Former yo-yo dieter Tricia Penrose says her mum’s illness made her realise there’s more to life than calorie counting – and she loves her curvy figure.
Looking sultry while wearing nothing but a smile in Closer magazine’s naked photo shoot, former yo-yo dieter Tricia Penrose says she’s finally comfortable in her own skin.
After a decade of body battles, she reveals it was the devastating news that her mum, Sue Gordon, 58, was fighting lung cancer that was the wake-up call she needed to stop obsessing about her size.
The Liverpool-born actress, 42, who’s best known for playing ’60s sex kitten Gina in ITV1 drama Heartbeat, says: “When you find out your mum has advanced lung cancer, it puts everything into perspective.
“Me and Mum are so close, we’re more like sisters. She’s always told me I look gorgeous at any size and hated me dieting. When she was diagnosed in July 2010, I vowed never to diet again. It made me realise that life’s too short to be constantly calorie counting.”
Since Heartbeat finished in September 2010, Tricia has taken time out from acting to be with her mum and enjoy family life at home in Cheshire with her TV presenter husband Mark Simpkin, 39, and their two boys, Jake, eight, and Freddy, three.
And, since swearing off diets, the star – who now weighs 10st 5lbs – says she’s more confident about her size 12-14 body than ever.
“I’ve been every size from an 8 to a 16 when I was pregnant, but I no longer care if I’m a bit bigger. I’m learning to love my curves. They’re sexy!” she says. “I get more compliments now than I did when I was skinny.”
Tricia, who’s 5ft 4, was at her thinnest in 2007, after losing 3st for her fitness DVD, Before And After Body Blitz. She went from 11st to 8st and a size 8, but insists she wouldn’t want to be that thin again.
“I thought I looked fabulous at the time, but my friends all told me I didn’t look well. And, looking back at photos, I can see my head looks too big for my body and my face is drawn.”
Tricia soon found it too hard to maintain the strict diet and exercise regime she’d been on for the DVD. She began treating herself to unhealthy snacks, and two years – and baby Freddy – later she was back up to 11st 1lb.
In May 2010, Closer helped her shed more than 1st on a low-fat, calorie-controlled diet, which saw her get down to a healthy 9∂st and drop from a size 14 to a 10.
But, after struggling to stick to a healthy calorie intake, Tricia admits that dieting took over her life. “If I’d put on a couple of pounds I’d cancel nights out and sometimes drastically restrict my diet,” she recalls. “Once I counted out five cashew nuts for lunch – that’s how bad it got.
“I’d be at parties with gorgeous celebs and sneak off to the toilet. I’d stand in there thinking: ‘I don’t want to be here, because I feel so fat.’”
But now Tricia’s dieting days are behind her, she says she’s much more relaxed: “You can’t live a full life that way. It’s such a relief not to worry if I’ve put on a pound.”
And she’s so thrilled with her new curves that she bravely stripped off for our exclusive photo shoot – something she wouldn’t have considered a few years ago.
She reveals: “Posing for Closer at this time in my life feels very empowering.”
Tricia – who was recently involved in an awkward “dress off” with reality star Amy Childs, 21, when they both arrived at a fashion show wearing the same leopard-print frock – also wanted to prove a point to her critics. One cruel online comment even compared Tricia to “a python who’d swallowed a cow.”
“That would have upset me in the past, but not now,” she says. “I wanted to prove I’ve beaten my diet demons.”
Tricia also credits husband Mark with boosting her body confidence. “He loves me at any size, but he thinks I’m sexier bigger. He’s always saying: ‘I love your jelly belly!’” she laughs.
Although she’s relaxed her diet, she admits: “I wouldn’t want to creep up to a size 16 or 18, because that would be uncomfortable for my frame. But if I’m a size 14, so be it.”
And these days, instead of punishing gym workouts, she gets her exercise running around after her sons. She says: “I used to beat myself up if I didn’t go to the gym every day – but now fitness is all about activities I can do with my family. It’s more fun.”
And when it comes to her diet, treats are back on the menu. She adds: “I don’t stress about having fish and chips – I don’t deprive myself. I love cooking and I make lots of healthy stir-fries.”
Tricia says she’s had some “exciting work offers” recently, but enjoying life is her top priority. “It’ll soon be two years since Mum was diagnosed and we’re all being positive,” she says. “We’re making the most of our time together. We’re off to Egypt soon and I can’t wait to get into my bikini!”
This week’s Closer magazine is on sale now (Tuesday).