Bernie - A Tribute - Denise Nolan - The Official Website

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My Second youngest sister, Bernie passed away on 4th July, 2013.
She was 52 years old, mother to Erin, aged 14, beloved and cherished wife of Steve Doneathy, adored daughter of the late Tommy and Maureen Nolan,  sister of Tommy, Anne, myself, Maureen, Brian, Linda and her younger sister Coleen, plus, countless nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews, cousins, and a beloved niece herself, especially of Aunty Teresa.
She had an incredible zest for life that never waned. From the time she entered a room till the time she left, you would remember her presence.
She was the smallest born in the family  and remained so throughout her life, but had the strongest personality to make up for it.
As a baby we were very close. I was her chief babysitter. She was like a little doll, and loved
everyone and they in turn loved her.
I thought she might have grown up to be a teacher as she liked nothing better then playing at being one. I would hear her each day in the bathroom telling her pupils off. Come to think of it, it's probably best, she, instead became an entertainer as I only ever heard her
giving lines and detention and even the cane to pupils in her imaginary school. They never seemed to be learning anything!!

If I had one reason to resent her as a child, it was when she was two, ( yes, I said two) , we both entered a talent competition. I was  11. I never got past the preliminary rounds, she won it!!! She was dressed in a trouser outfit and a bowler hat and sang 'Strollin'.  Word perfect and perfectly in tune!! Her prize was a gold watch. She was not impressed with this, however, and gave it to my Mum for 5 pence. Money for sweets was far more important to a two year old, than a watch!!!
As an adult, she did like a drink or two and at many a party I would try and creep off to bed totally done in and rather inebriated at about 4am, only to hear her voice telling me to get back and dont be such a party pooper. In fact, the only time I ever heard her sing badly was at a family karaoke after a few vodka's, it never seemed to matter, then.
She was an incredibly loyal friend and gained  many  friends over the years, and they in turn  remained loyal to her throughout her life. That is the measure of the person she was.
Her talent of course, is history. But, I do remember the one time I thought she had pushed it too far and would embarrass us all, was on Popstar to Operastar.  I was prepared to cringe as our Mother was a incredible soprano and when she was ill, it was I or Anne took over for her. I never knew Bernie possessed that voice. Should have known.!!
She never once did anything in showbiz that wasn't amazing and continued to make us all so proud in her chosen profession.

Two days before we lost her, the cast and musicians from the musical Chicago, the show she enjoyed touring with so much, turned up at her home in Weybridge, to surprise her, and came into the room singing Razzle Dazzle Em, and stayed to perform several songs for her. I said to her the next day, one thing you have to know, is how much you are loved.
Even in indescribable pain and discomfort, she could still make us laugh,  she would  crack jokes about how gorgeous and sexy she was, and still kept apologising, kept calling herself a dick whenever she made a text mistake or repeated herself. (WITH A BRAIN TUMOUR as well as her other cancers, VERY UNDERSTANDABLE!!!)
She never gave up and made plans for her own birthday in October. The words 'Never Say Die' were  written for her!!!

Now she has been taken from us. The tour de force that she was, has gone.  We can only keep our memories of her alive in watching her numerous TV shows and family videos and photos and  in her proudest achievement  her beloved daughter, Erin.
She always said, "No matter what happens I have had an amazing life" and her husband Steve must play the major part in that. he made her very happy. I have seen her suffering first hand and his incredible ministering to her needs in the past few months was inspirational. Although there will be times when he will think that he should have done more, - that is inevitable, and a part of the grieving process -  he has nothing to reproach himself with, she sang his praises every chance she got and he probably was instrumental in her hanging on as long as she did.

To Erin, how she loved you. She was a great Mother and the best way for you to thank her for that will be, for you to be the best person you can be. Make her and your Dad proud and that alone will  have made her life worthwhile.
