Interview: Loose Women star talks about her childhood trauma
Chatty blonde actress Lisa Maxwell has spent her life entertaining, cracking jokes and making people laugh.
Yet that need to be liked is borne out of the constant shame she felt about being illegitimate, a person whose family’s ‘dirty secret’ weighed down on the talented star from her youth.
Now 47, the actress who starred as the resilient DI Samantha Nixon in The Bill and is a regular on ITV1’s Loose Women, reflects that so many of her problems have been caused by the words ‘Father Unknown’ bore on her birth certificate.
Maxwell’s mother Val was just 22 when she became pregnant by John Murphy, a married man whose wife was also pregnant at the time. He chose to stay with his wife while Val returned to her parents’ home, and the young Lisa was raised by the three of them on a housing estate in London’s Elephant & Castle.
She said: “I don’t know if I can attribute everything that’s been painful to not having a father, but for most of my life, the core essence of my personality has been wanting people to like me. I needed reassurance that I was somebody worth knowing.
“Parents are your foundation and because part of that was missing, I was slightly off balance in terms of security. I worked hard to make myself popular.”
A born entertainer, Maxwell went to the Italia Conti stage school, where her peers included Bonnie Langford and the late Lena Zavaroni.
By the age of 11 she had her first on-screen role and before long was starring in musicals, presenting children’s TV and appearing on comedy shows, including The Les Dennis Laughter Show and Russ Abbot’s Madhouse.
Later in her career, she spent three years in Los Angeles, contracted to Paramount and narrowly missing a part in the hit comedy show Frasier, but when the work didn’t come, she turned to the bottle and became bulimic.
“It was all to do with a lack of confidence. I didn’t really feel loved and bulimia was a way of taking back control of my life.”
Her personal and professional ups and downs are detailed in her autobiography Not That Kinda Girl, but the shame at not having a father around, and the whispers and half-truths from her mother, who didn’t explain properly what had happened, all added to her turmoil.
“There was a gaping hole manifesting itself in different ways,” she continues. “It impacted on my life in a massive way.
“That’s not to say I’m blaming anyone for it, because that’s a futile thing to do.”
For years, she chose not to track down her father, scared of opening up a can of worms and upsetting her mother.
“I always thought I might find him but never really had that extra push I needed to do something about it, until my daughter Beau asked why she didn’t have any grandads. I explained that my partner Paul’s father passed away, which was easy for her to take in. What she couldn’t understand was that I had a dad who wasn’t dead - and I’d never met him. It forced me to ask myself why.”
Going on what scant details she had - she knew his name was Murphy and that he was in the print trade - she managed to find him online quickly but didn’t do anything for three years.
Then she watched the Who Do You Think You Are? programme featuring the actress Kim Cattrall and was so moved by it, she decided to find him and drove to the address they’d found on the internet.
“It all seemed like a bit of fun, a bit of private detective work. We planned to park outside the house and then when he came out, we’d see what he looked like.
“As it turned out, he lived down an alleyway. I parked nearby and Paul went off to find the house and spoke to him. All he had when he came out was a photograph of this man who is my father. I felt so complete and so happy that he was a nice man, gleaned from Paul’s one meeting with him.”
Two weeks later, Maxwell met her father for the first time in a hotel near his home.
“I couldn’t get over how much I look like him and I completely lost my voice. Forty-five years of questions, and I had no voice. It was a shock. He was very nice. But I went into Q and A mode and didn’t allow myself any opportunity to be vulnerable or get hurt.
“There’s no point in me being angry or judgmental towards the way he chose to live his life. The one thing I think would ruin me was if I harboured some kind of resentment for this man. He’s only just come into my life.
“He’s been very nice and respectful of my wishes. Every time I see him I like him more and more. We’ve seen each other three times and spoken on the phone quite a lot.”
She has three half-brothers and sisters but is not sure she wants to meet them.
“There’s a good relationship with my father but it’s not intense. We don’t speak or see each other all the time. The ball’s in my court.”
Her partner, sculptor Paul Jessup, has been fantastic throughout and has created the stability she yearned for. They live with their daughter Beau, 11, in a Grade 2 listed 17th century house, set in seven acres in the Cotswolds.
“I’m very different from the person I was in LA,” Maxwell reflects. “I’m less hard on myself, I feel secure in the fact that people I love feel the same way about me and I don’t validate myself though work, which I’d always done. It’s a dangerous game to play, particularly in the industry I’m in, where the chances are you’re going to be out of work some of the time.
“I now validate myself through the things which are important, like being a good mum and a good partner, being a good daughter to my mum.”
She says she’s just turned down a two-year contract on a top soap (she won’t say which one) because she doesn’t want to be away from her home and family.
“I love doing Loose Women because it enables me to be a mum, partner and working girl. My priorities are different now.”
:: Not That Kinda Girl by Lisa Maxwell is published by HarperCollins, priced £16.99. Available now