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tough business TV talent agent reveals how female soap stars took testosterone to battle ageing

"If you've never been a femme fatale you don't get treated quite as badly, but if you have been you are not allowed to age"

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Melanie Blake opened an agency to cater only for woman after seeing how they were being treated

Melanie Blake opened an agency to cater only for woman after seeing how they were being treated

Melanie Blake opened an agency to cater only for woman after seeing how they were being treated

Queen of soaps Melanie Blake got Stephanie Beacham a role on Corrie and brought Gillian Taylforth back from the dead.

The agent to some of the biggest soap names of the last two decades was behind Claire King's return to Emmerdale and Danniella Westbrook's EastEnders resurrection.

Now Melanie has based her new novel, Ruthless Women, on her insider knowledge of the most-watched dramas in the world, and every incredible twist and unbelievable turn is inspired by reality.

She's revealed the secret of staying young on screen for female stars is testosterone, and some of the biggest stars' greatest achievement is hiding their true nature from the public - but they couldn't hide it from her.

"Soaps are monstrous places to work, and some of the greatest sweethearts on them are monstrous.

"I got rid of those ones," says Melanie.

The Manchester-born agent started her career as an extra on EastEnders and Corrie, as well as working behind the scenes on Top of the Pops.

"I went from being an extra to being the most powerful female agent. No one has represented more soap actresses than I have.

"I have seen every single rung of the ladder from being an extra on Corrie to representing the landlady of the Rovers Return."

She persuaded the soap's bosses to bring Beverley Callard back as the landlady of the iconic pub by getting rid of Michelle Collins, who was also on her books.

Her clients include household names like Denise Welch, Patsy Kensit and Sherrie Hewson. Melanie has also worked closely with the Nolans, organising their 2009 reunion which earned over £2m, when the Irish leg of the tour was the most memorable.

"In Belfast people were hurling themselves at the coaches. The Nolans were saying, 'let them on'. They'd waited 30 years for this.

"Inside the auditorium at the Odyssey Arena there were brawls all over the place, it was hilarious.

"The audience members had drunk quite a lot, they had really gone for it, and they were throwing themselves at the stage and fighting with each other.

"Half the audience wanted to dance and half the audience wanted to see the show. The girls had never seen anything like it."

Melanie based her first novel, The Thunder Girls, on her time in the music industry working with clients like Claire Richards from Steps. It's now a hit play with Coleen Nolan.

After watching how female soap stars were treated, she decided to build an agency representing women and says the fictional soap of Falcon Bay in her new novel is every bit as brutal as the real thing.

With plotting, backstabbing, sex and sexism, Dynasty star Stephanie Beacham says it could only have been written by a 'true insider' and Beverley Callard says, 'it was like someone had shadowed my life on set'.

"I've been working with older women since my 20s because I knew one day I would be one," Melanie says.

"When I wrote this book and sent it to my clients, they all said at last someone was talking about what it's really like.

"Literally these women have fought for survival.

"If you've never been a femme fatale you don't get treated quite as badly, but if you have been you are not allowed to age.

"The changes in attitude might be subtle, like the sexy landlady whose wardrobe changes from off-the-shoulder to a kagoule, or they will stop getting boyfriends or there's a new barmaid who speaks to them in a derogatory fashion.

"Or you get a new producer who doesn't care what the audience wants. I knew one executive on Corrie who came up to one of the leading actresses and said, 'I don't like you and I don't like your character and I'm getting rid of you'.

"Another one did everything he could to make her character everything it wasn't to make her leave. But because she was so big, he couldn't get rid of her, and he wanted to get his friend in."

Melanie treasures her reputation as the comeback queen, persuading EastEnders to rehire Danniella Westbrook - who'd famously lost her septum to cocaine abuse - and Gillian Taylforth who'd lost a disastrous libel case, been banned from the road for drink-driving and whose character, Kathy Beale, had been dead for ten years.

But she's also witnessed the dark side of badly behaved divas, who didn't stay clients for long.

Anyone who's too good to be true probably isn't and it's their star power and pay-offs which keep the truth hidden. She describes an incident involving one of the biggest icons of soap land - no longer on screen - who had a legendary moustache which the experienced make-up artists always dealt with quietly.

When a new make-up technician committed the cardinal sin of mentioning her hair problem the actress responded by punching her square in the face.

"I have dealt with some stone-cold bitches. One has been drummed out of every job because she is a cow.

"The more an actor or presenter tells people to 'be kind' the bigger the bitch they are. It's like camouflage. Sometimes their talent can mask the monstrosity," Melanie adds.

"There's a scene in the book where the agent takes the most abusive phone call from a client who has just messed up an audition, blaming her for it. I have had a million of those phone calls, from national sweethearts who you'd think butter wouldn't melt."

The agent says actresses used to be considered over the hill at 40, but they can now stretch that to 50. Their secret elixir of youth is HRT mixed with testosterone, which has the side effect of boosting their libido.

"That's why they're at it like rabbits. Everyone who has a private doctor is on the good stuff. One client got carried away with the testosterone and within two weeks she had a beard and an STD," she says.

Ruthless Women, €15, published by Head of Zeus, is released February 18

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