Actress Carley Stenson Shares the Spotlight with Her Dogs
Carley Stenson is perhaps best known for her time on Channel 4's 'Hollyoaks' where she played Steph Cunningham first appearing on screens in 2000, before making her last appearance on the show eleven years later.
Since then Carley has carved a successful career bringing her passion for singing and acting together playing in theatres across the UK in iconic roles such as Princess Fiona in 'Shrek: The Musical' and Elle Woods, the blonde bombshell in 'Legally Blonde: The Musical'.
Known for her passion for animals, Kim O'Meara caught up with Carley in her downtime from her current UK tour of 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' to find out all about her own two leading men on four legs at home, who she owns with partner and fellow actor, Danny Mac.
Tell us about your dogs we'd like to know everything about them!
We have two Cockapoo dogs, Barney who's two years old and Bailey who's 9 months old.
Danny, my partner, and I have always wanted dogs. We both had dogs growing up but both being actors and our flat being rented (no pets allowed) over the years we've got our 'pet fix' by looking after friends and families dogs and cats, even using sites which look for pet sitters. We've also both volunteered at animal rescues.
Then a couple of years ago Jan, Danny's mum, who also loves dogs had an empty nest with all four kids grown up and having left home. So we asked her if we could get a dog who we would care for but would stay with her. She was so excited and said 'yes please!'.
Danny has two cousins so when we started researching dog breeds we knew we needed to research breeds that were good with kids. We also needed to find a dog who would be hypoallergenic. So we then narrowed it down to a Cockapoo.
We had both been helping at animal rescues who didn't have any in their care and then we found a family who we got really good vibes from. I asked a million questions as well. We left to talk things over and watch the video we'd recorded while we were there and there was this one puppy who kept putting his paw on my knee, so we knew he was the one for us. We came up with lots of names but eventually settled on Barney.
Photography by Anthony Mayatt
He's such a grandad type character, he's really funny. You can be sitting giving him a cuddle which he'll sit still for but he'll moan anyway. But if you stop he'll look at you like 'Stay there for a while and carry on' while he carries on moaning. He's so funny. You know if he didn't like it he'd move away, he just likes pretending he doesn't love it, like a stroppy teenager (he's at that age) he's so cute and vocal.
He loves other dogs, so we decided to get another dog that was a good match and that's how Bailey came about. All three of us put names in a hat and Jan, Danny and I all pulled the name Bailey out!
How do they get on?
Bailey's so chilled out so they get on so well together, he knows Barney's the boss but it's so funny because they're complete opposites in reality.
Barney's a bit of a baby whereas Bailey's rock hard (laughs). Say if one of them had something on their paw, Barney would look at you to fix it whereas Bailey would try to do it himself.
Bailey's had a bit of a hard time lately though. After being neutered, we found out that he had meningitis, which I'll be honest I didn't know dogs could get, so it's been a bit of an eye opener.
After a few days we discovered he wasn't really moving his neck and so wouldn't move his neck to each his food, but he was still eating it from our hands. We ended up taking him to our vets who said it wouldn't the collar, checked his neck and we were referred to a local animal hospital. We waited for his results over the weekend and he stayed in so he could be kept an eye on. We rang almost hourly to check how he was doing got the results on the Monday.
Poor little man, how is he now?
He's getting there. He's still weaning off steroids because it's a balancing act between how much he gets depending on his weight, and being a puppy he's still growing so his weight is increasing as you'd expect. Luckily Jan's also a nurse. He's gradually getting back to himself, he's such a hardy little soul.
We said at the time he coped with it better than we think Barney would have, not that you'd want either of your dogs to be ill, but he's the sort who would say 'yeah it hurts a little, but lets play.'
I think Barney's eager for him to feel 100% again also because being on steroids and the ripple effects of how they make you feel, they've not played as much as they normally do or would over the last couple of months.
We're so fortunate with Jan's experience with dogs and nursing.
Following 10 years at 'Hollyoaks' playing Steph Cunningham, you spent four years on stage in the West End playing Princess Fiona in 'Shrek' and Elle Woods in 'Legally Blonde' and have recently finished a theatre tour for 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrals' which had rave reviews (one of my all time favourite films as well), what do you love most about performing on stage versus TV?
For me it's the adrenaline rush you get while waiting to go on stage and the atmosphere that surrounds you in a theatre. You get such a rush as well when you take a bow, and in fact if something goes wrong which you hope it never will, but if it does you can laugh about it afterwards.
I love it, it's so different to TV. I think I'd say my heart is with stage but I love the variety of TV.
Can you see yourself going back to TV?
Over recent years I've been pulled more towards the theatre than TV but I'd still love to do more TV. A good script is a good script and I appreciate the role of a character being enticing whether it's for TV or in theatres.
What led you into acting? What do you think you'd be doing if acting hadn't called you?
(Laughs) Something with animals! In all honesty though doing something different never even came up. As a kid I was always performing and my parents completely supported me, they didn't try and encourage me to follow another path and they got me an agent at 14 and at 17 I had landed the role in 'Hollyoaks'.