If Bernie had ever questioned how successful her life had been and I'm sure she didn't,
There's  a quote in the classic  James Stewart film, A Wonderful Life. (A favourite of Bernie and Steve's) it says,
'No man, (or Woman in this case) is a failure, who has friends.'
As We've seen in the past few months, Bernie, you had no need to worry.

Bernadette Therese Nolan (17 October 1960 – 4 July 2013) Irish born actress, singer and television personality, formerly the lead vocalist of the girl group the Nolans. She was the second youngest of sisters Anne, Denise, Maureen, Linda and Coleen. From the age of two, she was brought up in Blackpool, Lancashire, England.
The family act were 'discovered' following an unscheduled cabaret spot at the Cliffs Hotel,  Blackpool on Christmas Day 1973. The hotel's owner, business-man, Joe Lewis offered the family act a residency at his newly opened London Room night-spot on Drury Lane, London. The venue's parent company, Hanover Grand would provide manegement and a handsome salary.  The Sisters in particular were keen to make the move to London after a decade of touring the UK's Working Men's Club circuit.
One of Hanover Grand's first decisions upon re-locating to London was to urge parents, Tommy and Maureen to step back from an active role in performing with the family. The Nolan Sisters became the headline act, but not before having their stage act honed to near perfection. Hanover Grand recruited Robert Earl to manage the group.  His wife, Daphne, would go on to help style the Sisters stage wear. This was not without incident. Bernie said;
'i think they wanted us to be like the next generation Beverley Sisters. They wanted us to wear the same clothes as each other, not only on stage, but off-stage as well! Daphne took us to Oxford Street and started pickiing out all the latest Jaegar dresses, that would have suited her, and she was a lot older than all of us. I just said - I hate it, all my friends will laugh at me if I wear that - and she snapped back - We'll have no Sandra Bernhardts from you dear, so I had no choice.'
Stewart Morris, was at the time, the head of Light Entertainment at the BBC. He was brought on board to produce both the show and the Nolan Sisters. He rejected old fashioned Andrews Sisters medleys and replaced them with contemporary tunes such as the Four Tops 'Reach Out, I'll Be There' and Philidelphia Sound medleys. To give the group a modern sound, Morris employed two world class musical arrangers, John Coleman and Alyn Ainsworth. Both men had years of experience at the BBC and had vast credits on movie scores. Both had also conducted the orchestra for UK entries in the Eurovision Song Contest. To enable the group to present this new sound, celebrated choreographer Nigel Lythgoe was recruited. He skillfully created routines that looked impressive on stage. Microphone cheroegraphy was aslo worked on, enabling the girls to pass microphones to each other and dance complex moves without tangling the wires up! Finally, costumes were made by an Irish tailoress in east London. Maureen says;
'We were taken to this unassuming address and a really tiny woman opened the door. She measured us and within a week we had the outfits. I have to say, that whilst she may not have looked like a designer, the outfits she made us fitted like no other outfits we have ever worn. We loved her clothes.'
The group opened their show  in mid 1974, where they would perform six nights a week. Bernie was just fourteen years old and legally restricted from performing nightly until she was sixteen. Officially, she would just work on two nights a week, Linda was not sixteen until the following February and she too was officially to work just two nights. The two young Sisters would alternate their nights to ensure that the line up would have at least four members on stage each night. Bernie said;
'That was the official rule. Back then, there were no checks to see which of us went on stage. I was attending school during the day and going on stage at night. I know for a fact that I worked more than I was legally entitled to. I didn't care, I wanted to be on stage, I did not want to be at school.'
Within a few months of their show opening, Stewart Morris brought along Cliff Richard to see the show. Morris was producing a new series of 'It's Cliff' for the BBC. He had suggested that the Nolan Sisters would be suitable for the show. Cliff was won over by their performance resulting in the girls being picked to appear in all six episodes of the upcoming series. This would see the girls commute to the BBC rehearsal studio each day. After a full day of rehearsal, they would then head to central London to appear on stage in their own show. Recording for 'It's CLiff' would take place before a live studio audience at BBC TV Centre on Fridays, beofre being transmitted on Saturday night. Linda says;
'Bernie and me were still at school, and to conform to the rules, they brought in a tutor. It was not at all like being at school. They would set us some work and we would do it in-between takes. It wasn't even proper school work. No one seemed to mark it or check it. I am not saying we are thick, but we had very little formal high school education.'
