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Life after Coronation Street

We look at the paths taken by some of the TV show’s much-loved former residents.

Millions have fallen in love with the drama of life played out in the cobbled roads and terraced red-brick houses of Coronation Street over the past 55 years.
This fictional address causes very real heartache when viewers wave goodbye to some of their favourite characters. But the end for those characters is often a new beginning for the actors who played them, as they go on to grace our television screens and steal our hearts in a number of other significant roles.
We look at where the Street has led for six of those stars.
Sarah Lancashire as her Coronation Street Raquel Wolstenhulme
Sarah Lancashire
Sarah Lancashire’s connection to Coronation Street began well before she was serving pints behind the Rovers Return bar – her scriptwriter father had worked on more than 100 episodes of the long-running soap and inspired her curiosity for television.
In 1986, the talented creative graduated from the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which also counts among its alumni the likes of Ewan McGregor and Orlando Bloom. After graduation, Sarah helped support herself by teaching drama at Salford University in Manchester for five years, while also establishing her acting career.
Sarah landed her breakthrough role in 1991 as Raquel Wolstenhulme, the Rovers Return Inn’s scatterbrained, and kind-hearted barmaid, who dreamed of being a fashion model.
After an on/off relationship with bookmaker Des Barnes, Raquel married her long-time admirer Curly Watts. But she walked out on the marriage when newly pregnant with daughter Alice to pursue a modelling job in Kuala Lumpur.
She eventually settled in France and returned to the Street in 2000 for one episode to get a divorce from Curly so she could marry Armand de Beaux, to whom she was pregnant, and to reveal Alice’s existence to Curly.
Sarah struggled with mental health issues for much of her Coronation Street tenure, made worse by her divorce from her first husband Gary Hargreaves, with whom she had two sons. She left the show in 1996 and later admitted that she struggled to cope with the attention the role brought her.
However, after the actress left Coronation Street, she found stability and a more comfortable type of fame in the quieter world of sitcoms and midweek television drama. But it wasn’t an easy ride and Sarah felt her time on Coronation Street cast a dim shadow on her acting prospects.
The 51-year-old star has criticised the prejudice against soap stars held by some writers and producers in the television industry.
She told the Radio Times: “Soaps are a double-edged sword. There can be prejudice from some writers and producers who feel you will lower the currency of their work if you’ve been in one. You have to rise above such ludicrous prejudice.”
Sarah says soap operas are a great arena to learn your craft before moving on, but there is no such thing as soap actors.
She says, “We are all actors and we work across an enormous amount of media – radio, television, or standing outside a supermarket in a Weetabix outfit.”
Sarah found further success with roles in UK TV series Where the Heart Is, Clocking Off and the TV film Seeing Red. It was in 2000 that Sarah reportedly became the highest paid actress in UK television after signing a two-year contract with ITV.
In the midst of her blossoming career, Sarah met and fell in love with TV executive Peter Salmon and the pair married in 2001. In 2003 the couple welcomed Sarah’s third son into the world.
The busy mother and actress also made her directional debut on the anthology series The Afternoon Play. After several other costume drama and television roles, Sarah received an Olivier Award nomination for her role as the female lead in the musical Betty Blue Eyes in 2011.
But this wasn’t the end of recognition for Sarah; she went on to win the British Academy Television Award in 2014 for the Best Supporting Actress for her role as Caroline in the contemporary drama series Last Tango in Halifax (2012). That year her leading role as Sergeant Catherine Cawood in the crime thriller series Happy Valley earned further accolades.
Katherine Kelly as her Coronation Street character Becky McDonald
Katherine Kelly
Born into a family of performers, both Katherine Kelly and her younger sister Grace are actresses.
Graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Katherine played a number of theatrical roles before joining the cast of Coronation Street in 2006.
It was for her role as no-nonsense, feisty Becky McDonald that Katherine won Best Actress at the 2009 British Soap Awards and Best Serial Drama Performance at the 2012 National Television Awards.
Initially only contracted to be on the show for three months, Becky became a series regular after the talented actress wowed the producers.
Katherine admits she sometimes requested changes to the script in order to make Becky’s behaviour more extreme. She says the script would often say that Becky was to slap Steve, her businessman husband, but Katherine felt that was too clichéd and didn’t accurately reflect Becky’s hellraising antics. Instead she would suggest a punch or even a kick in the “bollocks” on one occasion.
Becky became referred to as a Coronation Street icon as viewers watched her transform from a thieving ex-con to a vulnerable young woman, with critics often praising her performances.
Katherine has landed a number of exciting roles since leaving the cobbles in 2012. The busy actress showed off her musical prowess as Baroness Schraeder in the triumphant live broadcast by ITV of The Sound of Music, she starred as Lady Mae in the television series Mr Selfridge, and appeared as Detective Jodie Shackleton in Happy Valley, alongside former Coro star Sarah Lancashire.
After giving birth to her daughter Orla in March 2014, Katherine took a year off from acting, and says she is absolutely smitten with her little girl. As is her husband of three years, digital analyst Ryan Clark, who said at the time of their daughter’s birth that Katherine had given him the best gift in the world.
