Sisters reunited

The Nolan Sisters, from left Maureen, Linda, Coleen, Denise and Anne.

Linda, Anne and Denise Nolan told David Hennessy about returning to the water after a year that has included cancer shocks and treatment, (not) being related to Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child and performing together for the first time since 1978.

The Nolan sisters are setting sail once again.

It is over a year and an entire pandemic since the Nolans were last at sea and now they return to the water in the new series of Nolans Go Cruising. In the interim the have brought us At Home with the Nolans.

Linda told The Irish World: “It is absolutely good to be back because the other two were so well received, you know.

“So hopefully, this is going to be as good if not better.

“It’s totally different because we’re going around the British Isles, and not the Mediterranean or the Caribbean.

“The other time we were playing cat and mouse around the Mediterranean with Covid. I remember Maureen going, ‘Oh my God, 12 people have died in England’, and we went, ‘You’re joking…’

“Little did we know what was to follow. It was unbelievable.”

The Nolan Sisters, from left Maureen, Linda, Coleen, Denise and Anne.

Anne adds: “I remember on the first cruise, they started taking our temperature at certain times, ‘What the hell? What the hell is going on?’

“Because we didn’t know. We were on a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean really.

“And then this time all our temperatures were taken every day and we had to wear masks if we went into places but on the ship, it didn’t feel like we were in the pandemic, really felt like we were away from it all and it was fantastic. Really great.”

Of course, a lot has happened since the sisters were on the waves the first time around.

Both Linda and Anne were diagnosed with cancer early in lockdown when they had just returned from filming.

They would go on to write the book Stronger Together which would detail their journey of treatment and living with cancer for the last year.

Last December, Anne was able to reveal that her cancer was gone while Linda’s news was not so good as her cancer is treatable but not curable.

Coleen, Linda, Maureen, Anne and Denise Nolan planting a Rhododendron for their late sister Bernie Nolan.

Asked if she is able to forget about the horrible disease to enjoy a holiday, Linda says: “I think you have to, otherwise cancer’s won really.

“It will probably get me in the end you know, but at the moment I’m putting up a big fight.

“Obviously everyone has a down day, my down days are about cancer and maybe not being there for as long as I want to be.

“Mine isn’t curable so I’m just on tablets and drugs until they stop working and we try something else.

“But most of the time, I have counselling still and most of the time I can manage to put it into perspective.

“If I spent the whole week waiting for my treatments lying on the couch under a duvet, then cancer’s won and I’m just waiting to die really.

“It’s given me a sense of freedom to say no to things that I don’t want to do. It’s my nephew’s birthday next week and if something came in for me to do on that day, I’d say, ‘I can’t, I’m going to a birthday party. It’s my nephew’s birthday’.

“Because that’s more important to me because I don’t know if I’ll be here for his next birthday you know? Nobody knows. We don’t know what is around the corner.

Linda, Maureen, Anne and Coleen Nolan making soap at Port Sunlight.

“I think it’s made me prioritize things in a different way but I feel well, I’m enjoying day to day life.

“It (cancer) is there nagging me every time but I’m alright, you get used to it.”

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 and the one that is synonymous with them, I’m in the Mood for Dancing.

While the first featured Coleen, Linda, Anne and Maureen, they would be joined by Denise for this journey.

When the five sisters got up to sing for the ship, they were all performing together for the first time in over 40 years, since 1978.

Denise admits: “I did feel like I missed out on the first one because I did cruising for 30 years. That was my job.

“I’ve sang on a lot of cruise ships and I love the Mediterranean, that’s my favourite part.

“Particularly when they went to Genoa, I’ve never been to Genoa and I love Italy anyway.

“So yeah, I did feel like I missed out and it didn’t bother me that it was the British Isles because I’m a sightseer and there’s no better place than the British Isles for seeing things and I hate flying.

“I loved it.”

Coleen, Maureen, Linda and Anne Nolan posing with drinks in their gala outfits.

Linda interjects: “She nearly wasn’t on it.”

“I nearly missed it,” Denise remembers.

Linda goes on: “Because of her passport.

“We didn’t realize we needed a passport going around the British Isles, but apparently they’re 12 miles offshore so it becomes international waters. But her passport was out of date.”

Denise adds: “When they were going away on the Saturday, I didn’t even know if I was going to go.

“My passport arrived after they left but I still didn’t know if they let me join them halfway through the cruise.

“I was like, ‘I can’t believe I missed the first one, now I’m going to miss the second one’.

Anne, Denise, Maureen, Linda and Coleen Nolan visiting Minterne House with Lord Digby…

“They let me on at Liverpool and they didn’t know I was coming so it was a lovely surprise.

“If they had told us couple of weeks beforehand yes, I would have got it done. But they didn’t tell us.”

Of singing with her sisters once again after such a long gap, Denise says:  “That was first revelation, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re singing with us’.

“They surprised me with I Will Survive. It’s a great song but it’s been done to death.

“I said, ‘No, I’m not. I’ve never sung it’.

“And I didn’t want to do a routine because I was always crap at routines.

“And anyway, we sat down, we started going through it and within 10 minutes it was like I had never left the act.

“We were laughing and eventually the crew had to say, ‘Can we get on with it?’”

Linda reveals: “We had one movement, and she fell off the stool.”

Denise continues: “That was the bane of my life when I was with the act.

“We do the routine ten times and then the director says they want to do it again.

“And then the 11th time you’d say, ‘Right, that’s fine’. That’d be the one I’d fall over. This happened on the ship. The stool was really high. I couldn’t get up on it and then I thought, ‘If I get off this now, I’m going to fall on my backside’.

“They were at the front and I’m still trying to get up off the stool.

“That will make people laugh if nothing else.

“No, it was great. It was great.

