‘In lots of ways I am Shirley Valentine’
Popular podcaster and actress Norma Sheahan is no stranger to Irish screens. Now the busy mum is ready to step into the shoes of the one and only Shirley Valentine on stage, writes Eddie Rowley
SHE famously played Cupid to Brian and Amy, has won Ireland’s Celebrity Fittest Family, is a podcaster, stand-up comic, the voice of adverts for top brands, and a star of stage, TV and movies.
Now set to play the lead role of Shirley Valentine in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, mum-of-three Norma Sheahan packs a lot into her busy life, so you wouldn’t expect her to have the same frustrations as her disillusioned character.
“Oh, my unfulfilled ambitions are never ending,” she tells the Sunday World. “I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas. Last night it was a documentary called Midlife Climax.”
Norma’s popular podcast, Heal Your Hole, came out of 2019’s Fittest Family, and lockdown in 2020. It has the tagline: “It’s not just filth! Whether your hole is physical, mental, spiritual or emotional, we’ll heal it together one laugh at a time.”
She explains: “I decided to become a comedian six months before Covid. I had a stand-up tour of Heal Your Hole and it was selling out…obviously loads of people needed their holes healed.
“It came out of Fittest Family, where I was on Donnacha O’Callaghan’s team. I broke my coccyx in a fall and Donnacha screamed at me, ‘Get up off your hole, get on with it!’
“And I did. I kind of made the tour out of that, and about us going on to win ten grand for Cork ARC Cancer Support House.”
When Covid shut down live entertainment in March 2020, Norma decided to turn the show into a podcast. She used the boot of her family’s car as a recording studio for the podcast and radio adverts – she’s the current voice of Lidl.
Recording studios weren’t considered frontline, so Norma set up her own studio in the car, using fluffy blankets, pillows and teddy bears for the acoustics.
“I turned the car into a studio when it wasn’t on the road,” she reveals. “The neighbours used to think I was thrown out because I was in the car with the pillows and the teddy bears at 10 o’clock at night. I’d record the adverts late at night when the kids were gone to bed.”
The Cork-born actress, who shot to fame in the RTE TV series, The Clinic, with Amy Huberman, has always been resourceful in her career.
“I remember years ago in my 30s I couldn’t get film roles, so I said to my agent ‘Only put me up for roles that are 45 to 55.’ So I did that for a while and sure wasn’t I the biggest ride for these 50 year old roles, whereas previously I’d be in a line up with stunnerarma women, including those my own age who didn’t hit the ugly branch on the way down. So it actually worked for me because, even though I was still in my 30s, I was the hottest 50 year old in town.”
Norma has a feisty, go-getter attitude that is probably inherited from her late mother, Nora.
She says: “When my mother was told that she was going to die, she said, ‘It’s not hard to die when you know you’ve lived.’ That was her motto. She lived every day.
“Nothing, including ill health, held her back. She had rheumatoid arthritis since the age of 26. She was peg fed for the last 18 years of her life because of cancer in her neck. So everything was against her, but she’d still turn up at a party and be holding a glass of champagne, even if she couldn’t drink it.
“She was powerful. Even with all her ailments she’d head off on a sun holiday with her meds in one case and her bikinis in another. I remember when she was in hospital for one of her tests and wearing the awful gown with the string at the back, she pulled two shoulder pads out of her handbag and stuck them in!”
It was while appearing in The Clinic that Norma struck up a close friendship with Amy Huberman - and later set her up on a date with rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll.
“I’d stay hush about it all except Brian wrote about it in his book,” Norma says.
“When we set up the blind date and it was going well I turned up for the first two meetings, and after that I took him aside and just said, ‘I don’t care what sport you play, to be honest, I will amputate your balls if you treat her badly.’
“I first met Amy when we were receptionists together in The Clinic. I was a bit wary at first that ‘can someone be this nice?’ But she was that nice and she taught me a few things. She said, ‘Norma, it’s a lot easier to be negative than positive, I work very hard at it.’ Amy has a talent for removing people’s cloud.”
- Shirley Valentine will run at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre from March 29 to April 2, with evening and matinee performances.
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