Debbie Arnold is an actress and author and is the only actress in the UK who has appeared on every major TV soap in the last 30 years! At the start of lockdown, she had the inspiring idea of starting a new show, Wonderbirds, which is live on Facebook and YouTube three days a week and has been a huge hit with four million viewers. She talks to Lynda Clark about her fabulous career and what fun she is having even through these difficult times.
Debbie grew up in a show business family so it is not suprising that she followed in their footsteps and has become a highly successful actress. “I was born in Sunderland and my father, Eddie Arnold, was a famous impressionist, so I grew up listening to him and I too had a talent for doing ‘funny voices’ and it just came very naturally to me. My father was a big star and broke the box office record at the London Palladium, which was very impressive. But he became ill and was only in his twenties so it was tough times. People like Franke Howard, Bruce Forsyth and Des O’Connor, who were all great friends of my parents were so kind and clubbed together to give my mother some money to keep us going whilst my father was unable to work. Sadly, though he got a booking at the Pink Flamingo in Las Vegas, which was very special but he died just before he was due to appear there and he was only 32.”
Debbie got a job as a secretary in a record company but she was terrible and it just wasn’t the work for her. Eventually, at 18 she met the producer of a TV show called Now Who Do You Do and she started her career as an impressionist and went on to appear in the most iconic comedy and drama programmes of the 80s, 90s and 00s! Ronnie Barker wrote a character especially for her in The Two Ronnies, called Voluptua Goodbody who was an amalgamation of all his fantasies.
Her theatrical work is also truly impressive and she has done many national UK and worldwide tours appearing at The Royal Court and the National Theatre. “I love the theatre and probably the play that stands out the most is playing opposite Omar Sharif in The Sleeping Prince. There were about 900 girls going for the part but I got it and it was amazing. We started in Chichester and toured the UK before coming to the West End.”
Debbie has worked on so many iconic shows like Birds of a Feather, Minder, Miss Marple and Holby City and with artistes like David Jason, Eric Sykes, Spike Milligan, June Whitfield and John Cleese. But it is quite incredible that Debbie has worked in all the TV soaps during her career. She played Sylvie Hicks and Carole Evans in Coronation Street, Debbie Wilson in Emmerdale, April Branning in EastEnders and Janice Bolton in Hollyoaks. “They were all great fun to work on and I met some wonderful people. What makes soaps so interesting is the incredible story lines. It is very hard work but I love what I do. I went back to Coronation Street playing Carole Evans, the landlady of the Weatherfield Arms six years ago so I started the cycle all over again!”
If acting wasn’t enough, Debbie has also written a book called The Power of Reinvention which is available on Amazon. She has drawn on her wisdom, experience and success helping people re-invent and transform their lives. The book has been a big success and Debbie has helped so many people along the way.
When we all went into lockdown Debbie had a Zoom conversation with her friends Sherrie Hewson, Harriet Thorpe and Dee Anderson. They had such fun together that Debbie suggested that they should do something online. The official lockdown started on 23rd March and the first episode of Wonderbirds was on the 27th! “It has been such a journey and it really keeps me busy! We now have four million viewers, which is fantastic. We keep the show very lighthearted and have lots of fun. We have had some incredible guests too, including Paul O Grady, Gok Wan, Marty Wilde . . .. the list is endless. We also have our own resident cosmetic doctor, Dr Tracy Mountford and Anne Henderson who is a menopause specialist who is not only great fun but also informative especially on a subject which is so important to every woman. Wonderbirds is live on Facebook and YouTube every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4.30.”
With so much going on in her life Debbie still has time to support various charities and is Ambassador of the National Bullying Helpline and also The Retired Police Railway Dogs. “The police train the sniffer dogs for the work they do in railway stations and airports but the dogs have to retire when they are about eight. Because of the work they have done they can’t be insured so although the police try and look after them it can be very expensive with vet bills etc. We try and raise money to help look after them and give them a happy life in their retirement.”
After 37 years in showbiz, Debbie is as busy as ever and as we finish our chat she is rushing off to record another Wonderbirds – ‘it’s not like work at all – it’s the best fun ever.”