When Kellie Shirley first found out she was pregnant, it came as a shock. The former EastEnders actress was filming CBeebies show Biff & Chip in Manchester when she suddenly started to feel unwell.
“It was during that really hot weather in the summer,” Kellie recalls. “We couldn’t have fans on during filming because of the sound quality and we were filming quite high up – and heat rises. I felt terrible.
“I was literally on my hands and knees feeling horrendous and the on set medic called John, said, ‘Are you sure you’re not pregnant?’. I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m hardly seeing my husband! It’s just this heat.’
“Then I was being sick for a couple of weeks and he said, ‘Go and get a pregnancy test’, so I did. It came back positive straightaway. I was like, ‘Oh my God, John was right!’ It was a really lovely surprise. I feel very lucky.”
Kellie, 41, and her husband, writer Phil Davies, are already parents to seven-year-old twins, Pearl and Louie.
“We found out we’re having another boy,” says Kellie, whose son is due in March. “As the pregnancy was a shock, I felt like I wanted to be able to connect with the baby more. I didn’t have a preference – I just want the baby to be healthy.”
Kellie shared the news with the twins when she was 18 weeks pregnant and starting to show.
“I wanted to wait because I was so conscious of something happening,” she says. “I’m a realist and didn’t want to get carried away. But Pearl had been looking at me funny for a few weeks as I’d been getting a bit of a belly.”
But the twins had very different reactions to the news. “Pearl was so excited and has been drawing lovely little cards and a welcome pack,” says Kellie. “But Louie cried and said, ‘Oh, you will love the baby more than me!’ But he’s coming round to the idea.”
Kellie and Phil, who live in south London, haven’t decided on a name yet – although it sounds like daughter Pearl has already made her choice. “At the moment she wants to name him Barry,” says Kellie, laughing. “We haven’t chosen a name yet, but it won’t be Barry.”
The actress says she “always wanted twins”, so when her wish came true, she was delighted. “Every time I picked up
a penny from the street or made a wish, I would always, always wish I could have twins,” she says. “So when it happened, it was just the best thing ever.”
While she may only be expecting one baby this time, Kellie has found her current pregnancy more tiring than the last.
“Last time was such a breeze in comparison,” she says. “Being older this time around, I feel absolutely floored. When I found out, I didn’t tell people at work – I kept really quiet about it. I was just getting my head around it. Being an actress and freelance, you think, ‘Will people view me differently? Has the world moved on?’
"But I googled actresses who had had children in their 40s and found out I was in good company – Olivia Colman being one of them and look at her career. It’s inspiring.
“I recently did a film and had to do a bath scene in it. I’d kept my pregnancy under wraps, although I had to tell the director last minute as I was getting worried about how the scene was to be shot. I shouldn’t have worried though as they were so accommodating.”
Kellie has been with her husband, Phil, since 2004, when they met on a night out in a Manchester nightclub. “I thought he was pushing in front of me and he thought I was pushing in front of him and that I was an idiot,” says Kellie, who was working in a nursing home at the time between acting jobs. “But then we drank tequila together and became best friends!”
The actress, who married Phil in 2010, first found fame playing Carly Wicks – Shirley Carter’s daughter – in EastEnders from 2006 to 2008 and briefly in 2012 and has fond memories of her time on the BBC soap.
“I learned lots from EastEnders,” she says. “I was so lucky as Barbara Windsor was my mentor. She taught me so much about being gracious – thanking people and listening to people. Actors wouldn’t be anything unless people were interested and I’m really grateful to EastEnders for grounding and teaching me.”
Coincidentally, her EastEnders co-star Matt Di Angelo, who played Carly’s brother Deano Wicks, became the father of a twin boy and girl in August. “We have our own mini twin club!” says Kellie. “So we talk about it, but he’s not on his phone so much these days because his hands are full. I’m going to visit soon and meet the babies.”
Kellie also kept in touch with Albert Square matriarch Barbara, who died from Alzheimer’s in 2020. “Whenever I was in town for an audition, I would swing by hers. She would also go through my lines with me.
“I still see Barbara’s husband Scott [Mitchell]. I went to his book launch the other week with my mate Emma Barton, who plays Honey Mitchell. It was so lovely and really nostalgic. We were so lucky that Barbara was in our lives. She was an incredible woman.”
