From the rolling hills of Emmerdale to the beaches of Barbados, Natalie Anderson really is going places...
Chips ’n’ gravy. The songwriting of Noel Gallagher. Alan Shearer’s ‘mesmerising’ displays on Match Of The Day. Face it, the list of great things that the north of England is responsible for producing just goes on and on.
What’s more, if you’ve seen Emmerdale at all in the past few years – and who hasn’t? – you’ll know that Natalie Anderson, who played Alicia Metcalfe on the show for five years, is a firm presence on this list, too.
But now Bradford-born Nat has left the soap, she’s readying the next stage of a career that’s taken in everything from recording an album in Denmark to singing Kate Bush songs on ITV’s crazy celeb music gameshow Your Face Sounds Familiar. So just how is Operation Nation’s Sweetheart going? Pretty darn well, if you ask us…
You were on Emmerdale for five years – did you often get that thing where people on the street think you’re actually the character?
All of the cast answer to two names now – I answer to Alicia almost as much as I do to Natalie. If someone calls me that, I’ll turn round every time. It’s the same for everybody that works in a soap – you get used to being two people.
Now you’re moving on from soapland, what else have you got coming up?
I’m doing some travel reporting at the moment – I’m off to Barbados soon. It sounds great, but I hate flying. I still get scared of it and can’t stand the turbulence. It’s terrified me since I was a child. I need to have a glass of wine just to get on the plane, then I sit by the window and imagine that I’m flying it myself. Then it’s OK.
You were on Pop Idol in 2001. Was Simon Cowell as scary as he seems?
No, he was lovely! That whole experience was overwhelming. I was only 19. I was in Will Young’s group at the auditions, and he was amazing. I remember my mum calling me after she’d seen him on TV, and she said, “Darling, I’m just letting you know, I think this boy’s going to win.” I was just like, “Um, thanks Mum.”
Have you seen Simon at all since?
Yes! I went up to him at some event, and he just looked at me and said, “I remember you. You’ve got better with age.” I said back to him, “I wish I could say the same about you.” It was funny – we both knew we were joking. He’s quite something. When I saw him, there was a queue of women there to get his autograph.
Is it true you used to be a cheerleader?
I was, for Bradford Bulls rugby league club. We had to wear these tiny costumes in the middle of February, and jump around like we were fine when we were really turning blue. I often wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to the end of the match. I also used to sub in for the mascot if the man didn’t turn up. You’d have to stick your head in this dirty, sweaty old costume. It stank. The only good thing about it was that it was warm.
Do you ever bust out the routines on a night out?
When the old squad gets together, we’ve been known to air a routine or two. It’s terrible for anybody around us, but we don’t care. All we need is the right Britney track to come on and we’re well away.
So you’re quite into your sport then?
I love rugby – it’s how I met my husband [rugby league player James Shepherd]. A huge part of our relationship was spent sat watching it in the pub and it really helped us bond. Nine times out of 10 I was the only girl, but I’d be shouting at the TV like the rest of them. I enjoy a lot of sport: I went to Wimbledon this year and I also love Formula 1. The only sport I’m not really a massive fan of is football.
Do you play any sports?
I used to play in the Emmerdale cricket team. Well, I say ‘play’ – I did my best. I’m in for a penny, in for a pound, me – I’ll try anything. I’m
not as clued up with it as I am with rugby, though.
Isn’t cricket a bit of a snooze?
No! It’s an excuse to do nothing all day and nobody can tell you off. If you’ve got lovely weather, you can sit in the sun with a few cans. What more do you need? If that doesn’t sell it to you, I don’t know what will.