Life's thrown a few curveballs at Emmerdale star Lisa Riley but she’s happier than ever since rejoining the soap as fan favourite Mandy Dingle.
The popular actress and her partner were desperately trying for their first baby when she returned to the Dales in 2019.
Since then Lisa, 45, has had to make peace with never having children after various attempts at IVF failed.
It was further heartbreak for the soap icon, who lost her beloved mum Cath to breast cancer in 2012.
Lisa is now teetotal after battling alcohol to try to cope with her overwhelming grief.
But despite her double heartbreak Lisa told how relocating from London to Leeds – close to the Emmerdale set – had been the best thing for her.
She said: “I can’t abide negative people. Everyone has ups and downs and it can be tough, but we always have so much to be grateful for. The reason I can say that is because I’ve gone through so much myself.
“I really struggled losing my mum and going through IVF but even at the end of it all I know how lucky I am.
“I have such an amazing partner who loves and supports me.
“I don’t have kids myself but my nieces and nephews are my world. I have a job I adore and have the most amazing friends and family.
“I feel more confident and comfortable in my own skin than ever before.
“You always have a choice in life about what you focus on and who you surround yourself with. You can make it as positive as possible or you can focus on the things that haven’t worked out for you.
“You realise how important time is. Nothing is more important than giving the people you love your time. People joke that I must sh** positivity. But you have to embrace life and make the most of every moment.”
Lisa became a household name playing Mandy from 1995 to 2001.
After leaving the long-running soap she cemented herself as one of the UK’s most recognisable stars thanks to high-profile appearances on You’ve Been Framed, Fat Friends, Strictly Come Dancing and Loose Women.
Her second stint on Emmerdale was supposed to last only four months when she went back in 2019.
But chatting in our exclusive interview, Lisa revealed she had just signed a contract to keep her in the Dales until 2022.
And despite being bombarded with other telly offers she admitted she could still be playing big-hearted Mandy in 30 or 40 years’ time.
Lisa said: “I honestly still pinch myself that I get to play such an amazing character as Mandy. I can’t put into words how much I love it. I’ve just re-signed my contract and I have no plans to leave.
“I am really proud to play Mandy. She is starting to get iconic soap status and I love that. Many people have come in and out of soaps over the years so it does feel special to be a part of soap history.
“I was only coming back for four months and I’m still here nearly three years later so who knows? I may still be playing Mandy in 30 or 40 years.
“She has so many layers to her. It’s all down to the brilliant script writing.
“So long as they keep writing brilliant scripts for her I’ll stay.
“I’m really proud of the career I’ve had but I truly feel like I’ve played every role I have wanted to play.”
Like the rest of the country Lisa struggled coping with the Covid crisis.
But she said: “Sometimes I think wow, how did I cope through the pandemic? But it was down to working on Emmerdale.
“It was important to have work and a focus.
“I think the pandemic also really taught us what is really important in life and nothing is more important than your family.
“All my spare time revolves around my partner and my family now.
“The best thing about going back to Emmerdale is not only do I love the job to bits but it also brought me back to my family again. We relocated from London to Leeds and my life is much quieter and relaxed now and I love it.”
Lisa is engaged to an American musician called Al, 50.
They met seven years ago and got engaged in 2018. For nearly a year Lisa and her fellow stars have been unable to touch each other due to strict two-metre social distancing rules.
But she made up for lost time while filming hilarious fight scenes with her Emmerdale pal Nicola Wheeler, who plays the soap’s Nicola King.
Our exclusive pictures, above, capture the action. Revealing she couldn’t wait to get hands on, Lisa said: “We’ve filmed for nearly a year and not touched another actor.
“We’ve had to be socially distanced or we’ve used dummies. So when we could finally touch, we just went for it.
“It was one of the most fun days I’ve had filming. We were hitting each other with inflatable toys, having water fights, cake fights. We had stunt doubles but we wanted to bring out our inner Tom Cruise and do it ourselves.
“I actually picked up Nicola and started swinging her above my head.
“Producers were a bit nervous but I said if I can lift Robin Windsor up on Strictly, I can swing Nicola around.”
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The pair spent an exhausting 12 hours filming the fight scenes, which air this coming Friday.
Lisa added: “We really went for it and it felt like we’d actually be involved in a real fight.
“I got home and pulled my knickers down and there was cake in my knickers. I thought I’d cleaned myself but I had cake in my bra and in every orifice.
“I was shattered and had to soak in a salt bath for ages.
“The next day we could barely walk and my shoulder ached so much!”