It's Cliff was viewed by an audience of seventeen million. Overnight, the unkowns from Dublin, via Blackpool, became household names. Within a very short time, they were invited onto other well known TV series as special guests. HArry Seacombe and Vera Lynn featured them as did the Basil Brush show.
The Nolan Sisters were not complete novices to the recording studio, having recorded a single for Blackpool Football club, with a new song on the B Side. They had also recorded a Christmas EP and a lone album called 'The singing Nolans' These records were independently released on Nevis records and only sold in the hundreds. Most of them at the clubs that the family appeared in.
Hanover Grand  had ambitions to make the Nolan Sisters chart stars. They recorded a single to co-incide with their appearance on 'It's Cliff' both sides of which were performed on the series. 'But I Do' and 'Now I'm Stuck On You' was released on EMI records, but failed to chart. Seven other singles were recorded and none of them made the regular chart. In 2023 it was revealed that several of them had sold enough copies to have earned a chart place. The charts were made up from a panel of record shops that was supposed to mirror sales of all UK record shops. This was far from the actual sales.  A subidiary label of Warner Brothers, Target Records released the Nolan Sisters singles. One former executive said;
'It was frustrating all right. We knew for a fact that the singles were selling well. We wouldn't have kept releasing records if they weren't selling. Records that don't sell don't make money - The Nolans singles were selling roughly fifty thousand copies generally. We found an unpublished chart that put 'When You Are A King' at number fifteen in the charts - if it went by actual sales! It really got under our skin that we couldn't get the message out, nor had we any way of getting people to buy the singles from the shops that made up the chart panel. One single, 'Love Bandit' did make it into the mid-week chart. Then it fell outside the top fifty, on the publish date. We know that that single had made the top twenty in sales. The girls were always disappointed. Many years later it was reported that all these singles were flops. They weren't! In fact one record that was a B side in the UK was sent to the USA as a demo single in its own right. Does anyone think that record companies do that if they aren't making money from a single. It's just a big shame that the full story wasn't told.'
The Nolan Sisters' TV fame brought opportunities to appear in concert and cabaret venues throughout the UK. In 1975 they undertook a concert tour of Scotland. Stewart Morris also had a hand in helpin choose which act would accompany Frank Sinatra on an up-coming tour of Europe. The shortlist of three acts was sent to Sinatra's people, who in-turn selected the Nolan Sisters.
Sinatra was impressed with them and commented after the opening night 'The girls sound good'. Sinatra offered the sisters the use of his own orchestra to accompany their numbers, and insisted that they travel in a limosinerather than the band bus. The tour remained the highlight of Bernie's career.
In 1976 the Nolan Sisters toured South Africa for six weeks with Rolf Harris, Stu Francis and Ray Charles. Further live shows combined with TV appearances followed, including The Marti Caine Show, Seaside Special, Wednesday at Eight, Night At The Casino, Morecambe and Wise, Little and Large, The Les Dawson Show, The Tommy Cooper Show, and the entire series of Vince Hill's Musical Time Machine. The girls toured the UK extensively and appeared in the USA with Engelbert Humperdinck and Italy with Tommy Cooper. Several corporate cabaret appearances took them all over Europe in theatres, hotels and cruise ships. In 1977 the act completed a sell out Summer Season show in Eastbourne with Ronnie Corbett and Janet Brown. The end of the year saw the act star in the entire series of top rating show 'The Two Ronnies' with an audience of more than twenty million.