I was also in a band with my best friends and we used to put on events and raise money for different causes and campaigns, including animal causes.
So your love of music was always present? You do seem to like variety don't you. You have a self-titled album is out on iTunes (find out more here). Tell us a bit about this.
Yes, I really do love variety and the song came about because my family encouraged me to do it.
For me, it was a passion project which I wanted to keep simple. I didn't get a record label or anything, I wanted to write and put my own stamp on things recording in my own time.
I was working at the time and didn't want any additional pressures or to get distracted. I just wanted to keep it simple but make my mark.
In amongst all of this your love of all things animal and animal welfare comes out through your animal matters blog. What inspired you to launch the blog?
It really came after we got Barney and around the time of getting Bailey. I'd been to Africa and another animal magazine asked me to write about the experience. I also began to learn more about Peta and campaigns they were raising awareness to about food production.
I was doing a theatre tour at the time and originally we were expecting to be in each location for about two weeks so I decided at the time I'd volunteer with local animal shelters and try and help them raise awareness to pets in their care looking for new homes.
After a while our schedule changed so we were only spending one week in each location and I felt I was more of a distraction at the rescues taking people away from their jobs to show me around, so I decided to write more and raise awareness that way.
The blog has slowed down but I have more lined up for the New Year. My hearts go out to the shelters who have to cope every day with the horror stories you see on Facebook or Twitter. I'm friends on social media with Niall from New Hope Animal Rescue and saw an appeal he sent out about a gorgeous Staffie named Jessie they'd helped to secure a rescue space for but needed transport, so I picked her up and took her to where she needed to go.
But I'll be honest I took a step back from social media for a while because of everything you read and see, you begin to feel helpless about how you can help and what you can do. It breaks your heart when you can't do anything to help that poor soul you're reading about.
I understand what you mean exactly. We run dogsblog.com, which is the UK's largest dog adoption site, and we see a lot of horror stories from the rescues we work with and it's heartbreaking. Our rescues have also been sharing with us how they'll cope with the New Year influx of dogs being abandoned.
You begin to wonder if what we're seeing is just a small portion of animals in the UK and not the majority, or if we truly are a nation of animal lovers.
You've hit the nail on the head there for me.
Puppies are a lot of hard work. You have to train them, invest in them and chip them, they're definitely worth it but it's a lot of hard work.
What has been the biggest thing you've learnt about animal welfare in Britain during your time investigating topics for your blog?
It's led to a change in lifestyle for me and I've gradually cut out meat. I learnt so much about food, how it's farmed and processed, and how animals are treated during the process. It's changed my whole outlook although I'd never push my views, the more I learnt the more I was determined to change my own habits.
I also now look for the leaping bunny symbol on product labels so I only buy beauty or skincare products that are good for me and I know haven't been used for animal testing. There are a few chains, such as Superdrug and I think now Boots, who do a lot, and other brands like Liz Earle, who make a conscious effort but it would be great to see more brands put the leaping bunny on them so you don't end up googling every product before buying. (Laughs) That could take forever.
Carley, get ready to anthropomorphise with our next set of questions...
Do you have a motto that you live your life by? And what would you say Bailey and Barney's motto's might be?
Mine would be 'Everything happens for a reason.' I'm quite a positive person and have been luck enough not to have had too many negatives but I always try and turn any I've had into positives because I am a bit of a worrier.
Barney's would probably be something like 'Let sleeping dogs lie' because he does love his sleep. Usually we have to wake him up and when we do he'll give a little groan, which we love hearing.
Bailey's would be 'You never know unless you try', he is constantly on the try for food and if we tell him off for anything he takes his chances on a cheeky bark back as if he's actually having an argument (laughs).
If you were to swap roles with Bailey and Barney for a day, first of all who would you choose to swap with, how do you think he'd cope being you and what would you most love about being him?
(Laughs) I would love to be them, they're so spoilt. They get so much love and have so much goodies – especially those you sent – it'd be great.
I think Bailey's much more care free, he's proper hard core. He does things and worries about them afterwards. Barney's much more considered in anything he does.
For example, Barney took days to learn how to get down the stairs. We'd sit there for ages encouraging him down while he did his cute moan. You can see him think about everything, he's so expressive. Whereas when Bailey was still brand new, he just followed us up one day and tried to jump straight back down before we stopped him. Cray Cray dog (laughs).
If they had to be me, I think they'd both be good theatre dogs. They'd adore the attention. They'd have more energy than me and their tails would always be wagging.
Although I don't think Barney would like all of the travelling. They both travel well but Barney's face gives him away when he's in the car and you know he'd rather be out of it.
For this question, we ask our celebs to match up the following people’s personality to a breed of dog, for example, Winston Churchill = Bulldog or J.Lo = Afghan Hound, Frank Bruno = Boxer etc. If the following soap stars were breeds of dogs, based on their personalities alone, what type of breed do you think they'd be...
Danny Mac (Carley's partner, who also played Dodger in 'Hollyoaks') – (Laughs) He'd be a Cockapoo because he's well groomed, like Poodles, yet can be scruffy and chilled. He admits himself he's either in a suit or wearing his pyjamas. I'm sure Barney takes after him, they love being horizontal but can switch to being everyone's best friend with lots of energy quickly.
