“Jim Bowen helped save my life.”

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories
Sally Naden for Real Life Stories
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Lancashire radio personality Sally Naden has lived a full and action packed life with plenty of highs and lows.

Despite coming close to death, Sally is always happy and smiling and refuses to let anything faze her.

She tells AASMA DAY her story and why she believes life begins at 60.

When it comes to bouncing back, Sally Naden has it down to an art form.

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

The bubbly BBC Radio Lancashire presenter has an infectious smile and zest for life despite some of the turmoils she has endured.

And unlike those who dread each advancing year, Sally, who turned 60 on her last birthday jokes: “Life begins at 60.”

Sally, who lives in Poulton-le-Fylde with television cameraman husband Dave, admits: “I was excited about turning 60 because what’s the alternative?

“I did wonder if it would feel funny saying ‘60’, but it doesn’t.

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories.  Collect with granddaughter Molly Hamilton and brother David Tinker.

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories. Collect with granddaughter Molly Hamilton and brother David Tinker.

“In my head, I still feel the same as when I was about 27.

“Sadly, my arms aren’t 27 any more!”

Sally, who has a daughter Diana and two step-children as well as eight grandchildren, says she appreciates life all the more after having two life-changing experiences - escaping from the Summerland fire on the Isle of Man and surviving breast cancer more than a decade ago.

Sally, who grew up in South East London, went to the Italia Conti Stage School in London where her peers included Lena Zavaroni and Bonnie Langford.

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories.  Collect with husband Dave at Buckingham Palace.

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories. Collect with husband Dave at Buckingham Palace.

She says: “I always wanted to be on the stage. My dream when I was younger was to be Doris Day!

“I worked as a professional dancer from the age of 15, I worked in productions all over the country and did pantomime and summer seasons.

“I was also one of the Tiller Girls at Morecambe Winter Gardens.”

Sally met husband Dave on the Isle of Man when she was working as a 17-year-old dancer at the Summerland leisure complex in Douglas in 1973. The pair escaped the horror inferno that claimed the lives of 50 people.

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally explains: “I was working as one of four dancers and Dave was there with his brother as a double act from Blackpool.

“They were called The Naden Brothers and did comedy, cabaret and singing.

“Dave tells me it was love at first sight, but I initially thought it was just a summer season romance.”

Sally and Dave were among those trapped in the Summerland fire which remains one of the worst disasters in the Isle of Man’s history.

Sally remembers: “We escaped the fire by the skin of our teeth.

“I was with the dancers on stage when we noticed smoke.

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories.  Pictured with Gordon Brown.

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories. Pictured with Gordon Brown.

“Then there was an explosion and flames spread rapidly from the floor to the ceiling. It was a horrific inferno that people could see from Blackpool.

“It only took about eight minutes for the whole place to burn from end to end.”

The fire was started by three youngsters who had been smoking near the crazy golf course at the leisure complex.

Sally managed to escape after following a group of musicians who smashed a reinforced glass window with a trestle table.

Meanwhile, future husband Dave and his brother made it to a fire exit only to find it chained and padlocked and had to run up two flights of stairs to find another exit.

Sally believes surviving the fire cemented her and Dave’s relationship.

She explains: “It made us value life and not take anything for granted.

“I only realised how much I missed Dave when I went home. He came to see me and after a while, I moved to Blackpool to be with him.”

Sally, who has now been with Dave for 43 years and married to him for 35, continued working as a professional dancer, including on Blackpool’s North Pier until she had their daughter Diana.

Sally says: “I discovered I was expecting my daughter while I was in pantomime at Preston Charter Theatre with Frank Carson.

“It was Aladdin and I was the genie of the lamp.

“I went back the following year with Diana as a baby and played Mother Bear in Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

“In those days, you had a wardrobe mistress and she looked after Diana while I was on stage.

“I gave up the dancing when Diana was three as it became too difficult. Also, I wanted to be a full-time mum and the showbiz lifestyle and touring didn’t make that possible.”

When her daughter was 12, Sally decided to find out if she had a brain.

Sally explains: “I had not taken any scholastic qualifications and left school without O Levels or GCSEs as I went to stage school.

“I had all my stage qualifications in dance, speech and drama.

“I went to what was then Preston Polytechnic and didn’t think I had a hope as everyone looked so young and brainy.

“However, I did my Foundation Studies and after that a full-time degree in Education Studies and English Literature and managed to achieve a 2:1.”

Sally followed this with a Post graduate course in broadcast journalism at what is now the University of Central Lancashire.

She carried out work experience at Rock FM and was offered a job as soon as she completed her course.

She worked there as a radio journalist for a couple of years before being poached by Radio Lancashire to work as a presenter.

Sally recalls: “I did not think I could be a presenter and it was something that hadn’t even occurred to me.

“But Steve Taylor, the managing editor at the time, thought I could do it.

