A DECADE ago she walked out of River City for what she was sure was the last time.
Now Barbara Rafferty is making a dramatic return to Shieldinch – as literally a new woman.
Barbara spent more than two years playing Shirley Henderson but she steps back this week as feisty, no-nonsense Bernie O’Hara.
She’s a character Barbara describes as a “cross between Wyatt Earp and Calamity Jane with a Glaswegian accent” and one that reminds her of her mum Betty Brown.
“It was a thrill to be asked to come back,” says Barbara, 68. “Shirley wasn’t killed off or anything, she just went back to Spain, but I never expected to come back.
“It’s glorious to get another chance.”
Bernie, one of the O’Hara clan, arrives in the lead-up to little sister Theresa’s funeral. Scarlett’s plans for a low-key affair are scuppered when Bernie gets her heavies to steal the coffin and ensure that it becomes a much grander send-off.
“She comes back looking to avenge her wee sister’s death in the fire,” says Barbara, known for spending years as Ella Cotter in Rab C Nesbitt.
“She’s a tough character but I think she’s a real knock-out. I know some people might say, ‘Where’s Shirley?’ but I’ve been in many guises and I hope the audience just ease into it, accept it’s a different person.
“Shirley was mild mannered and always looking after people while Bernie’s cheeky and full of swagger. I don’t see her as the baddie, just a strong, older female who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
“She says and does what she likes and the stuff they’ve got me saying is a joy.”
Barbara says her dad David, who is 93 and a big River City fan, was delighted when she announced her latest screen role.
And she’s sure he would spot little glimpses of late wife Betty in Bernie’s portrayal. “There’s been something of my mother in every character I’ve ever played on stage or television.
“She passed away years ago but a bit of her always comes out. It might be a turn of phrase or just the way the lines are delivered.
“It’s lovely to feel that connection. I did something at The Tramway years ago and I felt it really was my mother.
“She was a strong character and it’s great to feel her coming through, to channel her in what I’m doing.
“Both her and my father have been such a support in everything I’ve done, they’ve always been right behind me.
“I called him as soon as I got River City and he was like, ‘Oh kid, that’s magic!”
Barbara’s husband Sean Scanlan, who appeared in Nesbitt as Rab’s posh cousin Shug, died of throat cancer last year.
And the mum-of-two has really thrown herself into work to help cope with the loss of her partner of 20 years.
She was in musical comedy The Wedding Singer and then toured all over Scotland in musical Bingo.
In fact, she’s been so busy she actually turned down a major role on the other side of the world when BBC Scotland came calling.
“I had done a play at the Edinburgh Festival years ago and although I hadn’t signed up yet I wanted to go to China to do it,” said Barbara.
“I thought that River City would probably have let me out to do it but it’s a long way and I thought doing this and then flying to China would be too much.”
Barbara made her big screen debut 45 years ago with a small part in film The Wicker Man but she insists she has never lost her passion for acting.
“When I’m standing out there and they call action it’s as big a thrill as ever,” says Barbara. “I still feel like I’m living the dream.
“I think it’s amazing that I’ve kept working all my life. I feel so fortunate.
“I don’t really have any ambitions left. I’m so old think I’ve done it all except maybe come out of a card as singing telegram – and I really don’t fancy that.”
Barbara won over a whole new legion of young fans with her portrayal of Grandma Mainland in the hit TV adaptation of the bestselling Katie Morag books.
“When I was rehearsing for the musical there were some children in a nursery downstairs. When they spotted me when we broke for lunch they were all giving me hugs and cuddles, which was so brilliant.”
River City BBC1 Scotland Tuesday 8pm