CLAIRE Sweeney is on mummy duties when I talk to her, half concentrating on the phone call, but it seems mostly on her 19 month old son who she is taken on tour with her.

"Oh yes, I take him everywhere I go" says Claire, who I'm calling because she is on the road with the massive production Hairspray, coming to the Cliffs Pavilion next month. "I have a wonderful nanny who travels with me."

Apparently young Jaxon doesn't get to see the show, because it's on past his bedtime, but I suggest maybe it won't be long before he is treading the boards with her.

"Yes! You never know!" Claire laughs.

If you're unfamiliar with Hairspray, it is set in the Sixies when Tracy Turnblad, "a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart", is on a mission to follow her dreams. She loves to dance along to a TV programme and sets out to dance her way onto the show with The Nicest Kids In Town. Tracy’s audition makes her a local star and soon she is using her new-found fame to fight for racial equality.

Claire is playing the part of Velma Von Tussle, the vile, racist producer of the Corny Collins Show that wants to integrate a cast of white-only people.

I ask Claire what it's like to play such an awful character.

"Oh I love it I really do. It's great fun even though she is horrible. It's extremely physically demanding too."

A film version of Hairspray was a hit in 2007, starring John Travolta as Edna Turnblad and Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Von Trussle.

"To be honest, Michelle Pfeiffer's Velma didn't make too much of an impact on me" confessed Claire, "I was more blown away by Tracie Bennett's performance of her, which I'd seen on stage years before. She was pretty amazing in that role. It's an entirely different thing anyway, seeing somebody's performance on stage to on television or film, Michelle is a film star while Tracie is this big stage star."

I ask if it's hard as an actress, not to find yourself emulating someone else's performance of such a well known part, if you have admired it so much.

"I suppose that could be true, although it was such a long time ago I saw Tracie in that role, I can't remember really how she played it, only that I thought she did it so well. So I have made the character my own and am always coming up with new things, for example I've now made her into a bit of an alcoholic. It's great fun."

Before Claire landed the role of Lindsey Corkhill in Brookside in 1989 - which was at first a brief role - Claire had been singing for a living, since she left school. After the initial short stint on Brookside she continued singing, entertaining people on cruise ships for P&O for four years travelling the world, before returning to Britain. She then decided to write the producer of Brookside to see if there was a place for her on the show. Apparently it just so happened that the day the producer got her letter was the day the production staff were meeting to discuss long term storylines, so they decided it was time to bring back Lindsey Corkhill.

Claire returned to work at Brookside in 1995 and remained on the show as a leading character until its demise in 2003.

She has since appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in aid of Comic Relief, as Roxie Hart in the musical Chicago in London, released an album, Claire, on Telstar Records, been a regular on the panel of ITV's Loose Women, appeared in major productions, musicals and pantos, presented a number of TV shows, such as Challenge of a Lifetime, I'm Famous... and Frightened!, A Song for Europe and 60 Minute Makeover, acted in television programmes such as Merseybeat and Clocking Off, been on reality TV contests such as Strictly Come Dancing, launched a fitness video, gained 2 stones in six weeks on Claire Sweeney's Big Fat Diet on ITV to prove that lack of eating and training habits can damage your health, been the face of various TV adverts, appears on radio, works with charities and wrote the comedy musical Sex and the Suburbs with Mandy Muden, which was staged from May 9 to 7 June 7, 2014. For a period, she was also The Forces official sweetheart.

But clearly being a fantastic all-rounder with her talents in more than one area Claire says she still prefers being in the theatre to anything else.

"It's just so immediate" she explained, "you have an instant rapport with the audience that is real, plus musical theatre has always been my passion. Ever since I was a kid I have always loved musical theatre so I really love being part of it."

I ask her about being on tour and the unsociable hours, and if that ever gets hard.

"Not really. My social life is on hold anyway at the moment, being a mother" she said, "I'm constantly on a diet at the moment as well, so don't really miss going out too much to dinner or drink or anything."

After Hairspray, Claire says there is something else in the pipeline. "It's something big, but I'm afraid I can't tell you about it yet... but it is very exciting" she said.

Proving further what a great range of skills she has, she is also appearing at Club 11 London and The Hippodrome Casino, in an intimate Night With Claire Sweeney at 8pm, on June 2, where fans will be treated to her powerhouse vocals.

Hairspray is coming to the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, on Monday May 16 until Saturday May 21.

Tickets are £27 to £47.50 available from, or the box office on 01702 351135.