The Nolans look back on their dysfunctional childhood: 'I suppose we were exploited'

Maureen and Coleen Murphy are reuniting for new show The Nolans Go Cruising (Getty)

As a family singing group, The Nolans, who started off as The Singing Nolans in 1963, grew up in the spotlight, working long hours from a young age.

Chatting to Kate Thornton on White Wine Question Time, Maureen and Coleen Nolan opened up about their unusual childhood, saying at times it felt somewhat exploitative.

“People used to say to me, what was your childhood like?” Maureen told Kate. “And I’d go ‘Oh my God. It was amazing!’ I loved being part of the big family and Christmases were magical.

“But actually now, I look back and I think, 'Wow, talk about dysfunctional!' When you have your own kids, and your own family, it puts it all in kind of in a different perspective really.”

Read more: Nolan sisters to cast off on cruising travel show

The group began when the girls were quite young, with Coleen joining the singing sisters aged just 15. Rules now state that children under 18 need a licence to perform, as well as safeguarding while on any performing job – something that definitely didn’t exist for Maureen and her sisters.

“I worked from nine to 19 with no rules at all,” stated Maureen. “Missing school, getting in at three in the morning, working every hour god sends in working men clubs after school, straight from school to the club. I would have killed for a little bit of those kinds of rules then.

Maureen and Tommy Nolan formed The Singing Nolans with their children in 1963 (Getty)

“I suppose we were exploited a little bit – in the nicest possible way. We didn't feel it was an exploitation, but I suppose it was in a way, you know.”

Although she didn’t feel taken advantage of at the time, Coleen said looking back she can’t believe she was made to do what she did.

“I didn't feel it was exploitation until I had kids of my own,” the Loose Women presenter said. “I looked at Ciara [her daughter] when she was two, and I thought ‘I was going on stage when I was two’.

“When you get your own kids and you see how tried they are at 6, 7 o'clock and I'd think we'd just be leaving to go and do a working men's club at that time!”

Read more: Coleen Nolan's daughter Ciara looks like a sixth Nolan Sister in new birthday photo

Maureen, who has since trod the boards in musical theatre, said that things changed for her when they moved to London and her dad began drinking.

“It just got too much,” she told Kate. “I just wanted to be normal and go to the youth clubs and stuff with our friends and not have to think about, 'Oh, I'm going to sing, and I can't do anything after school as I'm singing again.'”

Irish girl group The Nolan Sisters (top left, clockwise) Denise, 24, Maureen, 21, Linda, 17, Anne, 24 and Bernadette 'Bernie', 16. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

Their childhood wasn’t without some highlights though – especially when they got to stay in fancy London hotels.

Read more: Coleen Nolan opens up about her worst decade, saying she felt 'redundant as a woman'

“In amongst all the clubs, now and then we'd get fantastic gigs to appear in London at The Royal Garden or The Grosvenor House,” Maureen recalled.

“We'd all drive to London and stay in this grotty, little B&B or whatever - and we'd have our estate car, with all our luggage on top - literally like The Beverly Hillbillies and all piled into it.”

She continued: “I remember pulling up at The Royal Garden Hotel and the family in front of us got out of this limo and they all had matching pigskin luggage. The guy in the top hat, he saw them all in and then looked at us and walked away!”

You can watch Maureen and Coleen, with their two sisters Linda and Anne, on The Nolans Go Crusing from 7 July on Quest Red.

Hear Maureen and Coleen talk more about their amazing music career, plus how the death of sister Bernie affected them on Yahoo’s White Wine Question Time. Listen on iTunes and Spotify now.

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