She was only meant to be in Coronation Street for four episodes. But Kym Marsh so impressed the TV show's bosses with her portrayal of feisty Michelle Connor that she ended up as a main cast member, involved in some of the soap's biggest storylines.
Now, after playing Michelle for 13 years, Kym is saying "ta-ra" to the famous street.
Kym has announced she's leaving the soap to try something new.
"When I was lucky enough to be offered four episodes, I could never in my wildest dreams have thought I'd be here 13 years later. It's been an incredibly difficult decision, but it feels like the right time for me to take a break from the show and explore some other roles," says Kym (42).
A Coro insider says her character won't be killed off, hopefully leaving the door open for Kym to return.
Executive producer John Whiston says everyone on the soap is very sad to see her go.
"Kym has done a fantastic job on the show as Michelle, bringing incredible heart and humanity to some hugely important stories. We will be really sad to lose her when she goes but totally understand that after dedicating herself to the show for so long and so brilliantly, she now fancies trying something else for a while. We and the audience wish her well."
Coronation Street was Kym's first major acting role.
Initially, she found fame as a singer, appearing on reality TV show Popstars in 2000 and becoming a member of Hear'Say, the band created from the show. They had a huge hit with the single Pure and Simple, but their popularity quickly waned and Kym left the band after 18 months to go solo. She was dropped by her record label after only one album.
Kym made her acting debut in a soap opera called Doctors in 2005. The following year, she jumped at the chance to appear in Coro. It was supposed to be a small part, as a singer who auditioned for a band run by Liz McDonald's then-husband, Vernon Tomlin. She was later taken on permanently, with her character landing a job as a Rover's Return bartender.
"If anybody had told me I'd end up starring in Coronation Street one day, I'd have laughed and told them to shut up. I've always said this would be my dream job. My mum has watched the show for years so I've grown up with it," she said at the time.
By June 2008, Michelle was proving so popular that Kym's salary was almost doubled so she wouldn't be tempted to leave.
Over the years, her character lost two brothers in car crashes, was kidnapped by an ex-boyfriend and shot on her wedding day, and discovered that her son had been swapped at birth.
One of the saddest plots was very close to home. On screen, Michelle and husband Steve had a stillborn baby, Ruairi. Offscreen, several years earlier, Kym's baby Archie had died after arriving 18 weeks prematurely.
Filming the scenes involving the loss of Ruairi was "a real challenge, and strange because you spend years trying to get away from it", says Kym.
Although the death of her son was "the single worst thing that's ever happened to me", she says she hopes the Coro scenes have encouraged people to talk about the loss of a child, which is often a taboo subject, and that she can help other people going through it.
There have been other real-life traumas for the actress, including the breakdown of both her marriages, and being stalked by someone who impersonated her on social media and sent hate mail to her home.
She has also had health issues, including needing a brain scan last year for a condition that causes dizziness and balance problems.
Leaving Coronation Street won't be the only big change in Kym's life this year.
She's set to become a grandmother, with her daughter Emilie Cunliffe (21) expecting her first child. Kym knows what it's like to be a young mum – she had Emilie's older brother, David (23), when she was 18 – and has been fully supportive of Emilie.
Kym also has a seven-year-old daughter, Polly, who was born seven weeks early, but survived against the odds. Kym was on bed rest for the last three months of her pregnancy, and was grateful to Coro bosses for the time off.
"She's our little miracle," says Kym. "I'm so proud of her, especially when I think of how it could have been."
She hasn't revealed her plans when it comes to future acting jobs, but she'll no doubt be hoping to follow in the footsteps of former Coronation Street cast members such as Sarah Lancashire (Raquel Watts), Michelle Keegan (Tina McIntyre) and Suranne Jones (Karen McDonald), who've all gone on to forge successful TV careers.
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