Sue Johnston on her 'terrific' life

Sue Johnston on her 'terrific' life
Sue Johnston on her 'terrific' life (Image credit: Justin Canning)

The Royle Family star tells What's On TV about her role in BBC One drama A Passionate Woman and recalls her wild student days in the 1960s... What attracted you to the part of Betty in A Passionate Woman? "Well to be honest there aren't many roles for woman my age! I knew the writer, Kay Mellor, from Brookside and she wanted me to do it. It was lovely not to have to audition for a part." You play the older version of Billie Piper's character, seen in episode one - how has she changed since we found her in the 1950s? "She had this one passionate love affair and has never been able to get rid of it in her head. She had a son and lived her life through her son and that's what brought her happiness. The crisis comes when she discovers he's going to Australia with his new wife. She has a mini breakdown and that's why she ends up on the roof of her house." Can you relate to that strong maternal bond? "I think every parent has to let go in the end. When I left home and went to London for drama school I felt terrible, so awful. You have to let go - you set your children free. It was hard for my mother ' she did everything for me and she loved me. She was very depressed for a long time. I was an only child, but I did have a large extended family with cousins. They all stayed at home and had kids and married and there was me in London doing god knows what! I'm glad I did though - I have had a terrific life. There was something in me that knew I had to do that. Being a student in London in the Sixties must�ve been exciting... "It was an extraordinary time � very exciting being a teenager in the sixties, it was fantastic. I was first in Liverpool in the middle of all The Beatles and all that and then I came to London when that whole music revolution [was happening]. It was great timing. People were so shocked to see us in my mini-skirts. I went back up north for a wedding and my mother made me let the seam on my skirt down because it was above the knee!" Did you mum know what you were getting up to? "They put me in an all-girls hostel in Earl�s Court where boys weren�t allowed across the threshold, they thought that was a great idea. It lasted six weeks! Then I moved to a mixed flat in Notting Hill with other actors. I used to take male friends home and they�d make us all sleep in separate rooms. She loved all the characters I�d take home � my gay friends and girlfriends. I had a great time!" As the older version of Billie in this drama � do you think there are any similarities? "We both have brown hair in it! That�s about it. She�s got a much nicer nose � maybe Betty broke her nose at some point! People change in their lives. I see photos of myself when I was younger at 18 or 19 and you�d never know it was me. And your personality changes so much too." If you met your 25-year-old self, what advice would you give her? "I would say keep at it, it will be OK and then I�d give her a big list of people to steer clear of. Not people from the acting business � people from my personal life! But then I wouldn�t be sat here today. The choices you make bring you to a certain point and then I wouldn�t have had my son so, yes, perhaps just to be careful in the choices you make!" What�s coming up next for you? Is there any more Royle Family planned? "I�m doing more Waking The Dead again next year. There�s no news on Royle Family � we�ll have to see what Caroline Aherne says."

Patrick McLennan

Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix. 

An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.