Kellie formed other lasting friendships on the soap. In May she shared a photo of herself celebrating Pam St Clement’s 80th birthday. “I’m very fond of Pam,” Kellie says of the actress, who played Pat Butcher. “She has a wicked sense of humour, she’s very political – as am I – and we have the same taste in drama and comedy. So we talk about all the things we’ve been watching and the people that we know.”
Would she ever return to the soap? “If there was a juicy storyline. Linda Henry, who plays my mum, is a phenomenal actress and it would be great to work with her again,” she says.
EastEnders aside, Kellie has more than 50 screen roles under her belt, including the recent ITV police drama Ridley, featuring Line Of Duty’sAdrian Dunbar, and Sky One’s In The Long Run, which was created by and starred Idris Elba.
She says she had the “best time” working on Ridley as the character Diane Blaine, adding, “It was nice to play somebody who is northern for a change. My husband is northern, so I had the best dialect coach. And I played a nasty piece of work – it was really fun.”
She says working alongside Adrian was a joy, too. “I love Adrian,” she says. “We would play pool after filming and he would kick my arse. I hope [the show] comes back.
“In The Long Run was one of my favourite jobs ever,” adds Kellie, who played Kirsty De La Croix, the wife of Bill Bailey’s Bagpipes character. “Each episode was 25 minutes of 80s heaven.”
Kellie can currently be seen in Amazon Prime’s Keep Calm & Carry On, a comedy about three families trying to survive the challenges of 2020, in addition to her appearances as a panellist on Jeremy Vine On 5. Away from our screens, she volunteers for The Trussell Trust working one day a week at Lewisham Foodbank.
As you’d expect, juggling professional and charity work with being a mum to two young children isn’t without its challenges. While filming 40 episodes back-to-back of kids’ TV show Biff & Chip in Manchester Studios, Kellie was unable to spend as much quality time with her children as she’d have liked.
“I would be filming until 7pm on a Friday, then I would be back in at 6am on a Monday. Sometimes I’d have just 24 hours with Pearl and Louie,” she says. “It was really tricky and I missed them like crazy. But I have to work and it was temporary.”
The actress returned to work quickly after having the twins – a decision which had some rather unfortunate consequences. “I had my first audition when they were 21 days old and it was horrendous,” she admits. “I went up to Newcastle – it was for a role I really wanted. I did a chemistry read and my boobs leaked everywhere! It wasn’t the right time to audition, but I wanted to prove myself. I cried all the way on the train home.
"I then went back to work when they were six weeks old. I did an episode of Doctors and the team were great. I took the twins with me and they let me have breaks. Then I started back at work, a year at the Royal Shakespeare Company, when they were nine months old, which was great as it meant I could look after my babies in the day and perform at night.”
When Kellie gave birth to the twins, she had to have an emergency C-section. “I did try to give birth naturally,” she says. “I got to nine centimetres dilated then I caught an infection, so I needed the C-section. King’s College Hospital were amazing and I’ve got two healthy kids, so I feel grateful.”
The actress says she’s likely to have a planned caesarean this time round and will give birth at King’s College Hospital in London again, which has the capacity for cord blood donation. It’s a subject close to Kellie’s heart as she’s patron of the Anthony Nolan charity, which helps those with blood cancer and blood disorders.
Umbilical cord blood can play a crucial role in helping patients with blood cancer or blood disorders who urgently need a stem cell transplant, but haven’t yet found a match on the Anthony Nolan register.
“I donated cord blood when I had my twins and it was one of the first things I thought of when I found out I was pregnant again,” says Kellie.
Cord blood is rich in vital stem cells and does not need to be an exact match.
“When you give birth, the Anthony Nolan Cord Blood Programme at the hospital will get bleeped. So when you deliver the baby, someone comes down straightaway to collect the umbilical cord and placenta and bag it up.
“I think it costs them around £1,000 per collection, but that’s small in comparison to the costs of chemotherapy. And if there is any cord blood they can’t donate to a person, they use it for research, so nothing is wasted. You can give another person a second chance of life. It’s fantastic.”
For information on donating umbilical cord blood, visit AnthonyNolan.org
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