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Vicky McClure

October 2014

WHEN the Nottingham branch of the Alzheimer’s Society contacted Vicky McClure, who had recently picked up a BAFTA for her role in TV drama This Is England 1988, she knew little of the disease.

“I knew it was horrific but little more than that,” says the 31-year-old actress, who lives in Toton.

“They asked me to open the Memory Walk and I’ve been doing that every year since,” she says of the charity’s fundraising trek around Wollaton Park.

“Then, a year ago, my nana was diagnosed with dementia and since then it’s become part of my life.”

Dementia describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. It’s caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes.

Vicky undertook a Dementia Friends course to further understand what her nana was going through.

“It teaches you better ways of communicating with people who are suffering with it,” she says.

How her nana’s illness has affected the family – including Vicky’s mum Carol – and others is the subject of a short documentary as part of the BBC’s Inside Out programme.

“In the film we go to my mum’s house in Wollaton to interview her. Before we starting filming we discussed the possibility of actually going to my nana’s house in Aspley and filming there. Initially, we said no because she can’t speak for herself. She is unable to make that decision.

“But when it came to it, we decided to include her in the film simply because it’s very hard to describe to people what it’s like unless you see it.

“It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

The actress, who has starred in TV dramas Broadchurch and Line of Duty, adds: “I do like to keep my personal life to myself but this was a cause that was important and my mum agreed. And really it was my mum’s decision to make more than mine as she is my nan’s mum and one of her carers.

“She has a full-time job but she’s round there every other night.”

Nana is Iris Hedley, who’ll turn 78 on Monday, the day the documentary airs.

“Dementia is a horrible disease that means you forget who your family are. She was the most stylish and proudest woman and she was very confident but that woman doesn’t exist any more.

“Some days she knows who I am and some days she doesn’t. I’ve had my hair dyed blonde for filming This Is England 1990 and she recognised that I’d had it dyed but it’s hard to have a full conversation.

“My mum and her brother, they’re both used to it, if that’s the right term. When your nearest and dearest fall ill, I think you find an inner strength and you just get on with it.

“My mum is an extremely strong woman and she’s amazing with her. Even though sometimes she just doesn’t recognise her.

“She used to work at Player’s. My grandad, who worked at Raleigh and then Player’s, died quite a few years ago and my nana doesn’t always recognise his photograph.

“And she has a tendency to scream a lot, through frustration. I think it’s because if you ask her a question, she knows the answer but she just can’t find it.”

The documentary also sees Vicky, who grew up in Wollaton, visit the ward at the QMC where they treat sufferers of dementia, Alzheimer’s and delirium.

“I spent a day on the ward and met the patients, the families, the doctors, the nurses and the carers. It’s designed in such a way to help them, with signs explaining what day it is, which season it... and it’s colour coded.

“There’s not enough room on the ward so the charity helps people get support at home. My nana wants to be at home. She’s comfortable and she’s happy. But you can see in the film that clearly she’s not very well.

“It’s really beautifully made. It did make me cry because it’s my family.

“It’s very hard hitting, very real and very honest. Particularly when we visit the ward but I left there feeling very positive.

“I hope when people watch it, they get a greater understanding of those kinds of diseases.”

After making the film, Vicky, who lives with actor and producer Jonny Owen, who she met on the set of the film comedy Svengali, was back in Sheffield to continue filming This Is England 1990 for Channel 4, in which she returns as Lol.

“I have been recognised more with the blonde hair,” she says. “I was at Notts County on Sunday with my grandad and a few people recognised me there. It was a great game. We had chip butties and a pint at the Trent Navigation afterwards.

“I go whenever I can because every time I leave the ground I’m always buzzing.”

Notts County gave Vicky her own team shirt branded “McClure” and “BAFTA”, although she resists the urge to wear that to games.

“It’s in my drawer with all my other tops,” she laughs, adding: “I don’t mind people recognising me as Lol. I love This Is England. It’s my favourite job in the world. So being back on it is like living the dream. And I love that people love it.”

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