Growing up in Sneyd Green, Paula Williamson had a real talent for the performing arts and was determined to become a professional actress.
After leaving Holden Lane High, a teenage Paula dedicated four years to getting a place at a respected Manchester drama school as she pursued her goal.
But such was the competition, she was unable to give up her day job at Hanley’s Odeon cinema as she suffered what she described as ‘brutal’ auditions for reality talent show Soapstars, which cast five unknowns as a new family in ITV soap Emmerdale.
She graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University School of Theatre with an acting BA in 2005 and secured part-time work at sandwich chain Subway, as a ‘mystery shopper’ and as a children’s party organiser.
As she set her sights on being a star, Paula would often feature on the pages of The Sentinel for her comedy work and as a model.
Speaking to The Sentinel at the time, Paula said: “It’s a scary process but acting is my passion and nothing compares to it. I love playing different characters.
“Having people sit there and judge you is very hard because acting is so personal and you can be ripped to pieces.
“It’s also difficult if you’re from this area, which is why I worked so hard to get into drama school in Manchester.
“Talent only seems to be recognised in the bigger cities and Stoke-on-Trent’s not one of them, but if I want something it will take a lot for me not to get it.”
Paula’s persistence eventually paid off and she appeared in Coronation Street three times between 2008 and 2012 as an unnamed nurse.
She also starred in TV shows including Hollyoaks where she played a doctor, Scott & Bailey and Emmerdale. In the latter she took on the part of a stripper.
One of her most memorable roles was as a character called Kirsty Stephens in the film Appropriate Adult, which was about serial killers Fred and Rosemary West.
It was in 2013 when Paula first became pen pals with the renowned criminal Charles Bronson after reading his book about time he’d spent inside notorious psychiatric hospital Broadmoor.
Paula, who herself had been battled mental health issues including depression, said the book made her both cry and laugh and ‘was told in such a way I connected with it’.
Three years later, Paula met Bronson who is dubbed the UK’s most dangerous inmate because of his violent attacks on fellow lags and guards behind bars.
The couple tied the knot at HMP Wakefield in West Yorkshire in November 2017 – a decision that would throw her into the spotlight.
They were allowed just two hours together, under supervision at an intimate ceremony attended by a few friends.
But after a series of explosive and very public tiffs, their relationship quickly fell apart with former bare-knuckle boxer Bronson, who is serving who is serving a life term for robbery and kidnap, making cruel swipes at her weight.
Paula even appeared on ITV1’s Loose Women to give an emotional interview about her failed romance and the problems she had faced in the past.
Just a month before her death, it was revealed their whirlwind marriage was set to be annulled.
Her pink-themed funeral was held at St Saviour’s Church, Smallthorne, on what would have been her 39th birthday.
At the service, her grief-stricken parents, Hazel and Clive Williamson, described their daughter as the ‘joy of their lives’.
The tribute read: “She kept us young in spirit. She had a real love of animals and there were always dogs and cats around!
“She would always step in if she thought someone was taking advantage of us. She had a great talent for the performing arts and during her acting career she was living her dream.”