Most recently, the 36-year-old actress has had a recurring role as a senior civil servant in the spy drama The Night Manager. She is also set to star as Miss Quill in the upcoming Doctor Who spin-off series, Class.
Katherine says she is on cloud nine with her work at the moment, but sees her years on Coronation Street as a career highlight.
In saying this, she has also said many times that she wouldn’t return to the role of Becky, because she wouldn’t want to spoil the success and happiness she experienced during her time on the Street.
Suranne Jones as her Coronation Street character Karen McDonald
Suranne Jones
Born Sarah-Anne, because her family priest didn’t believe Suranne was a “proper” name, the star says she always wanted to be different.
Suranne Jones said she felt stifled at school and she allowed bullying to knock her confidence. But the talkative youngster found solace in performing and landed her first amateur acting role at just eight years old.
She later became a member of Britain’s Oldham Theatre Workshop and completed a diploma in performing arts.
Suranne joined the Coronation Street cast in 2000 as Karen McDonald. The sassy character has been described as a “bulldog in hoop earrings” and very quickly stole the hearts of many Coro Street fans.
Storylines involving Karen’s whirlwind relationship with husband Steve McDonald, ongoing rivalry with Tracy Barlow, family drama and experiencing a miscarriage gained Suranne significant public attention.
Episodes featuring feuds between Karen and rival Tracy Barlow attracted millions of viewers and the episode that showed Tracy’s revelation, during Karen and Steve’s second wedding, that her daughter was Steve’s love child had more than 16 million viewers.
Suranne made her last appearance on the show on Boxing Day 2004 after Steve left Karen following her miscarriage.
Suranne was keen to prove her versatility as an actress and her decision to walk away from the ITV soap in 2004 shocked both Coro fans and producers. The determined actress said being in a soap opera was exhausting and that she found she was living and breathing her character Karen McDonald.
However, leaving the cobbles behind wasn’t as easy as she anticipated, and Suranne found her history on Coronation Street was stopping her from getting the roles she craved . Like Sarah Lancashire, she believes soap operas do not receive the credit they deserve.
But a year after her final appearance on Coro Street, Suranne was cast in ITV’s Vincent, about a team of private investigators. She furthered her acting career by appearing in the West End in A Few Good Men, a role for which she won a Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Suranne went on to play the role of Detective Rachel Bailey between 2011 and 2016 in the British crime drama Scott & Bailey, a show that was developed from an idea she conceived with Sally Lindsay (who formerly played Shelley Unwin on Coronation Street). Suranne was the executive director for the show in its fifth and final season this year.
The actress has also won several awards for her portrayal as a successful doctor who suffers personal betrayal in Doctor Foster, including a Broadcasting Press Guild Award and the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress in 2016.
Julie Hesmondhalgh as her Coronation Street character Hayley Cropper
Julie Hesmondhalgh
Julie discovered her love of performing at the tender age of eight, when she was made to prepare a speech and deliver it to her class.
She went on to attend the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. After graduating, Julie and some of her classmates set up Arts Threshold, a fringe theatre co-operative in a basement in Paddington, London. While it wasn’t a moneymaking venture, Julie believes she and the other members learnt a lot about performing during this time.
One thing Julie recalls from her years training to be an actress was her desire to one day be in a popular television drama playing a controversial character, and that’s exactly what she went on to do.
Julie made headlines when she joined the soap in 1998 as timid shop assistant Hayley Cropper, who had a secret past as a man, and was the first transgender character to ever grace the screens in a soap opera.
For her portrayal of Hayley, she won Best Serial Drama Performance at the 2014 National Television Awards and also Best Actress at the 2014 British Soap Awards.
At first the transgender community was upset that a transgender actress had not been chosen for the role, but Julie worked hard on and off screen to win them over. The wife and mother-of-two campaigned for the rights of the LGBT community throughout her 16 years on the show and continues to do so to this day.
Julie took time off from Coronation Street to appear in the television movie Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster, which tells the true story of a young Goth woman who died after being brutally attacked. She also became the patron of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. In 2015, Julie was awarded a Royal Television Society Award for Best Female Actor in a Drama for her role as Sophie’s mother, Sylvia.
Back on Coronation Street, Julie’s final exit was portrayed in an unforgettable storyline that sparked widespread debate about the right-to-die issue – her character was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and went on to take her own life.
It was during this time that Julie worked with pancreatic cancer charities to raise awareness of the disease. She also attended a parliamentary debate in 2014 on the subject of the right to die, in which Coronation Street gained an honourable mention.
Julie admitted she was worried about committing professional suicide when she left Coronation Street for good. She knew there was no possibility of her character coming back to the programme because only death could part her from her husband Roy. Plus, she was in her mid-40s, a tough age for an actress to find work. But Julie decided to risk it all and reinvent herself in her career.
It was when she took time off from Coronation Street to play Sophie’s mother in the film Black Rose: The Murder of Sophie Lancaster that Julie realised there were other roles out there that would allow her to make a difference.
She has appeared in the British TV series Cucumber and a standalone drama, Taxi for Linda.
