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There was a time during lockdown when we feared we may never be able to set foot on a plane again, let alone bask in the glow of a faraway sunset. But with the situation starting to ease in many parts of the world, many of us have opted for a much-needed getaway.
And taking full advantage were best friends Denise Welch, Jenny Powell, Angela Lonsdale and Kate Thornton, who invited OK! to join them on their recent sun-soaked trip to Malta.
“There’s now a load of boring old forms to fill in, and menopausal women in masks is never a good combo,” Denise, 62, tells us as we catch up with the ladies while they sun themselves by the pool – keeping a safe distance. “But it’s such a treat to get away.”
“Lockdown made me feel more grateful,” actress Angela, 50, adds. “I feel grateful to reconnect with my best friends. Our first night here we were all so giddy to be together. It was a barmy hot summer’s night.”
“The taxi driver Ray fancied you all!” Denise interrupts before the ladies erupt into laughter.
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“That first night is my favourite memory too,” Kate, 47, says. “Not having to cook a meal for ourselves and to just all be together. I arrived ahead of the girls and I was on my sun lounger FaceTiming them all while they were about to fly out of the airport. That was when it hit me – I was in a foreign country on holiday! When I saw them it felt like a dream sequence. There was a time when we thought we’d never get on a plane again!”
“Kate made us walk down the street like we were in Sex And The City – and put the music to it,” Angela adds. “That just felt so special. It really captured us girls.”
Denise stopped drinking eight years ago, but the four friends certainly didn’t need alcohol to liven up the mood on their break. “I’ve been sober for eight years so I pick my holiday companions very carefully for my own sanity,” Denise explains. “There’s nothing worse than being trapped in a room with drunk people.”
She adds, “Kate, Jenny and Angela all like a drink, but it doesn’t change them. They have a few margaritas by the pool and we go out for dinner and I’ve never once felt left out. It’s not about wild late nights, we just laugh like drains. Especially one night where Kate ordered a fish stew and it had the whole cast of Finding Nemo on one plate!”
“I swallowed an aquarium that night,” Kate laughs.
“We all went to bed in food comas and were sending GIFs,” Angela adds. “And I felt sorry for whoever was in the next room because I was belly laughing and crying. Kate kept sending videos of talking sharks.”
The ladies had a lot of catching up to do after spending much of lockdown apart. But Kate admits the constant chatter seemed to have a bizarre impact on Denise.
“When we get together, we just talk,” she says. “We’re like a sponsored talkathon – it’s constant chatter. But I put Denise to sleep with my witty repartee on this holiday. I was there telling her this interesting story and the next thing I know, she’s sound asleep. In the middle of the conversation! I thought she’d be so excited for us to finally be together again and within 10 minutes I’d talked her into a coma.”
“I guess I just need to record your voice to play for when I’m having trouble sleeping,” Denise teases.
“Just stick my podcast on babe, you’ll be sorted,” Kate replies.
The foursome have been close for years and their bond is clear as they laugh together throughout our chat.
Denise explains, “Ange and I met 27 years ago when we played sisters in a play called A Nightingale Sang In Eldon Square. It was a Geordie play – we became firm friends. Kate and I became friends when we presented together on Loose Women. And we’re both great connectors of our friends. We introduce people well. Jenny and I have known each other since our kids were young. My 19-year-old son Louis used to have a crush on Jenny’s daughter Connie. Now his biggest crush is Jenny!”
Kate adds, “Jenny and I clicked instantly. Within 20 minutes of meeting I was staying at her house for the weekend. Whenever the girls are in London for work, I always tell them to stay at mine instead of getting a hotel.”
Lockdown has been a time of reflection for us all and has certainly made us long for human contact and time away with our nearest and dearest. But the ladies tell OK! their enduring friendships have helped make even the most challenging moments bearable.
Denise has been open about her struggle with bipolar and when she suffered an episode last September she shared it publicly online.
“I’ve been very lucky in lockdown not to have a depressive episode,” she explains. “But these are my go-to girls when I’m very poorly. They know what to do to be there for me and also how to leave me be. I don’t have to say how I’m feeling, they just know.”
“Good friends are there through the ups and the downs,” Kate says. “When Denise is quiet, it says everything. Jen and I spoke during lockdown and agreed we were both over it. So we decided to be over it together with a bottle of wine and it all felt better after!”
All four women say their female friendships have only improved with age, and presenter Jenny, 52, reveals that after her 19-year-old daughter Connie joined them on the recent getaway, she was shocked by how open and honest their conversations were.
“Some interesting conversations have been had – she’s learned a lot from this holiday,” she says. “You have to choose your friends wisely. You only need a handful. I spent my twenties and thirties without very close female friends. I never connected. But I have such a great group now and it’s so important to be comfortable around the right people. I’ve got such dependable, experienced, lovely girlfriends.”
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“Oh, you must introduce us to them!” Kate jokes. “But in all seriousness, when you connect your tribes of friends, it has to work. You can’t pour oil on water. We know we get on well and we know we’ll have a great time away.”
Although Malta has now been added to the UK’s quarantine list – forcing Brits to isolate for 14 days once they’ve returned home – the women say they hope they can return to the sunny islands soon.
“Oh, we can’t wait to come back,” Denise says. “A few days isn’t long enough. We’re in a weird time where we have to see what happens, but hopefully everyone can start enjoying quality time away with their loved ones. I’ve never needed a holiday before. I’ve only ever wanted one. But this was needed!”
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