‘Hearing I had cancer again was an out-of-body experience’
Anne Nolan opens up about resolving the feud with her sisters that tore her family apart and her outlook on life after overcoming cancer twice
We’ve just finished our photoshoot and chat with Anne Nolan ahead of her latest book launch and she’s left us feeling uplifted and inspired. Despite going through some dark times and heartache during her life, she remains positive and has a strength about her that’s rare.
Titled New Beginnings, her autobiography follows on from Anne’s Song, which was released in 2009, and is packed with emotive stories.
“I just wanted to write my life story really,” says Anne, 72. “It’s important for my family to know who I was in time gone by.”
Finding fame in the 1970s with The Nolans, she sang alongside her sisters Coleen, Linda, Maureen, Denise and the late Bernie. Since then, she’s navigated turbulent years to say the least, having battled cancer twice and endured a four-year feud with her sisters. She’s also experienced the breakdown of her marriage, divorcing her husband, Brian Wilson, in 2007.
She reveals in the book how the rift with her siblings tore the family apart and says her “stomach dropped” when she was excluded from a family tour, named I’m In The Mood Again in reference to their hit I’m In The Mood For Dancing. This was one of the band’s biggest successes and the record that Anne sang, performed and promoted. She explains the “overwhelming sense of betrayal” she felt, but doesn’t expect her book to cause further rifts with her sisters.
“Coleen, Bernie and Linda have all written books speaking about the fall-out. I haven’t read them but I’ve been told. And there was a book before this, with Maureen in it too, where the four of them told their side of the story,” she says.
“My book just tells my perspective of it – how I perceived it and what I thought about it all.
I’m not having a go or blaming anybody.”
Her sisters have been warned about what’s to come. “I told them there was going to be a bit about the fall-out in it and they said that’s fine,” she says. “If they don’t want to read it, they won’t.”
It seems time has been a healer and a lot has certainly changed over the years. Anne went from the sequinned heydays of the 70s and 80s, partying with Stevie Wonder and performing with Frank Sinatra, to facing countless job interviews to make ends meet.
Anne revealed that she “went for every job” in a bid to bring home a steady income for her daughters, Amy and Alex. She even sold David Essex merchandise at one of his Blackpool shows. “People would come up and say, ‘Are you one of the Nolans? Why are you doing this?’”
Anne eventually secured a nine-to-five office job with an insolvency company, where she stayed for 16 years. She says, “It saved my life at the time. It was regular work, a regular income.”
There have been events in Anne’s life that have changed her and losing her sister Bernie was one. Reflecting on her sibling’s death in 2013 from breast cancer, she says, “There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about Bernie, yet life still goes on.”
Anne’s a testament to this. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2000, after finding a lump in her right breast. She won her battle against the disease with her then-husband Brian by her side, but during the Covid pandemic, it came back.
“Almost 20 years later, to the day, I found the second lump,” she says. “I was in the shower and felt it – this time in my left breast – and sort of dismissed it, which I shouldn’t have done.
The next day though, I thought, ‘It’s still there.’
“I went to my doctor, who sent me to a fantastic breast care clinic in Blackpool.
I kind of knew – I could tell by the doc’s reaction. They did lots of tests and it was.”
She says she has now “come full circle” and “counts her blessings”, and tells us it was an “out-of-body experience” to know she had breast cancer again. “It’s as if you’re looking down on somebody else and they’re talking to someone else because your mind thinks, ‘I don’t want to hear this.’”
Just weeks after discovering the disease had returned, Anne’s sister Linda was given the news that her cancer was back too.
“Mine was a new cancer, but Linda’s had metastasised,” she says. “This sounds weird, but we were lucky that it happened at the same time – Covid meant no one could be with you when you went for chemo, but because
Linda was having it too, they allowed us to have it sitting next to each other.”
Admitting in her book that “our family was broken when Bernie died”, the pair resolved to always be there for each other.
“Linda was great because I was having really aggressive chemo, so I’d be there from 9am and she’d arrive at lunchtime and we’d finish together at 5pm. It wasn’t as bad as it might have been for those who were alone. Cancer is such a lonely time for the person suffering – no matter how many people are around. But you’ve got to get on with it.”
Positive after her treatment, life seems to be on the up for Anne and family feuds appear to be a thing of the past.
“My sisters and I are really great friends. We’ve
‘They allowed me and Linda to sit next to each other while having chemo’
done three cruises together since the argument, so we’re back on track,” she says. “When you’re family, you may fall out, but even at the time when we didn’t like each other very much, we still loved each other. It was something that happened in our professional lives, but we’ve never ever fallen out about anything in our personal lives. It was a shame it happened, but it happened and we’re over it now.”
Proving family can stand the test of time, the sisters rallied together in their darkest days. “When we found out Bernie’s cancer had come back, we forgot that we weren’t speaking because we were there for her.”
And losing Bernie has made Linda consider how the rest of her life might pan out.
“Linda talks about her passing and we all quieten her thoughts down, saying, ‘Let’s not talk about dying and all that,’ because who knows what’s around the corner. There might be a vaccine for cancer.”
Linda has spoken recently about trialling new drug Tucatinib – a targeted therapy which interferes with how cancer cells grow – to give her “more time”.
Anne remains candid. “We always say we could get hit by a bus tomorrow but she has spoken to us about it, like, ‘When I’m gone,’ or, ‘If I’m not here next year.’”
Although Anne has had incredible times over the years in the band, bad management decisions meant the sisters missed out on further success.
“We were supposed to tour the States but our British management said no.” She adds, “It was a massive thing that should have happened in our lives that didn’t.”
Regardless of this and given that years of sisterly bonds have been lost, Anne wouldn’t change a thing about the band. “We’ve had far too many good times,” she says. “We weren’t a wealthy family – my parents had eight children and they were both singers.”
Well, perhaps she’d change one thing – the band’s appearance. She writes in her book about taking advice from people outside the industry regarding their fashion choices, which resulted in negative press.
“We would have definitely done things differently.
Our first ever television appearance was on The Cliff Richard Show. We just took wardrobe’s advice. I was 20-something, Bernie was 15 and we were put into the same outfits. Coleen was nine!”
She adds, “We were scared of voicing our opinion but now we sit and laugh, thinking ‘How on earth did we let ourselves go out like that?!’”
One thing’s for sure for this Nolan – life is for living and Anne certainly knows where to find the joy in her life these days. “I’m happiest with my daughters and grandchildren – they’re my absolute world.”