Even though it’s two years since Lisa Riley got engaged to her fiancé Al, the couple have never been in any rush to walk down the aisle.
However, that nearly changed during lockdown, when they decided they were getting on so well it felt like the right time to make things official.
‘I’m normally a real workaholic, so the time we had together was absolute bliss,’ enthuses 43-year-old Lisa, best known as a former Loose Women panellist or as Emmerdale’s larger-than-life Mandy Dingle. ‘We were getting on so brilliantly we were thinking of having a lockdown wedding!
‘I saw that somebody had got married via webcam during lockdown and we spoke about it and thought “why not?”.
‘It saves so much hassle and money. You don’t need to bother about a dress, I could just wear my Sweaty Betty tracksuit and you don’t have to invite people you don’t want there. If lockdown had gone on longer we’d have probably done it. Most likely now we’ll go to New York next year, and come back married and have a huge party. A big wedding is not really me.’
Musician Al has also proved a rock for Lisa following the death of her beloved mum Cath in 2012. And she admits that self-isolating at her Yorkshire home made her think about her mum even more than usual.
‘I had blips – days where I cried,’ she acknowledges. ‘But when someone knows you well they don’t need to ask if you’re OK because they know you’re not. That’s what I have with Al. I’m unbelievably blessed in that sense.
‘On the other side I’m fun to be around and he loves that in me. The other day I was pretending to be James Martin in the kitchen, and I keep doing Killing Eve scenes, hiding behind doors going, “Be careful, I will get you!” Those sort of nuances are what keeps a relationship alive.’
Lisa is now back at Emmerdale on a socially distanced set, which means she does her own hair and make-up every morning. One thing she hasn’t properly mastered, however, is Mandy Dingle’s famous false eyelashes. ‘It’s been a hurdle, as Mandy not having a lash is like spaghetti without bolognese!’ she laughs.
Lisa and Bradley Johnson, who plays her on-screen stepson Vinny, were among the cast who filmed six special episodes featuring characters during lockdown. With Mandy and Vinny holed up in the beauty salon, there were plenty of laughs in Lisa’s episode, but also the heartbreaking revelation that Mandy is infertile. As Lisa herself has been told it’s unlikely she could become pregnant, she found the storyline particularly poignant. ‘It resonated with me and there was a flashback to times I’ve been through,’ she explains.
The former Strictly contestant shed 12 stone in recent years and during lockdown she’s been keeping fit at home. ‘I do Joe Wicks, then I go on my exercise bike and watch Phil and Holly – that way you don’t even realise you’ve done anything!’ she jokes.
When life returns to normal, Lisa is planning a trip to the beach with her nephews and niece. She’s also looking forward to rebooking a walking holiday to Portugal she had planned with Al.
Positive and cheerful, she refuses to dwell on the downside of life under coronavirus. ‘People lived quite insular lives before, but on my daily walk everyone now says, “Good afternoon,”’ she finishes.
‘The world seems a lot kinder and more forgiving. That’s the world I want to live in and, as we move forward, I’d like to see even more of it.’
Emmerdale is on ITV