The interview: Crissy Rock

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Award-winning actress, stand-up and best-selling author Crissy Rock returns to her native North West this month, but not before overcoming ‘hands-free’ sat nav dilemmas while talking with MALCOLM WYATT

Crissy Rock is in a Teeside tailback, having forgotten our 11am phone date but going ahead anyway while inching slowly along amid A19 traffic gridlock.

‘Hands-free’ communication and backup satellite navigation saves the day, and she’s not complaining anyway , showing more concern for the driver cut out of his over-turned tanker by fire crews and flown to hospital by air ambulance.

“Think of the poor driver. It could be any of us. I’m just hoping he’s alright.”

Based in the North East a couple of years, Crissy’s strong Liverpudlian accent has survived, her croaky tones suggesting a busy social life over the years.

Our reason for this barely-mobile phone chat was her role in Dirty Dusting, ‘an evening of pure theatrical Viagra’ apparently.

‘I’m in the wrong lane! But not to worry, all roads lead home...’

“It’s brilliant! We’re really excited to be on tour again. When we first went out it was like, ‘Is anybody ready for this?’ but it’s just gone from strength to strength.

“This is our second year and we all get on. There are no prima donnas. When it’s our last night we’re so upset. We do everything together, including our days off.”

Crissy – real name Christine Murray - brings Dirty Dusting to Oswaldtwistle Civic on Saturday, April 18, then Blackpool Grand on Sunday, April 26.

“It’ll be fun. I hope it really does well there. I’ve done the Grand as a comic but never as an actress.”

Does that put extra pressure on the 56-year-old, whose break came as Maggie Conlan in legendary British director Ken Loach’s 1994 film Ladybird, Ladybird?

“No! And we never take for granted a good night the night before. You always have to give the same 100 per cent performance. We don’t get lazy.”

Crissy is perhaps best known as Janey York in Benidorm, a role she played for four years from 2007, returning briefly in the fifth series then again in the seventh, replacing Sherrie Hewson as the Solona manager.

She also survived I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here in 2011, finishing sixth in the series won by McFly’s Dougie Poynter.

Then there was Celebrity Come Dine With Me, ITV quiz The Chase, roles in Peak Practice, Dalziel and Pascoe, Dockers, Brookside, Trial and Retribution and The Commander, and the stand-up.

But now her priority is Dirty Dusting, building on a sell-out UK tour in 2014, the story centred around three ‘past their sell-by date’ cleaning ladies who start a phone sex line. ‘Telephone Belles’ Gladys, Elsie and Olive – about to be put out to pasture by an overzealous office manager – working to boost their falling income.

Described as a heart-warming feelgood comedy, it’s directed by Crissy’s co-star and fellow comic and actress Leah Bell, the pair appearing alongside stage and TV actress Dolores Porretta Brown.

The Lancashire dates are their first of 2015, so has Crissy been in southern Spain with the cast of Benidorm, filming the eighth series of the popular comedy drama?

“I was out there for a couple of weeks, but only for a break. I haven’t been involved with the latest series. It was really nice to go back, but I haven’t been invited since.

“It’s nothing personal. Paul (Bazely)’s only just gone back after being out of it for five years, and I’m thrilled for him. You’ve got to take what’s there, and never say never.

“I can’t thank (production company) Tiger Aspects enough. They brought the phoenix out of the ashes for me. But we’ll just have to see what comes along.”

Has Crissy worked with Leah Bell before?

“No, but we’re like best mates now, and did All Star Family Fortunes with us.”

On that occasion of the Vernon Kay-led quiz show, the Rock family won £10,000 for the Families Fighting for Justice cause.

“I’ve been involved a couple of years. It’s about families involved with homicides.

“For me the sad part is that the body doesn’t belong to the family, but the coroner. A lot don’t get chance to say goodbye. By the time they get the body back, it’s a closed casket.

