish World that she feels good after her treatment.
Linda says, “I finished my chemotherapy at the end of September, then I had CT scans which I’m waiting for the results of next week. My cancer is treatable but not curable so they will tell us how the cancer has reacted to the chemo and what the next steps are.
“Anne got great news. Anne got amazing results. She’s finishing off her treatment but there’s no sign of disease at the moment where she had it.
“It’s all good news for us at the moment to be fair. I feel well. My hair has started to grow back. Anne’s hair is growing back.”
The Nolans (or The Nolan Sisters as they were originally called) are remembered for hits such as Gotta Pull Myself Together, Attention To Me, Who’s Gonna Rock You, Don’t Make Waves, Chemistry and Don’t Love Me Too Hard and of course the track that will be forever associated with them, I’m In The Mood For Dancing.
They may be no strangers to cameras but was it difficult to have cameras there for difficult and personal family moments? No, Linda says they chose to share their stories to help others: “Well, it was our choice to be fair. The TV company were amazing. Anytime we said we didn’t want to film something, they were fine.
“I think for us that we talk about our illnesses so much is important because we can help somebody. We’ve had wonderful messages from social media and people sending cards and stuff saying, ‘You helped me through it because I have no one to talk to. I’m on my own’.
“That’s why we do it, only to be of help and support our other people.”
The series also deals with the sisters’ desire to find their long lost half-sister. The sister have known for years that their father had a fling and the mistress was expecting. They know it was a girl but that is all.
Maureen says: “I was a little bit intrigued by that. Our mother told us a couple of years before she died in 2007 so we’ve been intrigued, I think especially Linda and I, so I took it one step further and I donated DNA to see if we could find out. Spitting into a tube on film, that was fun. We’re hoping to hear something. They say they always find something. Even if it isn’t our sister, they will find a relative.”
Denise adds: “I hope it’s a millionaire who is very generous and loves her siblings.”
“It would be amazing if we do meet her,” says Linda.
“She’d be my age,” says Denise as they know she would have been born in 1952.
Linda says: “It would be funny if she walked in and looked like Dad or she looks like me or one of our brothers or whatever. There’s a little bit of reticence from Denise and I because we don’t want to ruin anybody’s life and I don’t think that’s what we’re out to do really. I think it will be down to her, won’t it, Mo?”
Maureen agrees: “It’s down to her and the (family tracing) company are great. They were delighted we were looking for the right reasons and that we also didn’t want to ruin anybody’s life. I would certainly forego knowing who she is if I thought I was going to ruin her life. We’re happy in our life and I hope she’s happy in hers as well.”
Linda says: “It’s exciting and also on the other hand regarding the cancer in our family we wonder if she’s been through it. Because she came from our dad the rogue gene might have come from that side of the family. The medical side of it is interesting to find out as well.”
It would mean a lot to meet the sister they have never known.
Linda says: “I would be thrilled. As long as she’s happy to meet us, I would be thrilled.”
Denise continues: “We would all be thrilled to meet her as long as it didn’t interrupt her life in any way. I was very reticent to start with and so was Anne worried but if she’s happy, I’d love to meet her.”
Maureen, who speaks of the family as an army that rallies around in times of trouble looks at it as a possible new recruit: “We’re from a mad Irish family so one more to join the army.”
But Linda has some reservations she jokes about.
“She better not be a great singer though. Or beautiful. She’s probably intelligent. She’ll turn our to be a surgeon or something like that because we’re all thick as mud,” she jokes.
Also discussed in the series is whether the other sisters should get tested for the cancer gene, as not only are two of the sisters fighting it at the moment but the disease has already taken one of them.
Maureen explains: “Me, Denise and Coleen decided if there is a very high risk of us having a high risk gene, we would take the test and then make a decision about what action we would take.”
Denise says: “I would only have a mastectomy if the doctor said, ‘If you have it, it will save your life. If you don’t, you could die’. Then of course, I think we’re all all of the same mind with that. But I don’t really want to have it if I don’t have to. Put it that way.”
