Model turned actress Lorraine Chase, who rose to fame in the 1970s Campari adverts, stars as the Wicked Fairy in the Beck's Christmas panto, Sleeping Beauty. She tells SIBA MATTI about playing Emmerdale vixen Steph Stokes, working with the late Norman Wisdom and defying death
FOR someone who never wanted to be an actress, Lorraine Chase has carved out an enviable 32-year career in show business. And it all began in the 1970s, when she starred in a series of television adverts for alcoholic aperitif Campari, spawning her infamous catchphrases, 'Nah, Luton airport' and 'Nice 'ere, innit?'
"It was all a bit of a fluke,' London-born Lorraine, renowned for her Cockney accent, reveals.
"I was about 16 years old and studying at the London College of Printing when someone asked if I had ever considered modelling.
"I had quite a difficult working class upbringing - my father was in and out of prison and escaped from Wormwood Scrubs at one point.
"I felt quite insecure so when things actually started to happen for me, I kept waiting for someone to tell me to shove off!"
The 59-year-old, who put Luton on the map with the hugely popular Campari campaign, says it changed her life.
"I remember being in a cinema when the commercial was screened, and everyone stood up and cheered," she remembers.
"It was the very first of its genre, like a little story in a film, and beautifully shot. I have so many fond memories of that time."
The adverts catapulted Lorraine into the limelight, leading to a number of high-profile roles, most notably playing evil Steph Stokes in Emmerdale.
But she admits her character - who was involved in some of the soap's most controversial storylines, including sexual abuse - was far from easy to play.
"I wanted to play Steph as realistically as possible, but I found some scenes very challenging, particularly the child abuse
storyline, as that happened to me, although not by my parents, and it affects your whole life," Lorraine says candidly.
"Weirdly enough, people loved the character, and they would often come up to me and say 'you are so evil but I love you', although they still remember me from the Campari ads, even today."
Lorraine left the soap after four years in 2006, when Steph was sentenced to life in prison.
While she has ruled out a permanent return to Emmerdale, the actress would happily consider working on other soaps closer to home.
"I loved filming scenes with Richard Thorp (Alan Turner), who played Steph's father, and it would be lovely to give him one-off storylines where he could come and visit her in prison," Lorraine says.
"But working on a soap is such hard work and living in London means I was constantly travelling back and forth, which was exhausting.
"I have never been asked but I would love to do something like EastEnders. I think that would make more sense."
Lorraine's CV also includes a stint working with the late comedian Norman Wisdom in the radio play, Robin Hood.
"I couldn't believe I was working with him. I remembered watching him as a child and he was exactly the same," she reminisces.
"He must have been about 70 but he was still falling about and doing his tricks.
"He was just the most lovely man and he is very much missed."
As well as an array of radio and television credits to her name,
Lorraine has starred in several pantomimes, including the Wicked Fairy Godmother, Carabosse, in Sleeping Beauty at The Wyvern Theatre, in Swindon, last year.
She is reprising her role for the Beck Theatre's version of the show this Christmas.
"The whole ethos of panto and working with children is a joy, and you can have a lot of fun playing the baddie, plus it keeps me out of trouble," Lorraine jokes.
"Sleeping Beauty is a timeless, beautiful story that everyone knows instantly. In Swindon, we took the box office record last year and I'm sure this show will be equally successful.
"We've got a fabulous musical director and it will be a very polished show with a lot of good songs, fun and laughter.
"Mark Jones [who plays Muddles] is appearing at the Beck for the third year running and is building up a following with children and parents alike."
But it could have been someone else treading the boards, had Lorraine not survived a horrific car crash 10 years ago.
She is remarkably calm when talking about the experience.
"People say I fell 35ft off a bridge on to a motorway and I took an hour to cut me out of the car. My face was badly injured and they had to sew part of my ear back on," she says.
"But I didn't have a near-death or life-changing moment. I just think it wasn't my time to go. I probably should have died, but I'm alive, and I'm very lucky."
With her milestone 60th birthday in July next year, Lorraine is looking forward to the future.
"Age is nothing, it's how you feel that's important, and I like the idea of growing old gracefully and getting those roles for distinguished old ladies with character.
"It would be lovely to meet a nice man, and I would love to be in a period drama, such as Poirot.
"I've got lots of ambitions left to achieve and no plans to stop just yet." **Sleeping Beauty runs at the Beck Theatre from Saturday, December 11 until Sunday, January 2. Times and ticket prices vary.
Call the box office on 020 8561 8371 or find out more at www.becktheatre.org.uk.