Born in Bolton, Lancashire I grew up surrounded by cotton mills and smoky chimneys.
My milk-man dad who worked for the Co-Op was what my husband Fred would later refer to as 'a back street mechanic' working on his Ford Anglia, Standard Vanguard and Singer Vogue. He would teach me all about carburetors, bleeding the brakes; how to change a wheel with levers and by the time I was ten I was the only girl on the block who knew what to do with a set of feeler gauges and spark-plugs!
My interest in cars continued as I collected spanners and became interested in anything made of cast-iron (such as man-hole covers and weigh-bridges). However, approaching the age of 13, I got fed up and started taking more of an interest in painting my face and less interested spraying the wing of a car. I took up singing and dancing lessons after seeing an old-time music hall act on the end of the pier in Ilfracombe, Devon. I wanted to be a glamorous showgirl with feathers in her hair.
I became a window-dresser after having studied art for four years at Bolton School of Art and Design, but was fairly bored by the routine of 9-5pm. I became a part-time model for Lucy Clayton, in South King Street Manchester at the age of 17, and worked as a cat-walk model far a time, while studying drama.
"Eee bah gum" didn't go down too well in the serious thespian world at that time, so I concentrated on a showzbiz career instead!
I met Physiologist and Master Hypnotist Peter Casson at Blackpool Tower when I was 18, and moved to the resort to work as his stage and PR assistant. Peter was once invited to give the Annual Lecture at the Hunterian Society, and was very academic and well as being a great showman. From then my life changed and I travelled extensively with Peter home and abroad and he taught me many things about psychology and how to be 'so-phisti-cated' by using a knife and fork properly! I developed a keen interest in psychology, cooking, literature, music, witchcraft, the occult and became a vegetarian through no fault of his!
We remained life-long friends until Peter died in 1995
I later went on to work with two other hypnotists Edwin Heath and later Andrew Newton as stage and PR assistant, and occasionally did a bit of part time singing for anyone who wanted someone to clear the bar quickly at the end of the night! Again traveling and doing summer seasons was my life.
I took an audition and landed a role as partner in an illusionist act (think because Master Illusionist Paul Daniels always refers to me as: 'Mad Ethyl' I got the job), and we called ourselves 'Duo Magicana'. We toured extensively through Europe with this act doing all the big illusions and ended up with a residency in Zurich then later Geneva, Switzerland.
Geneva became my second home and I eventually became a show-girl, part of a dance troupe working four months in Switzerland and two months back in the UK. By then I had invested in property in the UK and was able to provide a nice standard of living for myself by buying and renting out property.
I did this until my son Nathan was born in 1985 and then I started up my stage career again, taking Nathan with me touring theaters and cabaret clubs until he started school.
Life was normal for a while, and I did casual work where I could find it (we call it 'resting' in showbiz!) but the bright lights beckoned. I took up singing again and went for proper voice coaching. I met a very talented professional musician who owned a recording studio and worked as tape duplication engineer and receptionist at the studio.
Then in 1996, through Nathan's interest in steam engines I met my one and only husband-to-be Fred Dibnah. Fred became my whole world and we married two years later in September 1998. Fred said to his pals "where do you meet a bonny bird these days interested in spanners and gas lamps?!"
Fred changed my life forever, and as they say...the rest is history.
After Fred died of bladder cancer in November 2004 aged 66, he left me with a monumental legal problem after cutting me out of his Will a few days before he died. My first book 'A CAST IRON WILL' ( published by 2QT Ltd in 2013) addresses many of the problems I faced, as well as charting life with Fred...the happier times. Prepare to laugh and then cry as you read it.
As well as working as a professional after dinner speaker, I've begun to enjoy doing something which I always wanted to do. Writing novels. And, my debut novel 'THE CHAMPAGNE STEEPLEJACK' is due for release on 31st October this year ( 2014). Next year, I'll be bringing you 'THE ARSENIC FACTORY OPEN DAY'. Why not visit my website www.sheiladibnah.com to learn more?