Daniela Nardini has 20 women in her house, each of them more vibrant and full of life than the next.
Full of attitude and of resilient character, they have a commanding presence. A bit like Daniela herself for, despite the actress going through a tough few years, she has come out the other side emboldened and stronger.
Now, her new friends could be about to set her on a different path – as a painter. Because the 20 women surrounding Daniela in the Glasgow home she shares with her teenage daughter aren’t breaking coronavirus restrictions, they are creations by Daniela’s own hand, an inspired and artistic flow of emotion that has served the former This Life star well in lockdown. So impressive are the paintings, a gallery owner has taken eight of them.
“I’ve always painted a bit, but with lockdown I thought I would commit to it,” said Daniela, who played Anna Forbes in the memorable ’90s drama series. “It became something I did every day.
“I have them lined up at the moment and I asked myself last night, why am I painting all of these women? And I think it’s come out of having breast cancer and from the way you look at yourself after a mastectomy. Painting these colourful, vibrant, strong women – which is not the way I’ve been seeing myself, I’ve been feeling a bit beaten, beaten up – was maybe my imagination wanting me to paint these images.
“I was talking to someone who is also in recovery from cancer and we discussed how the mental aspect of it takes time, dealing with people asking about it and an onslaught of commiserations.
“I was thinking about that and looking at these images, this riot of colour, and I thought, my goodness, that was all me.”
Having turned 50 two years ago Daniela was called in for a mammogram. A couple of months passed without hearing the results, so when the call did come, she almost didn’t bother going in for the follow-up.
“I thought if there had been something, I would have been called in earlier. I was busy, and didn’t think it would be anything, but I went in just to check.
“It was then they told me it didn’t look very good. It had already gone into one lymph node and if I hadn’t gone back in when I did then you don’t know how much it might have spread through the lymphatic system. So I urge women to get these checks, as it can be quite rapid, or at least that’s what they told me.
“It was a huge shock to be told I had breast cancer, and it was another shock to learn I needed to have a mastectomy. All these decisions that have to be made come at you, like whether or not to have reconstruction at the same time as the surgery.
“I was in shock. After all of it is done, you can get over the physical side, but mentally, well, you are just a bit off. Now I look at it and think I was very lucky. After the treatment I’ve had nothing – no other symptoms – and I’m in the clear.”
Daniela would have no disagreement with the old saying that bad luck comes in threes, because the breast cancer diagnosis was the third trauma she suffered in as many years.
First was the death of her father, Aldo, one of the ice cream impresarios of Largs that made the Ayrshire seaside town a must-visit attraction for decades. Then she and her husband, Ivan, a chef with whom she has 13-year-old Claudia, divorced.
The trauma and turmoil led Daniela to seek a professional ear.
“I did talk to someone, because so much happened at one time and I was finding it difficult to process it all – my dad dying, my marriage ending and, as I was shuffling my way through that, being diagnosed with breast cancer. It was another blow. I decided I should talk to someone and isolate them a bit, because they were all so lumped together.”
Now Daniela is embarking on her own journey into counselling. She says it’s always been something that interested her, so she completed an HNC during lockdown and is now studying for a diploma.
The essay writing – her first since she was 17 – has come as a shock to the system, but a university lecturer friend has been offering advice.
“Over the last five years or so, a lot of stuff has been hard and difficult. Coming through the other side of it, I think, well, what could I do to use that in a positive way? I want to be of service or help people in some way,” Daniela continued.
“My daughter said to me last week, ‘Mum, you can’t have three jobs – you can’t be a painter, an actress and a counsellor. You need to give one up.’ I suppose it’s quite ambitious and maybe she is right, but I’d like to find a way of doing all three. Acting is such a sporadic job, so maybe I can do them all.”
Her first love might be more sporadic these days, but Daniela says she will never walk away from acting.
“It’ll definitely be something I always want to do, but I’m not as ambitious as I once was, “she admitted. “I suppose I want to do material that really interests me, rather than just taking on anything.
“I had a job offer the other week but decided I didn’t want to do it because it wasn’t quite right. I’ve been lucky, I’ve had a lot of choice in my career, but I feel there’s other areas I want to look into in my life now – acting will always be a part of what I do in some way, though.”
It was with a gasp that Daniela realised her first TV job, as a nurse in Take The High Road, was in 1990 – “Is that 30 years ago? Oh my God, I’m ancient!” – and in the years since she has had a wealth of interesting roles both on screen and stage.
There was her role as ruthless estate agent Meredith McIlvanney in BBC4’s New Town, the mini-series Gunpowder, Treason & Plot, drama Waterloo Road, David McVicar’s production of Camille in London and Daniela recently made a short film, Duck Daze, which is on BBC’s iPlayer.
But she will always be remembered for her performance as law graduate Anna Forbes, a character said to have influenced Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, in This Life, which came at the peak of mid-’90s Cool Britannia.
The first series was shown again on BBC4 this year, in tribute to its producer Tony Garnett, who died in January, introducing the series to a new generation. “A lot of people were asking for the rest of the series to be shown and I was saying the same thing, because I was thinking of the repeat fees,” Daniela laughed. “I’ve had so many favourite roles, although the obvious one is This Life. It was great fun and we were all so young and enjoying ourselves when we made it, plus it was a really interesting part.
“But there’s been so many interesting roles, so I can’t pick just one. I’ve been really lucky with the choices I’ve had in my career.”
And with painting and counselling new additions to her CV, Daniela’s future is looking brighter than ever.
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