FEATURE: “Life’s too short to spend it wondering ‘what if...?’”

Chrissy Barker. Picture: Andrew Roe
Chrissy Barker. Picture: Andrew Roe

There’s no such thing as a regular day at the office for Chrissy Barker.

This morning she regaled schoolchildren with her experiences of taking in evacuees during the Second World War. The afternoon was spent in an interview room, being grilled by the police as to her involvement in her ex husband’s murder.

Chrissy Barker flicks through one of her scripts. Picture: Andrew Roe

Chrissy Barker flicks through one of her scripts. Picture: Andrew Roe

It’s a juicy life - but thankfully, not her own.

“That’s the life of a working actress,” smiles the 54-year-old grandmother-of-five.

“I do a bit of everything - I’m a role play actress for South Yorkshire Police and I work at the National Coal Mining Museum, playing various characters throughout history. I’ve written plays, one of which has been published, and I’ve produced and acted in monologues for Sheffield Community Radio. I’m also a columnist. Every day is different, and it’s so much fun.”

But Chrissy, who lives with her partner Pete in Barnsley, hasn’t always been an actress. She worked as a non-teaching assistant in a local school for 23 years until everything changed for her, one fateful day 14 years ago.

Everything changed for me the day I was involved in a horrible hit and run.

Chrissy Barker

“I was involved in a hit and run. I was struck by a car as I was out walking; it was horrible, the driver actually carried me on his bonnet for 15 yards before I rolled off,” recalls Chrissy.

“I was very badly injured, I had broken ribs, head injuries, the side of my face was ripped open and I had to have surgery on my mouth. My knees were damaged, my back too, everything changed for me that day.”

As Chrissy’s physical injuries began to slowly heal, she became depressed.

“I was scared to leave the house, I’d lost all my confidence,” she admits.

Chrissy Barker, in character at the National Coal Mining Museum

Chrissy Barker, in character at the National Coal Mining Museum

“I didn’t know what to do, so I decided I needed to get comfortable in my own skin again. That’s when I decided to join PADS.”

The Performing Arts Development Service - a drama club based in Barnsley - was to become Chrissy’s saviour.

“I’d always loved acting and writing, but I’d never had the guts to attempt it as a career,” says Chrissy, who also writes a regular column for The Star, as one half of the ‘Bottle Blondes’ duo.

“Slowly, as I attended more classes and auditions, my confidence grew and I fell in love with what I was doing. I played Lucky in Liz Tomlinson’s ‘Last Orders’ 12 years ago and it was thrilling. The turning point came for me when I was offered a role in a production called ‘Striking Dilemmas’ that was touring the country. I knew that if I didn’t do this now, I never would, so I made the decision to take a leap and I became a working actress that day -I honestly haven’t looked back since.”

Chrissy Barker works on the laptop. Picture: Andrew Roe

Chrissy Barker works on the laptop. Picture: Andrew Roe

Chrissy has since appeared in productions all across the region, talking on roles at The Crucible in Sheffield and Barnsley’s Lamproom Theatre.

She even wrote a play called Old Pete, about losing her dad to terminal cancer, which was published by Lazy B Publishers.

“One of the most thrilling moments of my life was when I found out that a theatre group in Oregon in America had bought the copyright to perform my play,” grins Chrissy.

“Obviously I’m a Barnsley lass and I wrote this with Barnsley actors in mind - there are even parts of it written in Barnsley dialect - and it makes me giggle to think of these American actors trying to speak the dialogue in genuine Barnsley accents!”
Chrissy has an agent and is now so busy she sometimes finds herself having to turn work down.

“The next project I have in my head is to try and write a book,” says Chrissy.

“I’m at a certain age in my life where I think there are funny things to talk about. The menopause is one great example because it takes a seemingly normal woman, throws a switch in her head, and suddenly you see the whole world differently. There’s no filter on the words that come out of my mouth anymore and I think there’s something quite amusing in that, so my book centres around a woman at this same point in her life, and the madness that ensues.

“There’s never a doubt in my mind that my career change was the right thing for me. Spending my time acting out all these great roles and writing about things that interest me is suiting me to a tee.

“My granddaughter is already following in my footsteps, which is lovely, and has just landed a role in a new play on Sheffield Community Radio, which I’m taking her to record next week.

“I would always advise my own children and grandchildren to go for their dreams, I’m proof it’s never too late to try.

“After all, life’s too short to spend time wondering ‘what if...?’

CHANGING CAREERS

If you’re considering a career change, it pays to get organised. The National Careers Service has a range of free sessions at libraries, job centres and learning centres all across South Yorkshire, for people who would like to chat through their options with an adviser.

A spokesman for the NCS said: “Planning can help you get the most out of your working life and helps you focus on what you should be doing next when thinking about a new career.

“It’s important to consider what you can do already, what you would like to do next and what else you need to learn to reach your goals.”

Visit National Career Service for more information.