This year is certainly the year for comebacks for much-loved star Martine McCutcheon, with the singer and actress returning to both our screens and our airwaves in 2017.
Just months after revisiting her Love Actually alter-ego Natalie for Comic Relief special ‘Red Nose Day Actually’, the star has relaunched her singing career after taking time away from the spotlight due to her ongoing battle with Lyme Disease and M.E.
Speaking exclusively to Yahoo Celebrity UK ahead of the release of her upcoming album, ‘Lost and Found’, next month, Martine opened up about her grand return to the studio – admitting that after her confidence hit rock bottom whilst filming Love Actually in the early noughties, she is now more self-assured than ever.
Discussing her crippling chronic illnesses, Martine told us: “The truth is, when I wrote these songs I really didn’t know if I would be well enough to perform ever again.
“I lost my health and as a result I lost my insurance to work and as a result money dwindled away and I just hit rock bottom. The one thing I could do that didn’t take too much energy was write lyrics and through that difficult and frustrating time writing was my relief, my sanctuary – it was just for me.
“I didn’t have any expectations of having an album again, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to perform again but bit by bit I got my health back on track and it’s kind of just taken its own momentum and just happened.
“As somebody who has spent a lot of my life fighting to make things happen it has been really mad to watch what can unfold when you just let go and you can trust that you are doing what you want to do.
“If people love my new music that’s great but if they don’t then I did it first and foremost for me.”
And it’s not just her singing career that has seen Martine’s positive change in attitude, with the former EastEnders actress also going on to reveal that returning to the Love Actually set earlier this year was another brand new experience.
Confessing to us that her confidence was at an all time low when she filmed the original film back in 2003, aged just 27, Martine was a new woman when she walked back onto the set to film the short sequel as a 41-year-old mum-of-one.
Recalling her experience filming Love Actually 14 years ago, Martine explained: “The first time around I was such a nervous wreck, I was really insecure.
“I had just done My Fair Lady and had a really difficult run and my confidence was majorly knocked. So when I did Love Actually I was a wreck and restoring myself again and working with that calibre of people was brilliant for me because I saw that they’re all nervous and all trying their best.
“What was lovely this time around what that I went back as a woman in her 40s, with a baby, gone through a lot with my head on my shoulders and a lot more secure in myself and what I can bring to the table.
“I was more confident basically and I enjoyed it so much more this time around than I did the first time. I loved it the first time but I was really nervous and now I am a bit more self-assured and took it all in and I loved it.”
Martine also revealed how director Richard Curtis introduced the idea of a Love Actually sequel to the cast of the film, telling us: “We went round to Richard’s house for a ‘Supper Actually’ and he said ‘Who thought that after all these years this film would still be so huge?’
“I was like: ‘Please tell me that Natalie and David have kids! Please tell me that they’re married!’ he told me that unfortunately we don’t get the time to go into all of that but she’s still there and they still love each other.”
“[The sequel] was for charity so it was something close to all of our hearts. It was great to see everyone; filming Love Actually was like going to University – you go to University and have that time with those people in your life – nobody else will get the journey you have had and when you see each other it brings back that magical time in your life.”
And being such a huge part of one of the world’s best-loved Christmas films isn’t an honour that Martine takes lightly, with the star adding: “The film is a lot of what I stand for and what I believe in.
“It has such a wonderful message and more than ever people need to have some happiness and hope in their lives and the sequel came at the right time [the sequel aired just days after the Westminster terrorist attack]. It’s lovely to be associated with that message, it’s really lovely.”
Reflecting on her long-running career, which kicked off when she was cast as Tiffany Raymond in BBC One soap opera EastEnders in 1994, Martine admits that she feels incredibly lucky to still be in the public eye over two decades later.
She shared: “When I became well known there weren’t many channels for fame or celebrity; we had four TV channels and millions and millions of people invested in you and your journey and even once you’d left the show and it’s you as a person, not a character, they still genuinely care for you.
“Once you made a name for yourself it kind of stuck and that’s what I am very grateful for. There’s not many people now that people would still be interested in all these years later, personally I feel really lucky.
“It’s something that I never took for granted; the support makes me quite emotional.”
After a pause, Martine concluded with: “I had big dreams but I never thought for a second that so many of them would come true.
“I gave my best shot with everything but never thought my number one would happen, then My Fair Lady, then Love Actually and everything inbetween. EastEnders put me in good stead for so much and I’ll always be thankful for it and for the memories.”
Martine’s new album ‘Lost and Found’ is out on 11 August.