Talking to Lisa Riley is like having a natter to your best mate over a cuppa or glass of wine. Not that she suffers fools gladly - and journalists less so...
There’s something warm, expansive and immensely generous of spirit about her.
Yet it took Strictly Come Dancing’s acid-tongued anti-hero Craig Revel-Horwood, judge and choreographer, to spot Lisa’s potential for a show in her own right.
Having told her “You. Can. Dance” - winning a kiss from the startled Lisa into the bargain - he established a showcase for her talents after the TV series and arena tours ended.
That show is Strictly Confidential - and it’s at the Opera House at 7.30pm on Friday July 26. Tickets from £21.45 to £43.45.
It tells the inside story, warts and all, of the nation’s favourite dance show in a resort famed for dance the world over.
Lisa’s larger than life personality won the audience over in the Saturday night prime time reality show.
She effectively became the people’s champion - pipped in the semi finals with dance partner Robin Windsor.
She sees her visit to Blackpool as part pilgrimage - with both the Tower and Empress ballrooms having a huge following on the international dance circuit, particularly competitively. But this time she’s strictly confined to the Opera House.
“It couldn’t be better for me,” she admits.
“I love Blackpool. If you put all my favourite things together in one place it would add up to Blackpool.”
Lisa’s delighted with the chance to shine in a show which gives her the chance to show her storytelling, singing, dance and acting skills.
“It’s’s been nonstop what with Strictly, the tour and now this.”
As a Bury lass she sees Blackpool as a second home.
“We came here all the time - now I’m looking forward to showing it off to others.”
Lisa fronts the show with Artem Chigvintsev, Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite. Robin has other commitments.
Lisa admits she’s picked herself up since her private heartbreak hit the headlines.
Her mother Cath, 57, died in her arms after a long battle with cancer - just before Lisa started in Strictly.
“Robin was so supportive.”
The friendship has endured - in much the same way our own ice dance champions Dan Whiston and Katie Stainsby have kept up their friendships with celebrity screen “partners”.
“I think it’s because you’re thrown together in quite an intense situation and it only works if you let your guard down,” says Lisa.
“To be thrown together at such a time - just after my mum’s death - made it tough.”
Lisa says she believes in living for the day rather than running scared of cancer.
“I couldn’t do what Angelina Jolie did ,” she adds - in reference to Jolie’s decision to have surgery to remove her breasts to reduce the risk of breast cancer after her own mother died of cancer at 56.
“If she wants to do it, fine, but it’s not for me,” says Lisa.
“I know my mum died but you could spend your life worrying about getting cancer - and that’s not my way.
“Who’s to say that if you take action to reduce one form of cancer you may not get another?”
Lisa lives in Bolton. “I’m looking forward to getting a true northern audience too, who get who I am and what I’m about.
“I’m so proud to be a northerner. I’ve spent so much time in London - and feel like saying oh, for God’s sake, just smile and talk to me.
“I know the Blackpool audience will just grab the opportunity and get involved.
“In this show more than anything we’re out to have fun and want everyone to have an exciting night and feel part of it.
“Dance has a huge following in Blackpool but this show isn’t just about dancing but the stuff people really want to know - about the highest rated show in the country.
“You find out how the professionals got the job, and how they get celebrities involved - all the highs and the lows.
“For me it’s immensely personal because I get to dance to my mum’s favourite song - and what actor gets that moment?
“I had to really fight to keep my actor’s head on the first time that happened.”
Blackpool’s in her DNA.
“Whenever I find myself in Blackpool I feel at home. I love being back up north. It’s such an honour to play the Winter Gardens. I remember seeing Les Dawson there as a kid. I’ve returned ever since. I saw the boys from Little Britain Live there.
“You have moments at the Winter Gardens where you pinch yourself and think people have PAID to see me here!
“The heritage of the place, the entertainment history, is fantastic. And I’ll be part of it.”
Nor will Strictly Confidential short change the 2,800 seater venue. “It’s a massive show in its own right. The whole format is wow. It’s been what we call Strictly-fied.
“And what’s lovely, particularly for a town like Blackpool, is you don’t have to be a Strictly fan to enjoy it. It’s the sort of show kids can see with their nans and grandads or mum and dads. It appeals to everyone.”
Lisa, who has six godchildren who came to see her in panto at Southport last year, says she has a passion for “getting kids away from their computer games.”
She had ballet lessons from the age of four, was nine when she joined Oldham Theatre, and walked the cobbles of Corrie long before she became a household name as Mandy Dingle in Emmerdale
“I’ll be a Dingle till I die which I’m very proud of.
“But people used to shout ‘where’s Paddy?’ and now they say ‘give us a foxtrot’ when they spot me doing my shopping. I think some expect me to samba down the aisles when picking out my courgettes!
“I constantly get letters telling me I’ve inspired people to dance, given them that push they needed.
“I think they saw that I never stopped trying. ”
She’s appeared in movies, YTV drama, adores theatre - and would love to do period pieces.
“I like to mix it. It makes you stronger. It’s an adrenalin charge. My mum was a big influence, taking me to stuff at the Octagon and Manchester and Blackpool, the big musicals and other shows.
“I just love the arts and everything to do with performances. And, at the end of the day, Blackpool is at the heart of it all.”
It also gives her a chance to let her hair down.
“We’ll do the sound checks in the morning and then get some mooch around time.
“Blackpool Lights will be on so I’m having a piece of that. A walk on the Prom’s a must - and I’d love to get to FunnyGirls .
“And you know the other place I always go? The wig shop in the town centre. I love it. It’s the best ever. Everything just sparkles there.
“And we’ll hunt out some food too. Vegetarian for me.”
Which brings us neatly back to - that diet. Or as Lisa puts it - what diet? Much has been made of her dramatic weight loss in the national press. “Some rubbish has been written about how much weight I’ve lost and how and why - but it all comes back to the fact that you can’t do a show like Strictly and not lose weight. It’s like a full on cardio vascular work out.
“I don’t really see it myself - it’s more of a big deal to friends who haven’t seen me for a while.
“But I know it’s happened because I’m getting into sizes I would never have looked at let before.
“I’m also getting a lot more attention!
“ I’d got complacent, used to put slobby clothes on once out of the stage door. Now I take pride in my appearance.
“And the blokes have sat up and noticed! And that’s exciting and makes me feel very sexy.
“I’ve become a 37 year old minx - and having a very healthy time of it.
“But I’m still just me.”