“There are nearly 500 families in Liverpool alone orphaned to homicide, sometimes with grandparents bringing them up while struggling with the loss of a son or daughter.”

Crissy is also a prime mover in the Just the Tonic charity project for a dry bar in Whitley Bay.

“It’s not just for alcoholics. It’s for people with problems in the family unit, depression and mental health issues, and who might have been abused as a child.

“It’s what’s going on behind the scenes of the café that’s more to the point. I’ve been finding a room and can’t afford to pay for it myself…”

At this point, the traffic starts moving, Crissy unsure where the diversion is taking her.

“I’ll just follow this lot and see where… Oh no, we’re going the wrong way back up the A19!”

We’re soon back on track though, Crissy carrying on where we left off.

“Someone complained the other day there was no vodka or whisky. I said, ‘It’s a dry bar! You’re not gonna give an amputee a pair of shoes, are you?’ We were all laughing, but I hadn’t meant it to come out like that.”

That’s Crissy in a nutshell – down-to-earth edgy, capable of borderline quips, but well meaning. Before we can be accused of offending anyone, I get back to Dirty Dusting and mention Dolores Porretta Brown.

“Dolores is lovely, a fabulous actress. We went to see her in a play and she absolutely stole the show. She’s dead funny as well, and talks terribly far back.”

Crissy does her version of a posh accent, but is betrayed by unmistakable Scouse tones and is soon distracted again by continuing travel conundrums.

“Oh no, it’s taking me on the A1! I’ve got to go round this roundabout and… I’m in the wrong lane! But not to worry, all roads lead home.”

I’m not too sure that all roads lead to Doncaster though.

“I’ll probably get there and it’ll be shut!”

What does Dirty Dusting’s male cast member, Lee Brannigan, have to put up with these three mad women?

“He’s lovely, and all excited because we both like bingo! If he’s got a night off, he’ll go to the bingo.”

Do you think there’s the chance of a film version further down the road?

“I’d love that! It would be so funny. We heard Bill Kenwright’s coming to see it. It’s only a whisper, but it’ll be great if he does.

“This can really travel. The fella who wrote it has been brilliant. Leah and me have updated it, on the same wavelength but putting our own twist on it.”

Is she saying they need to be script supervisors if a film comes off?

“Yes! And we’re writing another play between us, about a café, called One Lump or Two. It’s 90 per cent finished.”

What does Crissy see herself as first and foremost – actor, stand-up comic or best-selling author?

“The book’s sold a lot but it’s not brought me much. Everyone thinks I must be minted but it’s never happened like that.

“You have to write for the joy of writing. You’re supposed to get around £1 a book, but by the time everything is taken off, I think I get around 7p a book.

“If it’s helped just one person it’s been worth it. And it helped me get it off my chest.”

This Heart Within Me Burns, published in 2011, chronicles the ups and downs of a troubled life, from childhood abuse to violent relationships, bankruptcy and homelessness.

After seven months in The Sunday Times top 10 bestsellers, a paperback was published in 2012 after 35,000 sales. Crissy became a regular on ITV’s This Morning discussing the book and its issues. Does she get lots of feedback from fans inspired by her story?

“I’m going to write a follow-up, based on all the comments I’ve had. I went to a club the other night and got this lovely card off a lady saying, ‘Thank you, I read your book, I’ve had a life like yours. It’s helped me see things from a different angle’.

“Forgiveness is worth its weight in gold. You don’t have to forget, but if I forgive him, I forgive me. Carrying hatred and bitterness is no good.

“You can’t change what’s happened, but can change your future. Everything’s for a reason and you either come out a better person or can’t cope. I could have turned to drink and drugs.

“This lady came to me, an absolute nervous wreck, and told me she was in a very abusive relationship. She said, ‘But then you smashed the table’.

“All those years before, the only thing I had left that he still wanted was his table, so I put a hammer through it.

“I paid someone £10 for that table, a lot of money to me then, paid off at £2 a week. It wasn’t the best table in the world, but I liked it… and it was mine.

