ON THE COVER
DENISE VAN OUTEN
The TV presenter on how she’s planning to relive wild nights with Boyzone when she returns for Ireland’s Got Talent
Denise Van Outen has enjoyed a stellar career that has not only survived but thrived in the fickle world of showbiz. The bubbly blonde has been on our screens since she was a child star, and her flair and passion for entertainment haven’t waned over the years.
It was in the 1990s that the energetic Denise shot to fame as she espoused the ‘ladette culture’ and, along with the likes of DJ Fearne Cotton, inspired girl power and spawned a generation of gogetting females. Now she’s been named as one of the judges on the inaugural series of Ireland’s Got Talent – a huge coup for TV3 – and admits she can’t wait to reignite her passion for our fair land.
‘I’ve always loved Ireland, my first trip over was in the early 1990s,’ she recalls. ‘I was doing a Saturday morning programme and I used to go over quite a lot for filming. That’s when I fell in love with Dublin – the places, the shopping, the people.’
It was a lot of work but also a lot of play as she recalls all-night parties with Boyzone in the capital’s celebrity hotspots.
‘We used to go partying with the Boyzone boys, we would go to the Pod and Lillies. I can’t say I’ve ever not had a good time in Ireland, I’ve always had a great time.’
Last month, Denise and her daughter were pictured outside the Westbury Hotel, so now that she is a mum to seven-year- old Betsy Mead, has she left her partying days behind her? ‘I’ll have the odd night out, I’m not going to lie,’ she laughs. ‘If you’re going to go to Dublin, you have to go out, just have a drink and a good time. But it won’t be like the old days, when we used to really go out.
‘In the Westbury there would be Boyzone, Take That, Westlife, All Saints, all those bands were around. We used to all be in the hotel and we would have a flight the next morning at 9am and we’d all be showering at 8am to get the flight as we hadn’t been to bed. There was a lot of lock-ins back in those days and sore heads. But these days they are few and far between, I’m an old girl now!’
She certainly doesn’t look old – in fact, she looks fresh-faced and glowing, thanks in part to her role as an ambassador for Bellamianta tan.
The presenter may be all grown up, but her ‘mischievous side’ is still intact and she says she’s looking forward to working with her fellow Ireland’s Got Talent judge Louis Walsh.
‘I’ve known Louis for so long and I’ve always loved him and we’ve always had a laugh,’ she says. ‘I can’t wait to work with him, he’s so much fun. I’m so naughty and Louis has a really naughty side to him too so it will be fun working together. There will definitely be a lot of laughs. For me it will be like going back and picking up a friendship from the 1990s so I can’t wait.’
Since her days as a child star, Denise has landed some major roles. She presented The Big Breakfast and This Morning, was a sensation on Strictly Come Dancing, on which she finished runner-up, she played Roxy Hart in the West End muscial Chicago, for which she received critical acclaim, and she also starred in EastEnders. In short, she is
the perfect person to take on the role as judge on Ireland’s Got Talent. ‘I started in this industry as a child performer so I love kids with talent,’ she says when asked what kind of performers she will be looking for. ‘I just love seeing young people that fascinate me, like when you hear a young child sing and you think, “where does that voice come from?”
‘Some people are just born with talent and I love discovering it. I did Strictly too so I love dancing and watching dancing. So I think that’s what I will be looking for: dance groups and kids.
‘It’s really nice on the panel as we are all looking for something different so everyone who auditions will get a fair crack at it.’
In the time since her partying years, Denise has married and divorced West End star Lee Mead and become a mum to their gorgeous daughter Betsy. And though she’s a big supporter of young talent, she says she would encourage but caution Betsy should she wish to follow her parents into the industry.
‘ The good thing about both me and her father being in the industry is we both know it,’ she says. ‘We’ve both been through the rough parts of it, what’s genuine and what’s not. So I think I would encourage it, if that’s what she really wanted. But she would have to have a huge passion for it, as that’s what I had as a kid.
‘I have to say the industry has been great to me. I’ve had a lovely, varied career and I can’t complain so it would be unfair of me to say not to do it. But I would be very realistic and explain to her the downfalls and knockbacks – but you can get that in any industry.
‘Whatever industry or career you choose, you’re always faced with ups and downs or criticism. So it depends what she shows a natural flair for. At the moment, she’s only seven, and she’s really into arts and crafts and things like so she may be more of a creative in that area.’
