Claire Sweeney on working with Patrick Swayze and how lockdown has changed her
Actress Claire Sweeney has been making the most of her time in lockdown, giving her house a makeover, while also using her status to transform people’s lives. Just another day.
Here, the actress and singer, 49 – who believed she had coronavirus at Christmas – has opened up on using her platform to make dreams come true, working with Patrick Swayze and how lockdown has changed her.
What’s this Mecca Dream Come True campaign you’re backing?
What’s lovely about it is that during lockdown people have started to appreciate different people for different reasons.
This competition is all about nominating an unsung hero, someone really special, to win the prize of a life-changing home makeover, whether it be a neighbour who’s done your shopping, a nurse, a taxi driver or a doctor working on the front line.
We want people to nominate their superheroes.
Did you give your house a makeover during lockdown?
I did! I’d just done the play Shirley Valentine, about a woman who goes to Greece, and I have a terrace that was really shabby. I decided to give it a full Shirley Valentine makeover and make it look like a little Greek taverna with painted blue and white walls and flowers weaved through.
I’ve never done anything like that before so I didn’t have a clue but I really enjoyed it.
You must be extra keen to help key workers as you think you had Covid last Christmas…
I got the antibody test and it’s come up negative but they’re saying that the antibodies don’t last longer than three months. I had all the same symptoms and got sent to hospital for checks because they thought I had pneumonia. It lasted for five weeks and I remember saying to my mum, ‘It’s like nothing I’ve ever known.’
It started with headaches, then pain in the chest, the breathlessness, overall exhaustion and it was awful.
Were you in the middle of something when lockdown happened?
I’d just finished Shirley Valentine two weeks before. It’s a one-woman show – two hours, 50 pages of dialogue. Imagine learning all of that and then hardly doing any performances of it because of lockdown.
It must be hard work doing a one-woman show…
It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done but the most fulfilling.
I remember messaging the writer Willy Russell, saying, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to learn this’ and he just said, ‘I hear it’s a mountain to climb but when you’re at the top the views are very good!’
You must be missing the stage…
I’m missing performing but I’ve had this quality time with Jaxon, who’s five. He was loving having me home because since the day he was born I’ve always been touring and working.
He said to me last week, ‘Mummy, this time last year what were you doing?’ I said, ‘I was probably working, darling.’ And he went, ‘I prefer this year mummy.’
But he understands that mummy has to work and I’m lucky he can come and hang out in my dressing room.
Didn’t you breastfeed Jaxon while dressed as a genie?!
Oh my God! He was six weeks old and he was in my dressing room being fed by me dressed as a genie! I thought I was indestructible, you see. If I had my time again I would have just taken the time out.
Does it help having a baby when you’re older because you’re more established in your career?
I’m glad I waited because I appreciate every moment now and I’m not thinking I’m missing out on anything. All my decisions are based on the wellbeing of Jaxon and doing something that feeds my soul as well.
How has lockdown affected the way you think about life?
I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic. But it slowed us all down and made me appreciate simple things. Just walking down the road and smelling flowers with Jaxon or looking at trees.
Before, life was so fast and I always felt I had to fill it with activities for him. In fact, he doesn’t need a lot of activities, he just wants to hang out with me and play a game of hide and seek. It got it all back to basics, which is lovely.
You must be worried about your industry…
It’s very worrying. I think Andrew Lloyd Webber has been absolutely fantastic in speaking up for people in theatre.
It’s a whole industry – it’s a livelihood and not just people prancing around on stage. People forget about all the freelancers and people backstage.
What’s been your most pinch-yourself career moment?
When I was asked to duet with José Carreras at the Royal Albert Hall. I got a box for my mum and dad and they came down from Liverpool, and I’m on stage with José – that was wonderful.
Working with Patrick Swayze in Guys And Dolls too was lovely – he was really kind.
Were you due to do panto again this Christmas?
Because I got so sick last year I decided to take this Christmas off and have time with Jaxon so it’s going be my first Christmas off in 17 years.
Nominate a Mecca Unsung Hero for a chance to win a £20k house makeover by uploading a message at meccaunsunghero.com. Entries close 11.59pm tomorrow.
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