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Coro’s Hayley Cropper gets saucy

Coronation St's Hayley Cropper is putting aside her dowdy red coat. Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, who plays the transgender character in the soap, has a saucy new role, complete with a sex scene!
Hayley Cropper

Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh (pronounced Hesmondhalsh) is deeply grateful for the dowdy look favoured by her Coro alter ego, Hayley Cropper. In real life, she says, “I am a Doc Martens girl. I like jeans and a T-shirt, leopardskin and a bit of headscarf action to liven things up, and a bleached blonde crop with as many roots as possible. And red lippy.”

But when she turned up to audition for the role of Coro’s first transgender character back in 1998, the make-up woman was expecting a mousy actress. “She said, ‘They didn’t want you to have a wig’,” Julie (44) remembers. “She quickly found one in a cupboard and we cobbled it together, so the look was pure chance. “And the red coat is a bit threadbare now. It isn’t even very warm. And the store we got it from said they had to discontinue the line because nobody would wear it after Hayley! “But thank goodness – it’s been such a good disguise. I can just wander round pretty much unnoticed.”

Julie joined Coronation St in 1998 as the show’s first transgender character – and soon became one of the soap’s best-loved characters.

Given the level of fame Hayley has achieved, anonymity in everyday life has been a blessing for the actress. She shares a very ordinary family life in Derbyshire with her husband, screenwriter and actor Ian Kershaw (they met on the soap, when he played a reporter on the Weatherfield Gazette) and their two daughters, aged 13 and 10.

“It’s not like we have a glamorous Coronation Street lifestyle with ponies and iPhones – I’m like an Amish mum,” she says. “They say to me, ‘People think because you’re in Coro, we have all this stuff and we don’t have anything!’ I’m really tight. I’m awful!

“But they like me being in Coro because of the people I hang out with. It gives me some kudos that I’m friends with characters like Carla Connor and Tracy Barlow. They find the real me a bit embarrassing, too loud, too conspicuous. They aren’t interested if I’ve had a hard day, they just want their nutella butties made.”

Hayley’s popularity came as something of a surprise to the soap’s producers and hasn’t been without problems for Julie, she admits. When she first appeared, as Harold transitioning to womanhood, “there was a big kerfuffle from transgender pressure groups that they’d cast me rather than a transgender actor. Nowadays, that wouldn’t happen. But good came of it.”

Julie became a supporter of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community and, after Hayley’s wedding to Roy, the British government changed the law to give transgendered people full legal status in their new sex. Hayley was mentioned in parliament and credited with changing public attitudes. And that’s not the only campaign Julie has taken on. Her latest cause is the impact of pornography on children and young adults – triggered by a spell away from Coro in a drama series called Cucumber, which digs deep into gay lives.

The dramatic lead up to Roy and Hayley’s wedding on the soap is fondly remembered by fans.

“If all you have seen of sex is hardcore porn, how do you consolidate that with what you are supposed to be doing and even what your body is supposed to look like?” she asks. “My older daughter is not allowed access to the internet anywhere in the house where I’m not, so she’s not allowed a computer or a phone in her room,” she says. “I have always said to her, ‘If there is anything that you see that you are uncomfortable with, come and tell me about it. Nothing is off limits.’ It’s a real worry.”

Working on Cucumber did, however, have its bonuses. “I do have a sex scene of sorts, which was a bit terrifying but turned out to be more than fine,” she grins. “Having not even kissed anyone apart from my husband for about 17 years, it was quite a big thing for me – but I enjoyed it a little bit more than I could have anticipated.”

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