Target Records had completed market research into the public's musical tastes. They asked the general public to list their favourite songs of the last few years and which artist they would like to perform them. Selecting a sample of people from a chosen age bracket. The results showed that the Nolan Sisters were an ideal choice. Those songs, and some chosen by the Nolan Sisters themselves were recorded in an intense recording session that lasted a week. The sisters worked exceptionally long hours to bring to life the twnety songs on the album. Each sister would be featured as a lead vocalist on several numbers. Bernie would sing lead on 'Isn't She Lovely' and 'Reach Out I'll Be There' and sing the melody on others. The album was heavily marketed, with a TV commercial and point of sale promotional material. The record stormed the charts, reaching as high as number three. Denise had decided to leave the act before its release, but agreed to take part in any promotional campaigns. Denise's departure was a great loss to the group, Bernie and Denise regularly sand melody, and so greater emphasis would be placed upon Bernie from now on.
The Hanover Grand contract was for ten years with a re-negotiation option after five years. The success of '20 Giant Hits' meant that the group were the toast of both Target Records and Hanover Grand. The Nolan Sisters original contract contract saw them with a salary, with no index link pay increases. This meant that any Royalties the record made, would not be due to the group. Nor, for that matter, would any fees from the many TV shows and concerts. The family delt that they had built up a significant reputation to branch out on their own, without Hanover Grand. The re-negotiation was several months away, and then there would be five more years after that. It was decided that the group should break away from Hanover Grand. This was not without financial penalty. The family would have to pay to get out of their existing contract. Although the settlement virtually wiped out any funds the family had, it would mean that they would be free to earn proper fees and royalties. 1978 was rounded off with an appearance at that year's Royal Variety Performance.
The girls' father, Tommy, was now acting as their manager and steered them through record company negotiations. Several labels had expressed an interest in signing them, iultimately, the ounnt's largest label, Epic Records were victorious. Epic were part of the giant CBS corporation. The group were also chosen by Epic to enter the preliminary heat for the UK in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest. The Sisters recorded the number 'Harry My Honolulu Lover' as their entry. The single was rush released, along with a promotional video that didn't see the light of day until 2023. The song was favourite to win the contest and represent the United Kingdom, when disaster struck. A backstage fight amongst technicians resulted in one of them being dismissed. This angered the Trade Union who promptly went on strike on the eve of the contest at the Royal Albert Hall.  The regional juries who had the votes would not see the performances of any of the acts. When the votes were counted, The Nolan Sisters had been placed in fourh position. The girls were devastated, as they had worked so hard on the song. The Derek Block Agency was chosen to represent the Nolans who had secured an eight week summer season in Cleethorpes. This would be the first time that the act would headline such a show. Epic records were anxious for girls to complete the redording of their debut Epic album. Travelling to a recording studio was impssible with their live show commitments, and so, record producer Ben Findon found a solution. He acquired two mobile recording studios and set them up outside the house that the family had rented for the Cleethorpes season.  Ben Findon had listened to all of the Sisters voices and quickly decided that Bernie had the voice that was most suited to pop music. The very next day after the show's last performance, they began rehearsals for the entire series of 'The Mike Yarwood Show'.
The second Epic single to be released was 'Spirit Body and Soul'. The song entered the charts and enabled the group to realise another ambition, that of appearing on 'Top Of The Pops'. The single had achieved moderate success, reaching number 34. It was felt by many that had it been released after it's follow up single, that it would have fared better. That follow-up would go on to become the group's signature tune and sell millions of copies around the world[ 'I'm In The Mood For Dancing' was released in December 1979 and early in 1980 it had reached number three in the charts and number one in Japan.
Nolan mania in Japan was to become something of an unexpected phenomenon. 'I'm In The Mood For Dancing' became the first single in more than a decade to top both the domestic and international charts in Japan. The song is still in the top ten  selling singles of all time in the country. The Nolans, as they were now called, went on to sell twelve million records in Japan - more than the Beatles! The Album, 'The Nolan Sisters' was a big seller world-wide, in Japan it was simply called 'Dancing Sisters'
1980 would see them head to Japan for a promotional tour, before returning to the UK to record a second album and to take part in 20 week summer show in Blackpool. Not beofre promoting the next single 'Don't Make Waves'.