In 2016, Julie took on another breakthrough role when she joined the cast of acclaimed crime drama Happy Valley as Amanda Wadsworth, a midwife and working mother who has a fraught relationship with her husband John. In April this year, it was announced that she would join the upcoming third season of Broadchurch.
Despite Julie’s initial fears, it seems her career is going from strength to strength. But the actress says she still watches Coronation Street and feels proud every time Hayley’s name is mentioned on the show because it helps to keep the memory of her character alive.
She says even though she cried during the episode in which her on-screen husband scattered Hayley’s ashes, she feels she picked the right time to leave the show and credits Coronation Street for the career she has now.
Joanne Froggatt as her Coronation Street character Zoe Tattersall
Joanne Froggatt
Small-town girl Joanne Froggatt left home at the age of 13 to attend the Redroofs Theatre School in Maidenhead, England. At 16, she made her television debut as a teenage prostitute in The Bill*.
However, uncertain about pursuing an acting career, Joanne took on a regular nine-to-five job and was considering abandoning her acting dreams. It was shortly after this that she was invited to audition for the part of a runaway teen in Coronation Street.
Joanne played Zoe Tattersall, a troubled teen mum who came to the cobbles in 1997.
Her character was caught up in a number of storylines involving Zoe selling her baby to Judy Mallet and then eventually taking her back. When she lost the baby to cot death, she was devastated and ended up turning to a religious cult for comfort.
The actress said the role was only meant to be for a few episodes, but kept her occupied for 18 months.
She says she didn’t choose to leave the soap, but was written out of the script when Zoe ran off to live with the cult.
While her time on the show was comparatively brief, Coronation Street paved the way for a very successful acting career.
A number of smaller television roles followed her time as Zoe, then in 2003 Joanne landed the leading role in the controversial one-off drama, Danielle Cable: Eyewitness. This told the true story of a teenage girl who witnessed the murder of her boyfriend in a road rage attack. Joanne was later commended on her portrayal by Danielle Cable herself.
In 2006, Joanne played the sister of Myra Hindley in the television drama See No Evil: The Moors Murders and then had another controversial role as the lead in Joanne Lees: Murder in the Outback.
The 36-year-old has also had a number of theatrical roles, including appearing on the London stage as Sister Rosa in the adaptation of All About My Mother at the Old Vic Theatre in 2007.
A few years and a few roles later, Joanne garnered critical acclaim for her performance as Suzy, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in her film debut In Our Name, winning Best Newcomer at the British Independent Film Awards.
But perhaps her most memorable role to date has been as lady’s maid Anna Bates in Downton Abbey, for which she has received three Emmy nominations. In 2014 she was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film for this portrayal.
In the midst of her busy career, the award-winner married her long-time boyfriend James Cannon in 2012. After almost two decades of acting, Joanne is showing no signs of slowing down, appearing this year on TV screens as Britain’s first female serial killer, Victorian murderer Mary Ann Cotton.
Rob James-Collier as his Coronation Street character Liam Connor.
Rob James-Collier
Rob James-Collier stumbled into acting. His first experience with the craft was when he was asked by a desperate friend, who was one actor short, to fill in for his film shoot. Shortly after that, Rob found an acting coach in the Yellow Pages and started taking acting classes after work, and so began the career of this handsome English heart-throb.
Despite limited acting experience, Rob scored the role of a womanising pub landlord in the series Down to Earth when he convinced stars Ricky Tomlinson and Denise Welch of his talent.
After this he appeared in one-off episodes for a number of television series, but in 2006 lucked out and joined the cast of Coronation Street as one of two brothers who were buying into the local underwear factory.
The business and marketing graduate gained critical acclaim as Liam Connor in Coronation Street. Liam’s storylines centred on his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, Maria Sutherland, who he agreed to marry. But secretly Liam was in love with Carla, and they pursued a tumultuous on-off love affair.
In 2008 Rob announced he was leaving the Street, but planned to return in the future. However it was written into the script that Rob’s character would be brutally killed off as part of a murder-mystery storyline that would bring three of the soap’s favourite characters under suspicion for the murder.
It turned out Liam was murdered by Carla’s fiancé, who felt threatened by their obvious affection for one another. The storyline won Rob Best Exit at the 2009 British Soap Awards.
The good-looking actor also tried his hand at modelling, and was the face of British catalogue retailer Argos Company in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, he was awarded the titles of Sexiest Male and Best Newcomer at Britain’s Inside Soap Awards.
Throughout his time on Coronation Street, Rob also had a number of one-off appearances in other television programmes.
After leaving the show, he was offered the part of gay footman Thomas Barrow in Downton Abbey, the role he is now most famously known for, and one for which he won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.
Rob says he was only meant to play the show’s notorious villain for one season, but his character ended up becoming a series favourite. The 40-year-old actor is critical of his early performances on Downton Abbey but says by the end of it he had really honed his skills and refined the character.
He keeps his personal life private but has a young son, born in 2010, with his partner Lauren Chandiram. The actor has joked that it’s easier playing a gay character, such as Thomas Barrow, because his missus does not get jealous about his onscreen romances.
Words: Therese Henkin

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