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Obituary: Bernadette Nolan

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 5th Jul 2013 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge


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OBITUARY – Bernadette (Bernie) Nolan, 17/10/1960 – 04/07/2013

Born in Dublin on 17th October, 1960, Bernie Nolan first found fame as the lead singer of The Nolans from 1974 until 1994. Along with her sisters, Anne, Denise, Maureen, Linda and Coleen, she enjoyed phenomenal success both in the United Kingdom and abroad.

Best known for their classic disco track, I’m In The Mood For Dancing, and a string of other unforgettable hits including Attention To Me, Don’t Make Waves, Chemistry, Gotta Pull Myself Together and Who’s Gonna Rock You (Bernie’s favourite track), The Nolans’ wholesome brand of pop earned them a place in British chart history as one of the most successful girl groups ever and cemented their status as disco divas.


However, it was in Japan that The Nolans achieved some of their greatest triumphs, beginning with the Tokyo Music Festival where they were the first ever European act to win the much-coveted grand prize, and where competition included the likes of Randy Crawford and Jermaine Jackson. From there, they went on to sell an incredible 9.3 million records (exceeding The Beatles’ sales).

In 1994, after two decades at the helm of The Nolans, Bernie decided the time was right to go solo. Leading roles in The Devil Rides Out, City of Angels, Annie, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Godspell, A Slice of Saturday Night and Oh! What A Night soon established her as a rising star in musical theatre.

Bernie was also the first of four of The Nolans to play the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russell’s smash-hit musical play, Blood Brothers. When Denise, Linda and Maureen followed in her footsteps, the sisters earned themselves a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most siblings to play the same role in the same show at different times.

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Indeed, it was when Bernie was performing in Blood Brothers that Paul Marquess noticed her and offered her the role of Diane Murray in the Channel 4 soap opera, Brookside. She joined the cast in 2000 and stayed for two years before leaving to play the part of Sgt Sheelagh Murphy in the ITV police drama, The Bill.

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Bernie continued to perform regularly in leading roles on stage in productions including Our Benny, Mum’s The Word, Flashdance, Calendar Girls and, most recently as Mama Morton in Chicago. She was also a regular and popular performer in summer season shows and pantomime.

However, she never ventured far from her musical roots and, in 2005, released her debut solo album, All By Myself, which consisted of mainly power ballads. Five years later, she was runner-up in the celebrity reality television programme, Popstar to Operastar.

Described by broadcaster and friend Lorraine Kelly as “one of the hardest-working women in showbiz”, Bernie was also a tireless charity fundraiser. She supported causes including Alzheimer’s, cancer and children’s charities.

In 2010, Bernie became the third sister to suffer from breast cancer (both Anne and Linda had beaten the disease in 2000 and 2006, respectively). After undergoing chemotherapy and a mastectomy, Bernie also seemed to have beaten the disease. However, two years later, she announced that the cancer had returned and was incurable. It had metastasised to her brain, lungs, liver and bones.

Characteristically, Bernie faced up to the disease with courage, dignity and strength. She chronicled her fight against cancer in the moving yet uplifting bestseller, Now and Forever, and, in doing so, was hailed as an inspiration to others affected by cancer.

Tragically, but inevitably, Bernie Nolan died at her home in Surrey on the morning of Thursday 4th July, 2013, aged 52. A spokeswoman for the family said: "Bernie passed away peacefully this morning with all of her family around her. The entire family are devastated to have lost beloved Bernie, a wonderful wife, adoring mother and loving sister; she is irreplaceable." 

 Bernie leaves behind her husband, drummer Steve Doneathy, whom she married in 1996, and a daughter, Erin, who was born in 1999. Her first daughter, Kate, was stillborn in 1997.

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A Personal Tribute

Having been a massive fan of The Nolan’s since the 1970’s, it was hugely exciting and an enormous privilege to be given the opportunity to be publicist on a theatre tour starring the wonderful Maureen Nolan. We clicked instantly and keep in regular touch to this day.


It was through Maureen that I met two of her sisters, Bernie and Linda. By way of reputation and personal experience, I know that all of the sisters are extremely professional, hardworking and talented. However, they are also very grounded, down-to-earth women, too.

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I had first seen Bernie perform back in May 1998, when she starred in the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, and remember marvelling at her stunning performance and impressive vocal capabilities.  I’d also reviewed her performance in Flashdance at the Sunderland Empire and interviewed her in 2009 when The Nolans reunited for their big-budget arena tour. However, I did not get to meet her until the beginning of 2012, when she was starring as Malevolent in the pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, at The Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage.

Just as was the case with Maureen, the moment I met her I knew I liked her. She was completely natural, open and at ease with people. I soon discovered that, in addition to being a consummate professional, Bernie was a remarkable woman with a wicked sense of humour and genuine warmth.

She possessed a love of her work, her family and of life itself. But, at the same time, Bernie was nobody’s fool and wasn’t afraid to call a spade a spade; she could spot a fake a mile away.

Bernie faced up to her cancer the same way she dealt with everything else that life threw at her: with courage, dignity, grace and selflessness.

Her passing, although inevitable, is still a terrible shock to her family, friends and fans. It is hard to imagine a world without Bernie; without her joie de vivre; her voice belting out from the stage to the back of the auditorium; her smile beaming out from a poster, magazine or newspaper.

However, we can all take consolation from the fact that her long battle is now over and that her pain and suffering is at an end.

And, you can bet that she has already got the party started in Heaven and that everyone up there is ‘in the mood for dancing’.

Rest in peace, the one and only Bernie Nolan.

Steve Burbridge.



1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Thanks for that informative and personal tribute, Steve. Such a sad loss to her family, friends and fans in particular and the worlds of music, theatre, TV and drama in general.
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