Actress Lisa Faulkner is known for her roles in EastEnders, Spooks and Holby City, as well as winning Celebrity Masterchef back in 2010. HELLO! visited the celebrity mum and cook in March 2017 to celebrate the release of her recipe book, From Mother to Mother, in time for Mother's Day. The collection comprised of food favourites given to the star by "friends, and friends of friends". Lisa whipped up one such recipe – an asparagus and pesto tart suggested by her 14-year-old niece Lucy and mum Lou – for HELLO!'s Ross Powell as they chatted together about motherhood, acting and family time.
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Lisa, 46, is mum to daughter Billie, and she revealed that the ten-year-old already shares her passion for food. "I think what's lovely about cooking is that it's universal. You can cook with your son, you can cook with your daughter. You can cook with your nieces, nephews, friends... My daughter is ten, and it's that thing where sometimes they want to tell you something but they don't want to look at you all the time. And what's great about cooking is that you're doing stuff, so you can get loads out of them!"
Lisa added: "Billie loves cooking. Rather than baking, she actually prefers to cook food. She wants to have everybody say, 'Oh Billie, that tasted delicious!'"
This, her fourth book, a collection of favourite recipes from a variety of friends including TV presenter Fern Britton and actress Tamzin Outhwaite, is dedicated to “every mother, however she came to be”. It’s a direct reference to her own route to motherhood, having adopted then 15-month-old Billie with her ex-husband, actor Chris Coghill, in 2008. “She is like a ray of sunshine who constantly surprises me,” says Lisa of her daughter. “She’s kind, so funny and such a character.”
Billie is clearly at the centre of her world but because Lisa didn’t give birth, she felt she had to earn the right to be a mother. “It took a long time to take ownership of the word. That sounds weird because you don’t ‘own’ your children – and of course I don’t own Billie: she has her own life. But at first I had this feeling of, ‘Is she mine?’”
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Asked what had surprised her most about becoming a mum, she replied: "I never realised how very much my daughter would surprise me. Every day is something different, it's a challenge every day in a new way. I don't mean that in a bad way. You never know if you're getting it wrong or right. You just have to get in there and hope it comes out alright in the wash! And the other thing is… I said to Billie this morning, I never knew I could love somebody the way I love you."
The star also spoke about the 'pressure' she has felt in the past to have more than one child. Revealing her response to questions about expanding her family, she said: "No, I'm very lucky to have my one. She's my number one... There's always a pressure to have more than you have. But actually I think it's great, because she gets all of me."
Lisa lost her own mother Julie, who died aged 44 from throat cancer, when she was 16 years old. Julie has been a constant source of inspiration to the actress and her first book was a collection of her mother’s recipes.
“It’s like she’s still around,” Lisa says of keeping her mum’s memory alive. “My mum was such an important part of my life and still is, so I feel that she’s here.” Growing up, Lisa would watch her mum – an excellent cook herself who loved a full, busy house – create her “lovely stuff” and was allowed occasionally to pipe cream into the chocolate eclairs.
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Losing her at such a vulnerable age was, says Lisa, “horrific”. Being spotted by a model scout at a Tube station gave her a “way out” – “I could go off and be me and nobody knew what had happened” – and she was also helped by a counsellor, an “incredible woman who got me through the dark times”. But grief still comes in waves. “It would be lovely to say, ‘Now I’m in the angry stage,’ and you put it in a box and it’s gone. But it’s never gone. Some days I can talk about her and I’m fine, then another day I’ll talk about her and within minutes I’m in tears, saying, ‘I’m so sorry, it was years ago.’”
Lisa as a panellist on Loose Women
One of the hardest times was when Lisa was trying to conceive, going through an ectopic pregnancy and four failed attempts at IVF. “I would have loved to have known what she would have done or how she would have made me feel.” Lisa would also, of course, have loved her daughter Billie to have known her grandma. “But she talks about her and I tell her, ‘God, your grandmother would have loved you.’”
It took years, Lisa admits, to move on from, “I want to grow a baby,” to, “Okay, I’m going to become a mother and nothing’s going to stop me.” She initially fostered Billie as a baby before adopting her and feels strongly that serendipity brought them together.
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“A friend of mine who adopted said to me, ‘A snowflake will land in the right place and everything has its place, where it’s meant to be.’ And I really believe that. I celebrate Billie every day and say to her, ‘I am so lucky to have you.’ Of course there are days when I’m tearing my hair out, and there’ll be things she’ll have to go through when she’s older, but I’ll hold her hand all the way through. I’m her mum.”
Billie sees her dad, who lives around the corner and from whom Lisa separated in 2011, all the time. He and Lisa co-parent. “She is our No. 1 priority,” says Lisa, who has been in a relationship with Masterchef presenter John Torode for five years and has been living with him for three. They barely spoke to each other, however, when they first met on Celebrity Masterchef in 2010. Was there not even a spark of interest?
Lisa and her partner John Torode
“No,” she says firmly. “It was a different time in my life, I was a different person. I’ve always thought he was a handsome man, but you can acknowledge someone’s handsome without thinking, ‘Cor!’ It was only later when we started talking that we became friends.”
Following Celebrity Masterchef she honed her skills in London restaurants including Smiths of Smithfield and Roux at Parliament Square. Inevitably, her path crossed with John’s on the cooking circuit and their friendship developed into a romance. They have since cooked together and presented a show on radio station Magic. She would love to do more.
“John usually plays the straight man on Masterchef but he’s so much fun,” says Lisa. “I love being with him. We don’t stop talking – chat, chat, chat. He’s like my best mate.
“But I’m constantly juggling,” she shrugs. “I’d love to write more cookbooks, present a lovely cookery show and do a great acting job where I can say, ‘Yeah, I’m in that.’ I want my daughter to be content and the person that she can be. I don’t want a lot – I don’t want a bigger house or a bigger car or more holidays a year. I’m happy with what I’ve got.”
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