Model-turned-reality TV star Tanya Bardsley talks exclusively to Army&You about her patch past and why she doesn’t take exception to being a ‘wife of’…
Catterick may lack the expansive estates and exquisite homes that Tanya Bardsley has grown accustomed to as a resident of one of the UK’s most affluent areas, but The Real Housewives of Cheshire star insists the garrison town – and patch life in general – holds a special place in her heart.
A former “pad brat”, the model spent her childhood living behind the wire and credits the experience of following the flag, alongside her mum and sister, with arming her with the skills to succeed in business.
“Living on camp was all I ever knew and, as I went to military schools, it was the same for all of my friends,” the boutique owner and life coach told Army&You,
explaining how her father Steve signed up for service as a 16-year-old and climbed the ranks of the Royal Logistic Corps before retiring as a major.
“I was three weeks old when we moved to Germany and I only really became aware that my upbringing was different to others when we moved to Abingdon from Munster and went to my first school that wasn’t on an army base.
“I remember my sister and I wearing matching dresses and looking under the car for IRA bombs and that was normal for us. We used to race to the car to see who could be the first to check and turned the whole thing into a game.
“I loved patch life though – we never lived without and were all good kids,” Tanya added. “Our mums and dads all had an army mentality and were quite strict with us – I had never heard a swear word until we moved back to the UK, which is probably why I swear so much now!
“Even though it was hard leaving friends and uprooting, being part of a military family is character building. I do believe my army background helped me a lot because it gave me great social skills – an ability to go into almost any social situation and get on with people – and it teaches you to adapt to any changes in life.
“My hard work ethic has also come from the army. Since the age of 13 dad would go out and get me work and he even had me ‘pan bashing’ in a RMP station.”
Set on civvy street
Despite valuing its lessons and the immense pride she has for her father, who continues to work as a personnel recovery officer and was awarded an MBE for his
support of injured servicemen and women, Tanya is adamant an army career was never on her agenda.
“God, no, I can’t do the running and stuff,” laughed the mother of four when quizzed by Army&You about the prospect of swapping luxury labels for a uniform. “There’s no way I could leave my family for six months at a time and I’m not even a fifth as brave as our soldiers.”
And although Tanya has not followed in her mother’s footsteps either, in respect of marrying a soldier, her choice of partner has seen her pick up the “wife of” tag bemoaned by many service spouses.
As husband Phil is a professional footballer, currently plying his trade at Burnley following spells with Stoke, Sunderland and Manchester United, she is often referred to in the media as a WAG.
“It doesn’t bother me,” the 39-year-old said. “Some WAGs hate being called WAGs but I’m just glad someone married me! I know my mum is proud to have been an army wife and, as secure and confident women, we both know there is a lot more to us than just being a wife.
“I didn’t really know much about football before meeting Phil and I still don’t know the offside rule. He saw me on the front cover of a magazine, tracked my number down and I told him to F-off for three years, but God loves a trier and here we are now.
“Phil is in awe of my dad and everything he has done and says if he wasn’t a footballer he would have been in the army – but he would definitely have been kicked out; he gets a yellow card nearly every game.”
Given the huge popularity of The Real Housewives of Cheshire, which debuted in 2015 and has just returned to screens for its twelfth season, Tanya was also quick to highlight that the tables are often turned on her Scotland international.
The ever-present star of the hit ITV show said: “Phil always moans that people go up to him and say ‘oh, you’re Tanya Bardsley’s husband’.
“He is completely supportive of my TV career – he was a bit unsure at first because he didn’t know what it was all about but he loves it.”
The defender is not alone in his appraisal of the long-running reality programme, which has attracted huge viewing audiences with its compulsive blend of glamorous cocktail parties and heated arguments.
“I have loved every minute of being part of the programme but there is a lot of hard work involved,” Tanya added. “It’s not as hard as being at that RMP station bashing pans, although in some ways it is because sometimes I’d rather be cleaning one of those pans than arguing with one of the girls.
“The show is not scripted at all; they are all Looney Tunes. “The programme has been cast really well – they go and get the strongest, loudest gobs in the area, put us all together and watch it explode.”
A Cheshire shoulder to lean on
While on-screen hostilities are undoubtedly key to the show’s significant draw, Tanya confided to there being a military-style camaraderie between the protagonists when the cameras stop rolling.
“A few of us are close friends off screen and, even if we can’t stand each other some days, if one of us is ill, a family member gets sick or someone is in trouble, then we do all pull together.”
Tanya is keen to offer such support to her childhood community and, COVID-19 permitting, told Army&You about her willingness to meet with the wives and girlfriends of soldiers in order to share her own experiences or simply chat.
“I joined The Real Housewives of Cheshire to share some of my positive thinking and self-help techniques,” she concluded.
“My passion is helping other women and having been through depression and anxiety I have some tips that army mums and wives might benefit from.”