After almost 50 years on TV, Emmerdale is still one of the best and most popular soaps in the UK.

We caught up with Lisa Riley, who plays Mandy Dingle on the show, about how she first got started in 1995 and her return in 2019.

Tell us about when you joined Emmerdale and what it is like being back on our screens as Mandy Dingle?

I started playing the fun-loving Mandy Dingle in 1995, leaving the show in 2001 after my character was cheating on her husband Paddy, before returning again in 2019.

I never thought I’d come back. I was doing a Q&A session with Craig Revel Horwood and one person in the crowd said, “Lisa, why wouldn’t you go back to Emmerdale?” I realised no one has ever asked me that before and I asked myself the same question. I was genuinely curious about her and what Mandy had been up to since she left the show to live in Southampton. It’s funny – you always see one of the characters in the show going off to have a holiday with Mandy in Southampton.

When you’re at drama school, you always want to work with different directors and play different parts and I wanted to do that. I have worked on so many shows including Waterloo Road and Fat Friends. However, the writers at Emmerdale always wrote for me and my character was always very popular – I’d regularly experience in public people singing to me Barry Manilow’s song ‘Mandy’.

I never wanted to be famous, I wanted to work with great directors and enjoy my acting, but I didn’t want to necessarily be known off-screen. After seven years on the show, I needed some time out to get back to being me. I was also working from 7am to 7pm and spending more time being Mandy than Lisa!

Were you apprehensive going back to the show?

It’s so different on set now. Now that I have matured, it’s very different – I go home to my other half and learn my lines. I’ve had a lot of experience now so I knew it would be different this time.

There’s lots in store and it’s already fun and very colourful. I’ve made myself right back at home in the Dingle household, I hope you’re enjoying her being back.

What was Strictly Come Dancing like?

I was partnered with the wonderful Robin Windsor and we managed to reach the semi-final of the show, which I never imagined would happen.

Mandy Dingle has always proved people wrong and I wanted to do the same when I joined Strictly Come Dancing. Everyone thought I was going to be the funny one and do what Ann Widdecombe did a couple of years before, but then Craig Revel Horwood admitted I could actually dance, and I was thrilled!

People thought I would be awful and then, the next thing you know, I’m doing the splits at Wembley! It is a really important lesson: never presume. I opened at Wembley Arena with Robin and he actually pinched me while we were standing in front of the cheering crowds as it was such a ‘pinch me’ moment. I learnt not to be the person I believed everyone thought I should be, but who I really am.

Did you enjoy the Strictly outfits and make-up?

Oh my god, I had the hair and make-up team fighting over me every week as I would always let them do whatever they wanted – ‘the bigger, the better’ I say! They used to fight to get me! You know, some people go “I’ve got this idea” or “I’d like it to be like this”, but I gave them free reign and, sometimes, the bigger, the better!

What was it like being in Fat Friends and with so many famous faces including your co-star James Corden?

It was an amazing show with Alison Steadman, Ruth Jones, Janet Dibley, Gaynor Faye, Kathryn Hunt, and James Corden.

My character was shy and retiring – the twenty-something Rebecca was far removed from Emmerdale’s loud and proud Mandy Dingle. She lived at home with her parents and was the assistant manager at a local garden centre. I was anxious to play other characters from the one that made me. I loved playing Mandy, but I waited and waited for a new role and this came up. When Kay Mellor asked me to come and read for the role, I jumped through hoops to make sure I got it.

You have become very healthy over the past few years – tell us about that…

In 2016, something snapped, and I decided I wanted to overhaul my diet and lifestyle for the sake of my health. I ditched the booze and the fatty foods and instead ate a healthy balanced diet and worked out whenever I could. I managed to shed 12 stone. It was half my body weight. I am now a size 14, down from a size 30.

I did it through good old-fashioned willpower, driven by me finally wanting to buy nice clothes and underwear. There have been a few ‘pinch me’ moments, where I still can’t believe my new look. I’m still in denial when I go in a shop and pick up a size 14. But there was a day at the BAFTAs when I looked in the mirror – I was in floods of tears because I couldn’t believe it was me. As long as you’re genuinely happy within your skin, just be yourself. Whatever my dress size, I will still be me. Losing weight was always about health over vanity.

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