Hughes’ Irish connection is immediately apparent in her first name: her father was born in Cobh, County Cork, and she has many childhood memories of the large city in the southwest of Ireland.
“We spent every summer in Cork, just sitting on the doorstep outside the pub. All our relatives are there. When we first went to Cobh, mum pointed out the 30 houses, two pubs and two churches – I guess you just went from one into the other!”
Born and educated in Notting Hill Gate, London, Hughes was educated at private school and studied ballet at Art’s Educational from the age of 10, making her first public appearance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden a year later. Hughes then joined a ballet company for a year before returning to London, where she worked as a dancer in television and had occasional small parts in films.
In 1980, she originated, and portrayed for one year, the role of Victoria, The White Cat, in the London-based original company of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Cats,” which led her across the Atlantic Ocean to the USA.
“When I was around 23 years old, I went over to America – did the Joan Collins thing. I had always wanted to go to the States and dance with American dancers.”
Her movie debut came when Sylvester Stallone cast her opposite John Travolta in Stayin’ Alive.
“That was it,” she says. “I knew I wanted to come back again, that it was exactly what I wanted. I packed, came out here and didn’t know what the hell I was going to do! I needed a job, and then about six months after arriving and living on my friend’s couch at first, along came ‘General Hospital.’
“They had created a character, and I seemed to fit exactly what they were looking for – a female European spy. I was a heroine, but I had a dark side too. This was back when Europe seemed the center of espionage, before the wall came down.”
Hughes became the mysterious “Anna Devane” on ABC daytime drama “General Hospital” from 1985 to 1992, but after her character died in an explosion on a boat, she took time out do movies and other projects. That was until 1999, when she returned to the daytime television schedule on ABC’s “All My Children” – though she was again playing Anna, now seemingly resurrected.
“The head of daytime [programming] asked if I would be interested in moving to New York, and I said yes. You don’t ever die in soaps, you know. It’s their form of recycling.
But it did get confusing, as I originally started again as another character, and it got so far down the line that I then had to play Anna’s twin to get her character back in.”
Hughes won an Emmy® Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in 1991 and was nominated three other times as well.
Being on screen every day inspired Hughes to come up with some concepts for new programs herself, and in 2003 Style Network asked her to host the official coverage of Olympus Fashion Week.
“I had already approached them with several ideas, and in the end they sent me to see some people in New York who said, ‘we don’t like any of your ideas, but we think you’d be prefect for this.’”
“How Do I look?” was the program she was perfect for, and it’s now passed it’s 100th episode, and about to start season seven.
“It’s been brilliant, a really great time. We started guerilla style, and now we’ve been going for several years.”
Hughes is host of the show, which has a mission to help the stylistically challenged transform themselves into true fashion enthusiasts. In each episode she joins two close friends or relatives and a professional stylist, all of whom take turns helping to transform one lucky candidate into a beacon of style. Top fashion, hair and beauty experts are also on hand to complete the makeover.
As for her own choices, Hughes is a fan of Alexander McQueen, Chloe, “vintage stuff” and says, “you can’t go wrong with H&M.”
Hughes also loves small boutiques, and especially the fashions of punk queen Vivienne Westwood. Punk styles have come and gone, but she has always found the fashion on the street.
“It gets reinvented every few years, given a new edge. I had an old pair of bondage pants from BOY that I’d kept for years, and they were in pretty good nick. I was wearing it in Gucci a few years ago, and this beautiful 19-year-old girl came up to me and asked about them. I told her they were from London in 1979 and she said, ‘oh, so they’re vintage!’
“Funnily enough, I wore a pirate shirt for the opening night of ‘Cats’ – a really flowing, fluffy-wristed thing. You must wear them with irony, or it won’t work!”
Unless the soap world comes calling again, Hughes has other plans for the future.
“I like to do more on fashion, de-mystifying it on television. Style’s important, but so is being yourself. I make terrible mistakes all the time, but you’ve just got to be yourself. Try and look effortless – look like you.”
The season premiere of “How Do I Look” will air on the Style Network June 14.