Anne, Denise, Maureen, Linda and Coleen Nolan visiting Minterne House with Lord Digby…

“And I sang a solo on the ship.

“I enjoyed it in the end, but I was absolutely cacking myself.”

Linda says: “You do slip back into it. We do say sometimes say, ‘It’s as if we were doing it yesterday.

“There’s still a lot of singing that goes on in these houses.

“We love singing together, doing harmonies. We love that, and we sing at weddings.”

Denise jokes: “Weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs. We’re free for any event.”

Of course, it is hard not to talk about old times and not mention the sister that is sadly no longer with us.

Cancer took their sister Bernie in 2013 at the age of 52.

It was just after their reunion tour of 2009 that Bernie was first diagnosed and although she beat it in the first instance it would return just a couple of years later.

A farewell tour had been announced in 2012 but this would be called off due to Bernie’s unfortunate illness.

Bernie would have been 60 last year.

Linda says: “There’s always a gap because we miss Bernie in anything we do like that.”

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 his mistress was expecting. They know it was a girl but that is all.

It would mean a lot to meet the sister they have never known.

Have they had any joy? “No,” Anne says.

“We had a DNA test done and we did actually meet somebody who thought she might be our sister but it turned out the DNA didn’t match.

“It was quite sad really because she was a lovely.

“We didn’t actually meet her, Maureen and Coleen spoke to her on the phone and they said she was really lovely and she was so disappointed because she’d been looking for her family, for her parentage for so long.

“She was disappointed that it wasn’t right, that she’d have to look again.

“It is still out there, the DNA.

“So who knows? We don’t know whether somebody else might come along.

“But at the moment, she’s out there.”

It was reported in July that the Nolans could be related to Destiny’s Child star ­Michelle Williams is ready to find her Irish family — after we told how she could be related to the Nolan Sisters.

The Bootylicious US singer last week revealed how she has Irish relatives with the surname Nolan.

Linda was quoted as saying of the possible link: “It’s ­hilarious and completely unexpected. That being said, it makes sense, we are a very musical family!”

Of course, the story is only true as far as Williams having Irish relations with the surname Nolan.

“That’s rubbish,” Denise says of the story.”

Linda explains: “It was tongue in cheek. There’s a Nolan in her ancestry or whatever.

“So somebody said, ‘You could be related to the Nolan sisters’, because we sing.

“So I said, ‘I’d love to hear Destiny’s Child do I’m in the Mood for Dancing’.

“It’s just funny.”

Denise adds: “Beyonce can come for tea and we can discuss music and all of that.”

Travel restrictions forced them to cruise closer to home but the sisters say everyone they encountered was so happy to be on holiday at all that it really didn’t matter.

Anne says: “It was amazing actually to get onto the ship.

“We never thought it would happen because of COVID and to be on there again, it was just fantastic to be able to go on it and to visit places and be with people that we didn’t think we would be able to, you know?

“All of that was tremendous really. It was kind of cathartic in a way particularly for me and Linda because we had had so much hospital treatment and Linda’s there a lot of the time.

“So that time we were on the ship, it was just brilliant really.”

Denise says: “The people on the ship were so exuberant and full of the joys of life, after being through Covid.

“They didn’t care if the ship only went two miles, they were happy because it was just so amazing to be away on holiday.

“They were all smiles.”

The filming was all completely Covid safe.

Linda says: “The TV company take so many precautions.

“We were in a bubble, obviously the five of us, but we could never sit down and have a beer with the TV crew or anything because of restrictions, which is good because then we’d have to buy them a drink,” she laughs.

“But it was all looked after.

“When people came up to say hello or anything, they were very quick at saying, ‘Can you just keep the three metre distance?’

“Which is a bit embarrassing because you think, ‘I hope they know it’s because of Covid and not because we’re being full of ourselves, ‘Keep away, don’t look at me’.’”

Anne remembers: “We had a dance lesson from the ballroom dancer. And we loved it and he said, ‘There’s not a lot I can teach you’ because we’re good movers.

“That was a highlight, I think, wasn’t it?”

Linda responds: “Well I was ill. I went down to the doctor. That was the highlight.

“The doctor was bloody gorgeous so I was quite glad that I wasn’t very well.

“I offered to stay in his hospital bed for a little longer but no go there.”

The series culminates with Coleen’s son Shane’s showbiz engagement party in Manchester where the whole family came together to celebrate.

Anne Nolan getting ready to do the high ropes on the ship…

This was poignant as the family had not been able to get together as normal even during the tough times such as illnesses.

Anne says: “It was absolutely amazing to see us all together again.

“It was just amazing.

“We danced all night. It was a really memorable night.”

And it meant a lot for Linda to hear from some fans that their act meant a lot to during some tough time: “It was Pride in Manchester as well.

“Four or five of the guys from gay pride came to the party dressed in their outrageous costumes.

“One of them came up and he took my hand and said, ‘I just want you to know when I was an 11 year old boy fighting with my sexuality, I used to go up to my bedroom and the only thing that made me smile was playing I’m in the Mood for Dancing and learning the routine’.

“And then he went round all the girls and said the same thing. He was lovely. Really nice.

“It was just nice of him to say it.

“And they said, ‘We used to be you in the bedroom with the hair brushes.

“And they’d go, ‘I was you’ and all of that.

“And it’s just so lovely that people remember us and they remember us with a smile.

“And that’s what it’s all about. And we can still do it if pushed and enjoy it.

“We only get nervous about it, maybe irritable with each other in reversals because we want it to be right.

“I think I think this series will show people a more in depth look at ourselves.

“We’re very open with what we talk about and everything.

“So hopefully it will be as well received as the other two.”

The Nolans Go Cruising series Two starts Wednesday 29 September 9pm on Quest Red and discovery+

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