In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Irish girl group The Nolans were enjoying the peak of their fame: touring with Frank Sinatra, selling out stadiums in Russia and being mobbed in Japan, where they were huge stars. While the singing sisters sold over 30 million records during their career, today their lifestyle couldn’t be more different.
Speaking on White Wine Question Time, Maureen Nolan told Kate Thornton that despite this huge success, her and her sisters are skint.
“It wasn't until much, much later, I suppose, almost nowadays where you look back and somebody made millions out of us,” she said. “None of us have money, except Coleen!”
She continued: “Whatever money Coleen's got has not come from The Nolans, it's from her own career in the media career. I don't think any of us got bitter and twisted about it - there's no point in being bitter and twisted. We're still broke!”
Maureen and Coleen are reunited with sisters Linda and Anne on a new series, The Nolans Go Cruising, on Quest Red from 7 July, where the foursome chat about their previous life while – you’ve guessed it – on a cruise.
Coleen, who appeared on the podcast with sister Maureen, believes that today’s young musicians – which include her own son, Jake from Push Baby - are so much savvier than they were.
“We just did what we were told and signed what we were told at the time and trusted that they trusted the people that were telling us to do it,” explained the Loose Woman star.
While they may not have made their fortunes from being in the band, the pair did admit that they had loads of fantastic memories.
For Maureen, who has since had a successful career in the theatre, the highlight of her career was touring with Frank Sinatra. In 1975, the five elder sisters supported the legendary crooner on his European tour.
“We were brought up on Sinatra,” said Maureen. “We knew all the lyrics to all those standards and stuff, you know, and so then we were offered this tour. It was a dream – we watched the show every night – and we used his 60-piece orchestra.
“He used to come over at the sound checks and say: 'You girls are a little bit young to remember these songs.' Now I think why didn't one of us stand up and go 'We know every lyric, we know what you had for breakfast, we know what colour underpants you wear!'
He was almost like a surrogate father growing up. We knew him so well because we adored him.”
Coleen, who wasn’t in the band during the Sinatra tour, has really fond memories of their time in Japan in the ‘80s – a time when they outsold The Beatles.
“I think the whole ‘80s thing in Japan was incredible, and something that at the time I didn't appreciate enough because it was hard work,” she told Kate. “I was very young, and I spent most of it going, 'Oh, I just want to go home'.”
As the youngest Nolan sister to join the band, Coleen was only a teenager during their time in Japan and revealed the punishing schedule they had while there was really hard, but ultimately worth it.
“I look back and go, ‘Wow!’ It was the first time – and probably the last time – where I felt like a proper pop star,” she laughed.
“You know, screaming in the street. We weren't allowed to leave the hotel. We had to have the army take us around. It was like everything you dreamed of a pop star when you were a kid - and there I was 15, living it, but not appreciating it at the time.”
In 1986, The Nolans had another amazing experience in a very different country. They played in stadiums across Russian, where Western-starved locals packed in to hear the Irish sisters do their stuff.
While it was a career success, it was a different case behind the scenes.
“It was before Glasnost, so literally there was nothing to eat,” recalled Maureen. “I mean, we were existing on boiled eggs and cucumbers. Occasionally you got Coke – and vodka!”
“I mean, I'm not really a big drinker, but I remember drinking half a bottle of vodka a night. That's all that was to do at night – drink vodka!”
Coleen said to alleviate the boredom, the sisters turned all their bedrooms into English pubs, and would invite the crew and band along to ‘The Red Lion’ or whatever they had named them – but it didn’t always last very long, as one incident in Moscow showed.
“Each floor had a warden, like a big woman warden,” Maureen told Kate. “And she came and said 'Very late, go to bed!' We were like 'Whatever' and shut the door.
“Then there was another knock and she'd come back with a guy with a machine gun behind her and we went, 'Oh, is that the time?'”
The pair said that experiencing success as a family was the key to keeping their feet on the ground.
“We used to protect each other really, you know, in lots of ways,” said Maureen. “If one of us was getting big time, you know, the others would slap them down.”
Coleen agreed saying: “We've always done everything and been surrounded by family. I think that makes such a difference.”
Despite settling for a quieter life now, Coleen says she’s glad she’s got those special memories to keep her going.
“I drive my kids mad now because I'm 55 and I still go on about it now,” she laughed. “Whenever they say anything I go, ‘I think you forget, I was huge in Japan!’”