The heavy schedule of live shows left little time for promoting the next single 'Gotta Pull Myself Together' or to record vocals for the second Epic album. The promotional video for 'Gotta Pull Myself Together' was filmed in Blackpool and most of the vocals for the album, 'Making Waves'were recorded in Manchester.
1981 saw a major UK tour, their first full tour as the headline act. They were able to tour Japan, Australia, New Zealand as well as make appearances on TV shows all over Europe. It was in Japan that the Nolans took part in the Tokyo Music festival. representing the UK with their song 'Sexy Music' The song won the grand prize, the first time a none American act had ever won the contest. The single was a smash hit in Japan.
'Making Waves' was also a huge success, staying in the chart for almost the whole year.  Another single from the album 'Who's Gonna Rock You' was released which was another chart smash. A second UK tour took place. In May 1981 the final single from Making Waves was released, the top ten smash 'Attention To Me'
The group was at the height of its success by now, in constant demand for TV, live shows and overseas appearances. The BBC commisioned them to record two live specials which were filmed at the New London theatre, Ironically the venue was directly above the London Room! A pre-taster for the upcoming next album was released in 1981 'Chemistry' was a huge hit.
1982 saw the group release the gold ranking next album released 'Portait' made the top ten on the week of its release. The first single; 'Don't Love Me Too Hard' was released to co-incide with the broadcast of two more TV specials recorded for the BBC. A further single 'Crashing Down' was also released.
The end of the year saw a new single 'Dragonfly' released and a greatest hits collection 'Altogether' A tour would promote the album. In 1983 the Nolans, now back to a five piece released 'Dressed to Kill' as the final Eppic single.
After parting from CBS, Linda left the group. By now the act was concentrating on live work. Touring the UK extensively for two years, before entering the studios once more to record the party album 'Girl Just Wanna Have Fun' which charted in December 1984. A single, 'Goodby, Nothin' To Say' was aslo released.
Bernie began to appear in Pantomime and the group once again began to star in Summer Season productions. In 1986 an album of standards was released called 'Tenderly' a collection that is regarded by many fans as their greatest work. A single was also released 'Let's Spend The Night Together'.
The Nolans completed a stadium tour of the Soviet Union where they were seen by a quarter of a million people in Soviet States of Estonia, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Ukraine, and Russia. The tour was an exchange project arranged by the UK Government. Bernie made her presenting debut in 1982 when she was a team leader on Cheggars Plays Pop. But it was in 1988 that she was given a major role as joint lead presented on the BBC TV's Saturday morning flag ship programme 'On The Waterfront' a role she undertook for two seasons.
In 1989 'I'm In The Mood For Dancing' was re-released after the girls recorded a brand new version. This time, the track was given a Stock Aitken and Waterman sound. The song entered the charts sadly the distribution company went bankrupt and the song never made up for lost time.
Bernie began to become disillusioned with the groups lack of recording and chart success. She also was unhappy at some of the smaller venues and night-clubs that the group were perfoming in. She was most unhappy that the group had begun to sing to pre-recorded backing tracks. She made the decision to leave, following the 1994 Summer Season at Blackpool. In 1990 the group were signed to Universal Panasonic with a six album deal for the Japanese only market. Following on from the success of these albums, several more were issued as compilation albums and re-release of older albums. 1991, they won the Planning award (企画賞, Kikaku-shō) of the 33rd Japan Record Awards for Cover version of Japanese pops. The same year they won the Japanese Grammy for 'Best Concept Album By A Foreign Recording Artist'
Whilst still a member of the group, in 1993 Bernie starred in the stage play;The Devil Rides Out.

