Leah MacRae knew she had made it when people in agony were lining up to ask her for a selfie.
The River City and Gary: Tank Commander star was in A&E with what turned out to be a torn Achilles tendon when she found herself becoming a distraction from her fellow patients’ pain.
“They were there asking for a selfie, some of them with broken bones,” said the 35-year-old Glaswegian, recalling the night she suffered the serious injury while performing live on stage.
Leah was halfway through a performance of her one-woman show My Big Fat Fabulous Diary in Giffnock, East Renfrewshire, when she heard “the most terrible noise”.
She bravely finished the show in a wheelchair, before going to hospital where the walking wounded wielded their camera phones.
Two years later, the ebullient actor can look back and laugh as she prepares to take the show back out on the road again.
Her injury forced bosses at River City to rewrite scenes, but such is her resilience that she continued to work even while in plaster and wearing an orthopaedic boot.
Yet she admits to wondering if she brought it on herself.
She said: “Part of what I talked about in the show is what it feels like when folk make fun of you because of your weight.
“And minutes before I snapped my tendon, I actually said the line, ‘Being called fat is my Achilles…” Literally in the next section of the show, I snapped my tendon.
“I did actually ask the orthopaedics ‘Did this happen because I’m fat?’. But it happened to David Haye, the boxer. He snapped his Achilles at the same time. It was interesting watching the difference in recovery, with him being an athlete.”
Leah’s effervescence matches that of her Tank Commander character Julie. Indeed, the series creator, writer and star Greg McHugh was inspired to write the characters based loosely on her real-life persona.
It’s no surprise that she has bounced back. Leah has worked hard to maintain a positive outlook despite the setbacks and has practised meditation. She is intent on harnessing the power of positive thinking.
She has been influenced by Rhonda Byrne’s best-selling self-help book The Secret, and said: “It made me realise that if you try to be positive, it does work. You can’t do it all the time, especially being Scottish, but it helps you focus on who or what is important and what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It helps you be a better person, a kinder person.”
Yet she knows developing a vein of default optimism and self-belief doesn’t come easily to many. Leah said: “There’s a lot of stuff in there about not being able to take a compliment. So often we don’t just take it and say thank you.
“It’s a bit cooler now to be in the entertainment industry but there was a time when it wasn’t cool. Some young actors are still uneasy with saying they can sing, for example.
“You say to them ‘can you sing?’ and they say ‘emmmm’. If I was to ask my mum if she could touch type, she wouldn’t say ‘emmmm’. She’d say ‘yes’.
“When it’s a performance thing it’s different for some reason. It’s about telling people it’s okay to be good at something. And if someone thinks you’re big headed, then that’s their problem.”
Leah has spoken in the past about being on the end of hurtful comments on social media about her weight.
She said: “I believe that if people are happy then they don’t have time to be nasty. My message in life is just don’t listen to these people.
“We’re always advised as performers not to respond. I don’t really respond. It’s difficult sometimes, if people are making personal jibes.
“I’m the biggest now that I’ve ever been after this injury and that has been difficult.
“It never used to bother me because I was always fit and healthy and really athletic. I was a size 16 but I was always fit, I could jump around the stage, which is why that was such a shock for me.”
Fans of Tank Commander might be more used to her jumping around a stage, than those who know her best from playing Ellie McLean in Shieldinch. Even in the five minutes it takes us to walk from her rehearsal studio on Sauchiehall Street to the cafe at Glasgow Film Theatre, she’s stopped and asked for photos.
“People approach me differently depending on whether they recognise me from River City or Tank Commander,” she said, laughing.
“If they approach Julie it’s wide-eyed because of the type of character she is. If it’s for Ellie, they tend to be a bit more tentative and polite.
“It tends to be River City more these days, but I love being recognised for Gary: Tank Commander, I miss playing Julie, she’s the favourite character I’ve ever played. I’m always on at Greg to write more Gary, but we’re all so busy doing other things now, and that’s really good.”
Leah was part of the panel on Still Game: That’s Plenty, which featured on BBC Scotland immediately after the final episode of the Craiglang comedy.
As a huge fan of comedy, she’s confident there’ll be another show along, in time, to match the success of Still Game.
But she hopes the gender make-up of those shows shifts.
She said: “I think it’s important we start to see more female writers. I’m an actress and a singer, even though I’ve now written this show, I still wouldn’t call myself a writer, it’s almost a fear of it.
“We have such incredible strong, funny women and actresses in Scotland so I’m not entirely sure why it is that there’s less of us writing. I started doing sketch comedy when I was 19 and I’ve written my first show in my early 30s.
“As for Still Game, look back at things like Scotch and Wry and Rab C Nesbitt which were there before Still Game. There are so many great writers like Chris Grady, Sanjeev Kohli, Robert Florence and Iain Connell. There’s so much promising talent.”
Leah MacRae’s My Big Fat Fabulous Diary Scottish tour starts on May 3 at St Andrews Byre Theatre ending on June 9 at Inverness Eden Court Theatre