Claire Sweeney explains why she posted her paparazzi bikini photos

Claire Sweeney shares paparazzi bikini photos with Claire Sweeney

Claire Sweeney has been a TV star and West End stage star for 30 years. She is used to being photographed.

“You put your head above the parapet ­– everyone’s fair game,” she told Kate Thornton on podcast White Wine Question TimeReferring to her first experience with the paparazzi.

“That’s the way I was conditioned for all the 90s… ‘Oh God, they got me.’”

Yet, while on a beach holiday in January this year, the former star of Channel 4’s Brookside decided, finally, to challenge the culture of publication of unauthorised beach shots of female celebrities.

Sweeney was on holiday in Barbados with her friends and Jaxon, her eight-year old son.

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Jaxon Reilly and Claire Sweeney attend a Gala Screening of

Claire Sweeney has Jaxon Reilly, her son, with Daniel Reilly, ex-partner. (Getty Images)

Initially, Sweeney explained, she believed she had escaped the paparazzi who’d snapped her on previous visits to the Caribbean island.

“I was sat with my mate on the beach… we’re both 51,” Sweeney told Thornton. “And I went to her, ‘I haven’t been papped – it’s great!’”

The actor fell prey to the illusion and lowered her guard.

“I can walk down the beach without being paranoid – I can go and have a swim!” she thought cheerfully at the time, glad she wouldn’t be “having to think I’ve got to pull my swimsuit out my bum!”

Sweeney had some relaxed fun with her child.

“And I’m laughing in the sea, and the tide’s coming – I’m getting washed all over the place, I’m like a beached whale,” she joked. “My son’s laughing… we’re having an absolute ball.”

She paused. “And then the pictures appeared…”

Sweeney, unknowingly, was snapped in a bikini and by paparazzi.

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Her first response, she revealed, was “not wanting to leave my sun lounger”. She “covered [up]” in a “one-piece”, and only returned to the sea with Jackson when she was sure they were alone.

But the photography did not stop.

“He must have been hiding in the sea… with his camera,” she said.

Sweeney’s initial hope about the photographs was that “no one’s seen them.”

Then she changed her mind.

Sweeney, who starred with Patrick Swayze in the stage show of Guys And Dolls, decided instead to “face my worst fear and put [the photographs] out there”.

She published the images on her Instagram account.

“I thought, I’m going to put myself raw, unashamed of that, and just have some sort of ownership over it,” she told Thornton.

“I’m 51, I’ve had a ball, I’ve had loads of rum punch,” she continued, referring to the holiday. “I’ve had loads of plantain and rice and peas, and this is me, and I’m just going to own it.”

Sweeney wrote on Instagram: “I’ve put these pics up to take control and own my body image. This is me on a fantastic holiday! With a bit of flab and a few lumps and bumps.”

Her decision to “own” the images of herself in swimwear, led to an outpouring of unexpected support.

“I couldn’t believe how positive the comments were,” she said.

It included private messages from other celebrities, including an actor who confided that she had been too “traumatised” to return to Barbados following the same experience.

Listen to the complete episode to hear Claire Sweeney discuss clubbing at 50 and partying with Hollywood legends Liza Minnelli, Jane Russell, as well hosting this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Sweeney told Thornton that this was the “first time” she’d taken control in “that type of area” but that her confidence to say “no” generally is now growing in her 50s.

“Taking back power is learning to say no to things,” she continued, “not feeling you have to conform, not feeling you have to please all the time – and I think that’s just coming with age as well.”

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Television presenter, actress and now pop star Claire Sweeney - lies on the bed of  her suite at The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, after the recording of her first album

Claire Sweeney in Beverly Hills, after recording her debut album in 2002 at The Four Seasons Hotel. She was 24 years old. (Getty Images)

Like many actors, Sweeney admitted, she previously had “this mindset [that] every job you do… you think it’s the last job you’re ever gonna get.”

“I was always chasing and looking for the next job.”

That has changed.

“Just in this last year, I’ve been saying no,” she revealed. “I’ve kind of gained a bit more of a quiet confidence in who I am, what I can do, and my abilities.”

But this does not mean that her star isn’t soaring.

Kate Thornton (right) interviewed Claire Sweeney for Yahoo UK's podcast White Wine Question Time. (White Wine Question Time)

Kate Thornton (right), interviewed Claire Sweeney in Yahoo UK’s White Wine Question Time podcast. White Wine Question Time

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Along with Alesha Dixon Rylan, Hannah Waddingham, and Graham Norton, she will be presenting and commentating at the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest.

Sweeney will be appearing on a new TV drama in September.

The actor told Thornton she now takes roles that “make me happy, things that stretch me” but also allow her to spend maximum time with her son Jackson, who she conceived after four miscarriages.

“Other things come into play with my boy now, and he’s just made me put things in perspective,” she said. “Slow down, stop, and just enjoy things more.”

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