Bernie left the group in 1995. She was offered a starring role in the UK tour of 'Billy Liar'  alongside Jason Donovan. The part was cancelled after Donovan had to withdraw following a drugs crisis. Over the next couple of years Bernie toured with semi professional theatre companies in shows such as 'Godspell' and 'The Sound Of Music'. Bernie was cast in the seventies revival musical 'Oh What A Night' alongside Kid Creole at the Opera House Blackpool. During that run, she appeared after curtain down in her own late night cabaret six nights a week at the Stakis Hotel in the town.
In 1999 Bernie successfully auditioned for the starrring role of Mrs. Johnstone in Willy Russell's Blood Brothers a show she toured with for two years. She was the first of four Nolan  sisters to have played the role, being followed by Denise, Linda and  then Maureen. For this, the sisters earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most siblings to play the same role at different times in a professional production. Whilst in Blood Brothers, Bernie was spotted by Brookside producer, Paul Marquess. After a screen test, In 2000, Bernie joined the cast of Brookside as Diane Murray. It was during this time that Bernie recorded a song that was to enter the UK heat in the Eurovision Song Contest. The song reached the final selection. Bernie was refused permission to take time out from her Brookside role to appear in the Eurovision Song Contest had she been successful. Her song was then sung by another performer who was ultimately selected as the UK entry. The song went on to secure the best UK result in 15 years and the record has still not been beaten. She left in 2002 to play Sheelagh Murphy in ITV's police drama series The Bill, which she starred in until 2005. Bernie also took part in Channel 4's 'The Games' a reality show where celebrities took part in Olympic style games. As the eldest competitor, it was no surprise that Bernie came last. However, it later transpired that the scored had been incorrect and she moved up one place in the leader-board.
After leaving The Bill, Bernie completed a season at Blackpool Opera House in 'Soap Stars' where she shared the bill with Debra Stephenson. Other musical credits include playing Mum's The Word, Hannah Owens in Flashdance: The Musical  and Mama Morton in Chicago. In 2009, four of the Nolan sisters, Bernie, Coleen, Linda and  Maureen, reformed for a successful 23 date tour of the UK and Ireland.  To coincide with the tour, they released an album, I'm in the Mood Again, which reached No.22 in the UK Album Charts.

Bernie was a regular contributor to the Wright Stuff and Loose Women, she made many appearances on the chat show circuit including Alan Titchmarsh Show, Richard And Judy, This Morning, The One Show, Des & Mel and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. She was runner up in the hit show Stars in Their Eyes where she sang 'Not That Kind Of Girl' as Anastasia.

Bernie  released the single Macushla in 2004 with the proceeds going to charity. It peaked at No. 38 in the UK Singles Chart in March 2004. Regarding this release, Lorraine Kelly  wrote: "I wouldn't have expected anything else from one of the hardest  working women in showbiz". In 2005 she released her debut solo album All By Myself.  The album consists mainly of power ballads, including the song "Better  Place", written by her husband in memory of their daughter, Kate,  who was stillborn  in 1998. Bernie Nolan married drummer Steve Doneathy in 1996, in Lancashire. The couple lived in St Anne's on Sea, Lancashire, and then in Surrey. She had a daughter, Kate, who was stillborn in 1998 and another daughter, Erin in 1999.

It was revealed on 23 April 2010 that Bernie was suffering from breast cancer. In October 2010, she stated that she was cancer-free after having undergone chemotherapy and a mastectomy, and was taking herceptin. In February 2012, she announced that she was no longer taking cancer treatment drugs, and was completely free of cancer. At the end of October 2012, Bernie announced that the cancer had returned and had metastasised to her brain, lungs, liver and bones.
Bernie died in her sleep, at her home in Surrey, on 4 July 2013, aged just 52. Her funeral service was held on 17 July 2013 at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool and she was later cremated at Carleton Crematorium. Her ashes were then buried alongside those of her stillborn daughter.
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