… but she says “I’m still standing.”
To onlookers Elaine C Smith was flying high.
Bringing Susan Boyle’s remarkable life story to the stage had won Elaine the reviews of her life; I Dreamed A Dream was nominated for a host of awards and played to sell-out crowds every night.
So when a tour of Australia was cancelled, the last emotion you’d expect the 55-year-old entertainer to feel was relief.
But the truth is Elaine was near burnout. And by the end of last year she was overworking her way to illness.
The years since 2006 were the busiest of Elaine’s 30 year career. Stage roles in Little Voice, Calendar Girls in London’s West End, panto and the SuBo musical, as well as Rab C TV work and the high-profile breast cancer awareness campaign, left little time for Elaine to pause for thought.
But that was the idea.
When Elaine lost her mum to breast cancer she coped by pushing the grief to one side, throwing herself into one high-profile job after another.
And she became so entrenched in that way of life that even on the day her dad died, she forced herself to drive 140 miles from the Airdrie hospice where he passed away to Aberdeen for matinee and evening pantomime shows.
It was all becoming too much, yet Elaine was too busy to notice.
“The Australian tour was put back and I was unavailable for any of the new dates as I’d already committed to other things later this year,” Elaine reveals.
“I told my agent not to look for other work, so when I should have been in Australia I was actually sitting in the house.
“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me and it was a gift, because I hadn’t understood the pressure I’d put on myself until I actually stopped.
“I was really burned out by January. And I’ve been trying to pull it together since then.
“If I’d carried on to Australia, I really do think I’d have got sick.”
Elaine continued: “After mum died I became a workaholic. My mantra became ‘I have to, I need to’.
“It kept me sane and it was a bit of routine and order.
“The when my dad died last year I had to leave his hospice to do two panto shows. I had to keep going.
“For a lot of the panto audience it’s the only time of the year they go to the theatre, so they didn’t need to see me upset.
“But I hadn’t time to process it all and deal with my dad’s passing, and this break has done that.
“When you stop, you have to face the demons.”
When Elaine came up with the idea of writing and starring in a musical about the overnight fame of West Lothian’s finest, she quickly realised the responsibility she’d placed upon herself.
“The day before the show opened I was on The Today Show in the States, as well as Australian and French TV.
“Sian Phillips, who I worked with on Calendar Girls, contacted me to say she’d just seen me on Georgian telly. It was massive.
“I really wanted to honour Susan and her family. It was a privilege to be allowed to do it, but the stress was huge due to the amount of work involved.
“And that was before I got to the eight shows a week, performing 14 or 15 songs a night. We did 104 shows and I didn’t miss one.
“And you know, I Dreamed a Dream was about loss as well, about Susan losing her parents and other family members.
“Working on the show for two years, it impacted on me, too.”
So it’s appropriate that Elaine’s latest project is titled Still Standing… Just, a stand-up show taking her to some of Scotland’s traditional holiday destinations like Rothesay, Helensburgh and Oban.
“I did a fundraiser for St Andrews Hospice in Airdrie following my dad’s death and 500 people turned up.
“I performed two hours of stand-up the first time I’d done so in years.
“It made me think I should maybe stop acting and just go out there and be myself.
“When I was asked to play my hometown of Motherwell, where I’d never performed, on my birthday and 1000 people showed up, I thought the universe was telling me something.”
Elaine presented an idea to STV for a Billy Connolly-esque show where she’d visit seaside towns and speak to the locals before performing in the town that evening. The network loved the proposal.
But Elaine says she can only take her stand-up so far.
“I never got into the comedy club circuit. The thought of going to one of those and doing 15 minutes of stand-up is terrifying to me, it seems so macho and competitive.”
When the holiday dates end, it’s time for a return to the wig and wardrobe of Mary Doll, Rab C’s long-suffering wife, for a Nesbitt Christmas special.
“It’s great to go back to it,” she said.
“When it came to Nesbitt, on one side we were lauded and hugely popular, while there was huge criticism from others for portraying Scottish people in a bad light.
“It brought me fame but also bred competition and jealousy from within the industry. It was a bit of a gold-lined straitjacket.”
Always a keen political observer, Elaine is on the advisory board for the Yes campaign and is gearing up for a year that could change the Scottish landscape forever.
“People think I’m an SNP supporter but I’m really just a leftie who believes in independence.
“We might not be given this chance again.
“I respect people who are voting no and think we should listen to their reasons, but I believe we should be doing better in Scotland and if the power was closer to home, we would be.
“I live in the east end of Glasgow and men in Shettleston only have a life expectancy of 57 or 58. Come on, this is 2013! People deserve better.
“If we lose I’ll still be here, working hard and trying to get on with everyone.”
What Elaine won’t be doing is pushing herself to a state of burnout ever again. She now takes time to indulge her hobbies of reading, writing, playing tennis and going to zumba classes.
“I feel I’ll never go back to that full-on, eight shows a week schedule,” admits Elaine, who is patron of 15 charities.
“I’ve lost six or seven people close to me in the last year and I have three other friends who are really ill.
“I’ve spent time with my two daughters, my husband Bob, seen my pals and gone on holiday all those things we put on hold. I realised that’s really what’s important.
“You don’t get another shot at this and the losses put it all into perspective.
“It sounds like a clich, but having a life is what is important.”
Elaine plays Oban on Thursday, Rothesay on Sept 5, Dunoon on Sept 7 and Helensburgh on Sept 12.
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