Linda quotes their late sister: “Bernie used to always say, ‘Knowledge is power’. So the fact that they can actually talk about it and it be their decision is amazing. You’re living on a time bomb if you’ve got that gene. It’s about choice and it has to be your choice. I’m delighted that they’re going down that road. Of course, Anne’s daughter’s at risk as well. And Maureen’s grandchildren so it’s important. It’s all good.”
Denise adds: “You have to have a lot of counselling before you make that decision too.”
Sadly missing from the series is Bernie Nolan who passed away from cancer in 2013. The sisters recently marked her 60th birthday by having dinner in her honour although it had to be socially distanced.
Maureen says: “Bernie is a massive part of our lives still. Always will be. Her 60th was so poignant really. We had planned a massive memorial ball but of course we couldn’t do any of that.”
Linda continues: “We went out for dinner. It was funny. We were all in our bubbles but we had a birthday cake for her. When she died, she told us to remember her on her birthday and have a drink and make it vodka so we all had Moscow mules and toasted her. It was lovely that we could just do something. It’s always weird that she’s not here. Always.”
At Home with the Nolans may sound very sad and serious when it is far from it. While we see Anne and Linda going through treatment we also see the family enjoying happy occasions like marking Anne’s 70th birthday.
Denise says: “It was nice to celebrate Anne’s 70th because we didn’t think we would be able to. All socially distanced, she saw her daughter, she saw her grandchildren. We had decorated the house and she cried all day. Happy tears because she didn’t think she would be able to celebrate her 70th but thanks to the TV show, it was a fabulous day.”
The Nolans were young women or even girls when they burst onto the scene in 1979. Does it feel strange to say that one of them is now 70 years old?
Linda answers: “Absolutely. When Coleen reaches a milestone birthday like when she turned 40, I thought, ‘Oh my God, none of us are 30 something now…’ Then Anne 70… She looks so well though, doesn’t she? So it’s hard to see that she’s 70 but we’re all 28 in our heads. It’s just my body that says, ‘No, you’re not, love’. When I try to stand up, it says, ‘No, you’re 103’.
The sister are also doing fun things like Linda continuing to look for love attempting to rope Coleen into a double date along the way.
“It was funny,” Linda says of this. “We ended up not going on a date but then we had a laugh setting me up on a dating app and stuff. We were laughing. Some of the pictures are hilarious. I’m actually talking to somebody online. I was up until quarter to two last night. Coleen’s been on a date with somebody online. It’s funny.”
It was another activity that Denise could have done without: “I could have done without the walking with wolves. That was Maureen’s lovely surprise for us. I’m frightened of dogs so I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened. I was whimpering like a baby. I was absolutely terrified. It was scary.”
Linda says: “We went to a restaurant that we love, the Beach House and within minutes it was as if we’ve seen each other every day of our lives. We were talking about the old stuff. I think that’s what people like: Just that it’s normal. We’re ribbing each other and laughing.
“We played crazy golf at the pleasure beach and the laughs we had with that. (Coleen’s son) Shane said, ‘Girls, you have no chance here. I’m just brilliant’. And he was awful so we had such a laugh doing stuff we don’t do anymore. I can’t remember the last time we went to the pleasure beach with Coleen. It was just such fun.
“We got a chef in to cook us a dinner and we ended up singing all the Irish songs, ‘Come into the parlour…’ which was really funny. Maureen and Denise knew all the words, of course. Because they’re old.”
Maureen counters: “Our mum taught us them.”
Linda concludes: “There’s loads of fun in it as well as real issues.”
Maureen says laughing has helped them get through this year: “Everyone had the doom and gloom this year, especially us I suppose. It was a massive laugh. We find humour in everything, even tragedy. That’s how we get through life generally.”
“It’s mostly positive,” Denise says of the show. “They’re not looking for an expose of us so that makes it more enjoyable.”
At Home with the Nolans is on at 10pm on Tuesdays on Quest Red, and also available to catch up on discovery+