Sarah Jayne Dunn (Carley's good friend and past K9 Magazine cover star) – She'd be a really elegant dog. Like Lady the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in 'Lady and the Tramp', elegant and classy.
Danny Dyer (plays Mick Carter in 'Eastenders') – You associate him with his country and strong accent don't you, so I think he'd be a cheeky, chirpy Bulldog. A geezer.
Natalie Anderson (played Alicia Gallagher in 'Emmerdale') – She has beautiful long locks doesn't she. I picture a Springer Spaniel, with her hair being their ears. Tall, feisty and energetic.
Here are our quick fire questions, are you ready?
Which do you prefer and why?
Big dogs or little dogs – (Laughs) Do I have to choose? I love little dogs because you can pick them up and play with them, but I love bigger dogs because you can have a good snuggle with them. I've had both over the years and my sister has a crossbreed, Jodie, who I've looked after and love to bits. I also looked after a dog called Ruby who's a Cavalier King Charles and I adore. I can't choose. Sorry! (laughs)
Pedigree dogs or cross-breeds – I love both, they're all beautiful. We've always had rescue crossbreeds.
Days off or days at work – Days off? Sorry work, I love my job but if I'm off I can see more of my friends and family. Actually, I'd say work if my job was around the corner from Danny and my family and I could finish and then go and see them.
Describe the last time you laughed out loud because of something you saw Bailey, Barney or another dog do.
(Laughs) All the time, honestly. They do this thing where if we give them each a chew you can guarantee one of two things will happen.
One - Bailey and Barney will go to opposite points of the room and begin chewing. Then, Barney will stop chewing and wait for Bailey to finish before he begins chewing again while Bailey watches.
Two - They'll go to opposite parts of the room with their chews again and Barney will go up to Bailey and take his chew off of him. Bailey's so easy going, he'll just go and get the one Barney left though.
If you could arrange a dinner party, who would you invite and why (you can choose from any era, past or present)
Oh wow, firstly I'd invite Gene Kelly. He's my absolute idol, I think he was absolutely amazing at what he did.
Also Bette Midler, she also loves her animals, and I think she's so enigmatic.
And I'd also love to invite Ricky Gervais. I think he's wonderful and I'm in awe of what he does for animal welfare. I was always worried with my blog that I might have misread something or been misinformed about something that I checked and rechecked my facts. I think he's so intelligent that whatever he says he can back it up.
Danny loves him too. I think we'd have a great night.
What is your current or all time favourite…?
TV show – For a bit of light hearted entertainment I love 'Modern Family'. We also love 'George Clarke's Amazing Spaces'. We're getting ideas for when we get our own place. One day I'd love to have my own kennels and coffee shop.
I don't get a lot of time to watch TV though so tend to watch box sets of catch up for shows like 'Grey's Anatomy.'
I love the shows about animals but I can't watch them. I can't even watch Bambi (laughs). As soon as an animal comes on a programme I'm worried about what will happen to them. I love Paul O'Grady, I nearly met him at a Battersea event. I think he's just got such a way with animals and he's amazing. I'd love to be his little right hand woman (laughs).
Book – My all time favourite books are 'BFG' by Roald Dahl. He had such a way of inspiring the imagination and encouraging you as a kid to think outside of the box. I also really love 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee. It's such a beautifully written story.
Film – My all time favourite film is 'Erin Brockovich'. I love Julia Roberts in it, I think she plays it so well but the story is really amazing. It's about a woman with will power who's a single mum and she's fighting for something she believes in for a better way of life for those affected and for the lives she couldn't save.
Album – I grew up listening to 'The Immaculate Collection' by Madonna but have been listening to a lot of the Zac Brown Band. Danny and I drove across the west of the USA listening to them so that's what they always remind us of.
In fact, Danny got tickets to their recent tour and only UK show for me for my birthday but I couldn't go because I was working and my understudy was out of the country so he Facetime'd me so I could see some of it. And he caught a plectrum thrown into the crowd, so I have that.
If you could sum it up, what do you think is the best thing about being a dog owner?
Danny's mum, Jan, is a nurse in an end of days hospice and when they go in with her they have an amazing impact. They're so therapeutic.
They lift my life.
I could sit and watch them all day. In fact my dad, who loves dogs but isn't as passionate as me, watched a video I took of them playing. He asked how long they did that for and I said all day.
He said you can bring them here any time, I could sit and watch them doing that all day (laughs).
Finish the following sentence, my dogs are...amazing and my life is better because of them.
And finally, this is always a tough question and often requires a fair degree of thinking time but….If your boys had the ability to speak and answer one question and one question only, what would you ask them and what do you think that they would say?
Let me think about this.
I would ask Barney 'are you happy' and he'd probably say....'yes I really am, this is just my resting face' (laughs).
I would ask Bailey 'what's your favourite thing in the world?' and he'd probably say 'EATING!'
Many Thanks Carley!