Actress and star of Take The High Road;
Born: September 23, 1961; Died: January 26, 2013.
LESLEY Fitz-Simons, who has died aged 51, was an actress best known for her starring role in the STV soap Take The High Road.
Born in East Dunbartonshire, Fitz-Simons landed small roles in television and film as a teenager such as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in 1978 and appearing alongside John Gordon Sinclair in The Spaver Connection in 1984.
However, it was her starring role in Take The High Road which was to define her – and perhaps typecast her – as an actress. She joined the soap as a fresh-faced 21-year-old and remained there for 18 years, playing the part of put-upon Sheila Ramsay. And it's fair to say the actress was able to reveal her full range, given the melodramatic life her character, a single mum, enjoyed and endured.
Yet, while the drama was unfolding on screen – tales of affairs, dallying husbands, prostitutes and Aids tests – the one-time brunette who was to morph into a stunning blonde had her own share of life's turbulence to deal with, beginning with a cervical cancer test in 2000.
"I was in for something else but the doctors realised something was not right and I came away with two things to worry about," she said at the time. "It was frightening."
Meantime the actress's marriage had disintegrated and a long-term relationship with partner Calum, a sales rep, later failed. "It is unfortunate but it just came to a natural conclusion," she said of the relationship. "There was nobody else involved. It was just one of those things and it takes a while to get back to normal. But I would love to have more children."
That didn't happen but after treatment, it looked as though the cancer had abated and the actress was able to focus on bringing up her daughter, Marnie, and her career.
Sadly, Take The High Road (even after its reinvention as High Road and attempts to turn it into a sexy pot-boiler) failed to survive on the ITV network and STV dropped the show in 2003. Fitz-Simons believed her lengthy stint in the series was ultimately detrimental, yet was philosophical about the end of an era. "I thought about the new BBC soap (River City) but I am kind of typecast as Sheila," she said."But I want to continue to make a living from acting."
The actress wouldn't consider a move to London. She loved life in Scotland and indeed continued to live in the house in the village of Milton of Campsie in East Dunbartonshire she had grown up in. And her parents lived next door.
Yet, while the doors of television were tough to open, theatre proved to be far more welcoming. Fitz-Simons took to the comedy circuit, playing the busty, sexy waitress in a High Road cast-inspired version of 'Allo, 'Allo, and appeared in a range of populist comedies at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow such as Bender In Benidorm. She also made several appearances in pantoland, starring as the Fairy Godmother alongside The Krankies in Cinderella.
What became obvious to all those who worked with Fitz-Simons was she possessed genuine talent and a disproportionately small ego. Indeed no part was too small. Colleagues claimed she was always a delight to work with and theatre bosses say she was always eager to please. And she always had time for her fans.
"There was an essential kindness about the lady," said Mrs Brown's Boys star Gary Hollywood, who met his friend when he joined Take The High Road as a teenager. "She took me under her wing, helped me find my feet in this rather strange world."
Fitz-Simons was an animal lover who for several years campaigned for a boycott of fur. But her charity work didn't stop there. She also worked for Unicef and indeed when it came to supporting charities, she was a lady who couldn't say no.
However, if that gives the impression the actress was simply a serious minded do-gooder, it fails to colour the picture. Friends point out Fitz-Simons loved to party, she loved champagne and had a great schoolgirl-like sense of humour.
Tragically, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and she underwent a mastectomy. But the disease had spread and she died just days after being admitted to hospital last Wednesday.
However, her more recent times were happy ones. She was a doting mother to Marnie, now 17; her mum Sheila was also her greatest friend and Fitz-Simons found love again with her partner, Paddy.
"She was a diamond," says Gary Hollywood of his friend. "She loved life, and those close to her. And she gave so much to others. But I won't ever be able to think about Halloween without thinking of Lesley's incredible pumpkin soup. She will be sadly missed."
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