Through her role as an ambassador with Bellamianta tan, Denise is hoping to help raise funds and awareness around breast cancer. Bellamianta has just launched its new Crystal Clear Rapid Self-Tanning Clear Mousse and is donating 50c from every bottle sold in October, breast cancer awareness month, to the Marie Keating Foundation.
The cause of breast cancer awareness and treatment have become very close to Denise’s heart in recent years. A keen golfer, she has been a regular at Ronan Keating’s annual golf competitions in aid of the Marie Keating Foundation, named after
“FOR ME AND ALMOST EVERY WOMAN IT’S THE SAME – YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE”
his mother. ‘I’ve known Ronan and Keith for over 20 years now so it’s nice to catch up with them on these occasions,’ she says.
‘ They always look after me, they’re just lovely guys. I’ve also gotten to know Ronan’s family through the foundation – his sister Linda, his brother Gary and his children, they are all lovely. Storm is so lovely too.
‘I just love what they do for the charity, I think it’s amazing. I had no idea what a huge difference it has made over here – hearing the stories and talking to people who work with the charity and the people it has helped, so much goes into what they do. It’s amazing.’
Denise reveals that she had a scare herself in recent years, which is another reason she’s determined to raise awareness of the issue.
‘I was quite lucky in so far as I had a lump and they literally took it out on the day, they didn’t even mess about they just said “let’s get it out”. It all happened so quickly for me that I didn’t have enough time to get really assimilate it. So I was very, very lucky.
‘I can’t speak for someone who gets a diagnosis because it’s a whole different thing [to what I went through]. And I know that because one of my best friends has been diagnosed. But there is always that moment where you just don’t know, that uncertainty. It’s horrible for any person, the waiting.’
Denise says that during her pal’s dark times, being a best friend, a shoulder to cry on or just someone to laugh with is her role.
‘I’ve got a really close friend who has had treatment for breast cancer and now she has just found another lump. That fear never leaves a person. I can’t speak for someone that is going through that, I can only speak as someone who has been a friend to someone who has suffered with it and knows the effects that it has on family, friends and everyone around them.
‘ That’s when your friends need you, that’s when you really step up. For me and for almost every woman it’s the same – your friends and family are the most important things in life.
‘I always make the time to check in and to be a distraction. I’m by nature quite mischievous and quite naughty – I’m sure you know that – so I just try and find things to make her laugh. In a way, sometimes it helps to try and make light of the situation – laughter is the best tonic. My friend says, “I’m sick of everyone constantly asking are you alright” and speaking to her like she’s on the
way out, which she’s not. She’s living with cancer, she’s not dying from it.
‘I think she just lives in constant fear of anything and everything, it’s just awful. Having the support from the Marie Keating Foundation really helps people, and helps put their mind at ease. They have the vans going around doing the screening, which is incredible. We wouldn’t have the awareness if they didn’t do that.’
The auditions phase of Ireland’s Got Talent starts next month and Denise is optimistic about what she will find. ‘I’m really looking forward to seeing what Ireland has to offer – I really think it’s going to be good. Think how much talent comes out of Ireland. I think we are going to discover a few stars – obviously there will be just one winner but I think there will be a lot of undiscovered talent. I think we will find a lot of individuality.’
It is this individuality that launched Denise’s career as the precocious blonde who pushed the boundaries and helped break feminist barriers. So if you or someone you know is planning to try out for Ireland’s Got Talent, how can you impress Denise? ‘Growing up, we never had loads of talent shows so people had to show an individual talent. Now I think unfortunately there’s a lot of copycat acts going on – people mimic another performer so perhaps we’re not finding that raw talent. In some shows, it’s like “wow, she’s amazing, she sounds like Adele” but you’re just mimicing Adele. ‘Do something different, that what I’d say to people auditioning. Don’t do something or someone that you want to be like. Do your own thing.’
There are few better ambassadors for that than Denise van Outen.
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Denise was a big hit on Strictly Come Dancing. Left, clockwise from top left: In EastEnders; with old pal Ronan Keating; posing up with fellow Ireland’s Got Talent star Lucy Kennedy; as Roxy in the West End’s Chicago; with ex-husband Lee Mead; the role that made her famous, on The Big Breakfast with Johnny Vaughan
Denise is joined by Glenda Gilson and Lena Morkuniene to celebrate the Bellamianta collaboration