Denise got the taste for acting herself when she took part in a school production of Finnegan’s Rainbow and realised that acting was something she was good at. Her father and drama teacher encouraged her to attend the Mountview Theatre School in London which she attended from 1976 to 1979. Following graduation her first work was mainly in the theatre with a part in the West End and many productions for the Live Theatre Company in Newcastle. Her television debut was in 1981 in the Tyne Tees Television series Barriers. Over the next few years she appeared in several series associated with the North East of England such as Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, Spender and Byker Grove but her big break came with a starring role in Soldier Soldier in 1993, during which time she released a record, You Don't Have To Say You Love Me/Cry Me a River, which reached No. 23 in the charts.
In 1997 Denise was cast in the femme fatale role of Natalie Horrocks, man-eating mistress of Kevin Webster. Although the character was nicknamed "Nastily," she became popular enough with viewers for Granada Television to offer her a regular contract and, in time, to become one of the barmaids of the Rovers Return Inn. In December 1998 she was promoted further to one of a select number of actors to have played the landlady of that establishment.
Denise stayed in the programme until December 2000. She was offered a storyline in which she suffered a miscarriage but she argued against this as her character had been through enough tragedies already (the deaths of second husband Des Barnes and son Tony Horrocks). Added to this Denise found out that she really was pregnant by her husband Tim Healy (whom she married in 1988 and who twice appeared himself in the Street). Handing in her notice, her pregnancy was written into the storyline of her last few months in the programme and the door was left open for her return, an offer that, to date, she has not taken up.
After giving birth to her baby, a son named Louis Vincent in 2001, Denise returned to acting with parts in Where the Heart is, Down to Earth, Waterloo Road, Holby City and The Bill but she has retained her high public profile mostly by becoming a regular panellist on the daytime magazine programme Loose Women from 2005 until 2013.
Since leaving the Street Denise has confessed that she has suffered from clinical depression for most of her life and that during her time on the programme her suffering was acute. Her problems were accentuated by alcoholism, a problem she was helped with by Kevin Kennedy who encouraged her to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She was later quoted as saying,
- "I don't know how I did that job. I was desperately ill for most of my time in the Street. It got so bad that I started drinking heavily. I thought it would be a quick-fix way of taking away the pain, but it exacerbated the depression. I could easily down a bottle of wine a day. Other days I would binge-drink until I blacked out. I was still taking anti-depressants and the alcohol would cancel these out - so when I did get an attack of depression it was much worse...There were mornings when I can't tell you how hard it was to get up for work, and then, when I was on the set, I felt I couldn't say a line properly. I would watch an episode I'd been in and would hardly remember doing it. But the public never realised."