“I moved to the BBC and co-presented the breakfast programme with Mike West.”

Sally continued doing this until she was called into the managing editor’s office and told wanted her to co-present a new mid-morning show with former Bullseye host Jim Bowen.

Smiling, Sally says: “That was the beginning of a lovely relationship.

“It was crazy and we had a lot of fun. It became known as the ‘Happy Daft Show’.”

Sally has lots of funny memories of her time presenting with Jim Bowen, but says one that stands out is when they appealed on the radio for a unicycle someone wanted for an event.

Sally says: “I thought we didn’t have a hope of getting a unicycle so I said on the radio: ‘If we get one of those, I’ll show my bare backside in Debenhams shop window.’

“By lunchtime, we had three unicycles!

“We ended up doing a show at Debenhams in Blackburn so I could be true to my word.

“As we walked there, I remember thinking there probably wouldn’t be many people.

“But as we turned the corner, the police had put up barricades as there were hundreds of people queued up outside Debenhams!

“We did the show from there and at the end, I did a mock strip tease and came out in a costume provided by Blackpool Pleasure Beach which was a silver sparkly bikini.

“There seemed to be an audible feeling that I hadn’t delivered so I went behind a screen and pulled out a blown up photo of myself aged three months lying on a rug baring my backside.

“So I did technically show my bare backside in Debenhams window!”

Sally spent four years presenting with Jim Bowen. She went on to work on the drivetime show with Steve Becker, who sadly passed away recently at the age of 56.

Sally admits she was initially hesitant about working with Steve as she didn’t think they would have anything in common.

She explains: “Steve was an outdoorsy, Real Ale, camping kind of guy while I am a gin and tonic, five star hotel type of girl so I didn’t think we’d have anything in common.

“However, Steve was one of the nicest co-presenters I’ve ever worked with.

“He was generous and had a wicked sense of humour.

“He was a lovely man and had so much knowledge yet came up with some of the daftest and funniest ideas.

“I felt utter disbelief when I heard about Steve’s death. He was so fit, healthy, carried no extra weight and did all the right things.

“He was the last person you’d expect to have a heart attack as he was so full of life.”

It was while she was working with Steve Becker that Sally was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 49.

Sally’s mother had breast cancer and her aunt died of the disease so Sally was always vigilant about checking herself.

When she noticed a slight puckering of the skin on her left breast, Sally decided to get it checked out.

Sally feels she was let down by the NHS as she had a mammogram and fine needle biopsy but kept having to call to chase the results.

She says: “If I had not kept pushing, I could easily have thought that as I hadn’t heard anything, everything must be fine.”

Sally was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer and told she needed a mastectomy.

Sally was adamant she wanted a reconstruction mastectomy which keeps the skin of the breast and replaces the breast with tissue and muscle from the stomach.

However, because of the delay in diagnosis, Sally was told she couldn’t have the operation on the NHS as she needed surgery quickly.

She ended up paying £8,000 to have it done privately - and reveals Jim Bowen lent her the money.

She says: “I had to take a loan out to pay for the surgery, but needed the money upfront.

“I was on the telephone to Jim Bowen and he said: ‘The money will be in your account by this afternoon.’

“It was such a lovely thing for him to do. As soon as the money from the loan came through, I paid him back.”

Sally went through surgery and chemotherapy and looking back, realises it must have been far tougher for husband Dave than it was for her.

She says: “Dave lost his sister to breast cancer when she was only 47 and he had that fear of history repeating itself.

“When it is you who is ill, you just get on with it and look to the next treatment.

“My operation took eight hours and I cannot imagine facing that long when the person you love is in the operating theatre.

“I lost my hair in patches so Dave shaved it off for me. He had tears streaming down his face as he did it.”

It has now been 11 years since Sally’s cancer diagnosis and she says she sometimes forgets she had cancer.

She says: “I was walking with Dave and we were talking about staying healthy and I remarked how lucky we were that neither of us had suffered any major illnesses.

“He just looked at me incredulously and said: ‘You’ve forgotten haven’t you?’

“And I had!

“I was very public about my breast cancer experience and did a lot of work with women going through similar experiences.

“I often had a stream of ladies at my front door wanting to look at my chest and I would show them what it a reconstruction looked like.”

Sally is now living life to the full and as well as working for Radio Lancashire, for the last two years, she has gone back to her panto roots and played the part of a fairy at different theatres.

She is very grateful for the achievements and experiences she has had in the last decade including becoming an Honorary Fellow at the University of Central Lancashire and Myerscough College, winning radio awards and going to the Queen’s Garden Party twice.

Asked about her aims for the future, Sally simply says: “I just want to keep on doing what I’m doing.

“If I could stay doing what I am and keep healthy, I would be happy with that.”

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories.  Pictured with husband Dave.

Sally Naden for Real Life Stories. Pictured with husband Dave.