“He wanted it and I had nowhere to take it anyway. I opened a cupboard, found a hammer and put it right through it.

“This woman told me she felt if I could lose my table, she could lose her abuse. That made me think about what might have happened if I’d have stayed.

“What would I be like now? It brought it all back to me. I felt so sorry for her.

“Another lady came to me who was in a very controlling relationship. In that situation they break you down until you can’t think without them and become like a robot.

“She told me she left in the end and now owns two funeral parlours. Left him, got a job, did courses and in the end bit the bullet and set her own business up.”

Crissy’s key table-smashing moment came in her early 20s, and within a few years she was ‘back on track’ and had embarked on her acting career.

Her role in Ladybird, Ladybird, won her the Silver Bear best actress award at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival, Tom Hanks winning the male equivalent.

Ken Loach clearly recognised her talent. Did he realise what he’d taken on?

“No! I never told him anything. I just thought I was going to be an extra. I’m just dead down to earth.

“My grandmother always said, ‘Earn respect, don’t demand it’. I’m an ordinary person who just happens to have an unusual job.”

Crissy is well and truly lost on her diversion now, blindly following those in front.

“I’m going to end up on someone’s drive at this rate.”

Who does she think she’s learned most from on the acting or comedy scene?

“I love Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, and Dolores Claiborne, she’s unbelievable. She’s a big woman and knows she’s not a typical Hollywood Barbie.

“I once did a scene for Peak Practice alongside John McArdle, and was told, ‘There’s no make-up. The director doesn’t want you to wear any’.

“I wasn’t bothered. I said, ‘The only thing that can help me is surgery. I’ll just have to go about with what God gave me!’”

Who’s closest to the real Christine Murray – Crissy Rock, Dirty Dusting’s Elsie Collins, Ladybird, Ladybird’s Maggie Conlan or Benidorm’s Janey York?

“None of them really. As soon as Crissy Rock’s finished, she goes back. A lot of people expect me to be like Joan Collins. But I turn up in a pair of jeans, no make-up, and sometimes no teeth in!

“That surprises people, but what are they expecting – Julia Roberts? If you’re done up like a dog’s dinner all the time, you don’t feel the benefit.”

Why the 2012 move to County Durham for this South Liverpool lass?

“My partner’s from the North East. I miss Liverpool terribly, but I’m settled up here and I’m near a town, a city, a village, the sea … It’s a beautiful area.”

Was that the next logical step after her overseas stand-up stint in Alicante?

“Oh, it’s too hot there!”

What did it feel like going out for her first stand-up show at The Montrose in Liverpool?

“That was like forever ago! When they called my name I just stood there and froze. I was wondering what I was doing, but at the same time felt like the stage was home.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve died a death on a stage, but everyone’s had a bad day at work. And if you’ve never died in comedy you’ve never lived!”

Was comedy good therapy too after all those hard times?

“I still have dark days but try and brush them aside, convince myself to get a grip. It never ever leaves you but I say, ‘I mightn’t win the war, but wanna win the battle!’

“There’s always someone worse off, however down in the dumps you feel.

“I take that on board and feel ‘it could be worse’.”

I’m guessing 19 days in an Australian rainforest for I’m a Celeb was nothing in comparison.

“I’d love to go back to the jungle.

“It was an amazing experience! And if you look at life as a scale, all the bad in the past is now balanced out by all the good.”

At that point, I leave Crissy to work out how to find her destination. So where is she now?

“I haven’t a clue, but the scenery is lovely! It appears I’m on the way to Yarm now. And with a bit of luck maybe I’ll get to Doncaster sometime today.”

For Dirty Dusting ticket details, visit www.facebook.com/DirtyDusting, contact Oswaldtwistle Civic Theatre via 01254 398319/380293 or http://i72139.wix.com/civicartscentre#!watch-shows/c101h) or Blackpool Grand Theatre via 01253 290190 or www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk/shows