The Bill’s Lisa Maxwell reveals her past struggles with food and how she stays looking so youthful in her mid-40s
'You can’t get away with eating what you like if you want to stay in shape, so I’m really disciplined. I have
small portions and never snack between meals.'
When Lisa Maxwell stepped on to the red carpet last month in a show-stopping lace frock, she caused quite a stir.
With her toned figure and radiant glow, the 45-year-old actress effortlessly carried off a daring dress that could have made headlines for all the wrong reasons – as Lisa herself was only too aware.
“When I first tried it on, I thought: ‘I can’t possibly wear that, it’s just too rude!’” she says of her backless Catherine Walker gown.
“But nothing else fitted properly, so I had no choice. I had fake tan on so I felt a bit less naked, then I got my partner Paul to help me stick tit tape all down the sides to make sure I didn’t pop out!”
Unlike many stars who claim they’re “naturally skinny,” Lisa, who plays DI Sam Nixon in ITV1’s The Bill, is refreshingly honest about the effort it takes to stay slim.
She says: “You can’t get away with eating what you like if you want to stay in shape, so I’m really disciplined. I have
small portions and never snack between meals.”
Shockingly, she admits that rigidly controlling her diet due to the pressure of being in the spotlight once drove her to the brink of an eating disorder.
“I’m in an industry where emphasis is put on appearance, so I’m very aware of the way I look – and I could become obsessive about it if I let myself,” says Lisa.
“But I know how damaging taking it to an extreme can be”
As a teen, Lisa went to the famous Italia Conti school. As with many stage schools, eating disorders were rife among the pupils. One classmate was Lena Zavaroni, the child singer who tragically died from anorexia when she was 35.
'I could become obsessive about it if I let myself'
Lisa’s own issues with food, however, didn’t come to light until she moved to LA in the early ’90s to work in Hollywood, after having her own comedy show on the BBC, The Lisa Maxwell Show.
She says: “I’d audition for parts against all these beautiful people. When I didn’t get jobs, I assumed it was because I didn’t look as good as them. So I’d be virtually starving myself and going to the gym every day.”
Lisa was 7st 10lbs when she was in her early 20s and working as a children’s TV presenter on BBC’s No Limits.
But at her lightest, she went down to a size 0 (UK size 4) and weighed just 6_st – worryingly tiny, even for someone as petite as 5ft 2 Lisa.
“I probably had an eating disorder, even though I never had it diagnosed,” she says.
Returning to the UK three years later and free from the pressures of Hollywood, she swapped long gym workouts for letting her hair down and went back to a UK size 6 – still tiny but Lisa feels it’s a healthy size for her height.
“I used to party hard back then,” she says. “I’d get sh*t-faced, then eat chips!”
However, as she was performing on the West End stage every night as Marty in Grease, she was getting lots of exercise and was fit despite the partying.
It was meeting her fiancé, sculptor Paul Jessup, 40, and then falling pregnant with daughter Beau, now 10, that finally put an end to her partying.
These days, Lisa – who leaves The Bill this month after seven years – is the model of clean-living. She quit smoking five years ago and only has the odd glass of wine. But she admits she hasn’t done any exercise since becoming pregnant with Beau.
As for her diet, a typical day starts with muesli or a skinny Starbucks muffin, then she’ll have a salad for lunch, and fish with rice and vegetables for dinner. Lisa swears by three healthy meals a day.
“I’ll get a lovely loaf of bread so that one slice of toast satisfies me, rather than filling up on cheap white bread”
“I’ll get a lovely loaf of bread so that one slice of toast satisfies me, rather than filling up on cheap white bread,”
says Lisa, who lives in north London.
And although she treats herself to the occasional chocolate bar or burger, she makes up for it by eating less the next day.
She admits she can become obsessive so she never gets on the scales to avoid falling into her old ways, and has “no idea” what she weighs now.
The actress says she eats sensibly and avoids faddy diets because she is determined to set a good example to her daughter Beau.
Lisa says: “She loves chocolate, crisps and doughnuts – the things I don’t eat – but I have to let her. I could so easily pass on my ex-stage school food neuroses.”
Despite working in the most ageist of industries, Lisa says she has no fears about growing older. Rather than being inspired by 50-something super-woman Madonna – “she looks amazing, but I can’t relate to her at all” – she welcomes more realistic female role models.
“Luckily there are the Loose Women, who speak honestly and look fab” says Lisa, who’s currently appearing on the ITV1 show.
Although Lisa has always looked young for her age, she admits to spending a lot of time and money keeping the signs of ageing at bay. She follows a strict skincare regime using a range of expensive anti-ageing products called DCL – which give the effect of a mild chemical peel – and never goes out without SPF25 on her face.
Lisa hasn’t ruled out plastic surgery, but fears that with her “obsessive” personality, she could take things too far.
She says: “I’m toying with the idea of getting the skin above my eyes done, but then I’ll think: ‘My eyes look young, but my jawline could use some help.’ Where do you stop?
“You need to find a way to be happy in the skin you’ve got by surrounding yourself with people who think you’re beautiful, love you for who you are and make you feel special. I certainly have!”