Barnsley-born actress Katherine Kelly on her new ITV drama and growing up in Yorkshire

Katherine Kelly as Leah in the forthcoming ITV drama, Cheat. (Picture: ITV).
Katherine Kelly as Leah in the forthcoming ITV drama, Cheat. (Picture: ITV).
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Most of us lead busy lives and many people take their issues home with them. Not Katherine Kelly. “I’ve never found it hard to switch off,” says the Barnsley-born actress. “When the director shouts ‘cut’, that’s it. I don’t go on agonising. I’d rather go home, or to my trailer, and have a nice cuppa”.

Katherine – who will turn 40 in the autumn – adds: “Mind you, having two small children has to be factored in. When I get home, they seem to zap my brain entirely, so any memories of anything achieved on that day go straight out of the window!”

Katherine Kelly grew up in South Yorkshire. (PA).

Katherine Kelly grew up in South Yorkshire. (PA).

She’s back on the small screen next month in a taut and highly original thriller, Cheat, for ITV. Katherine plays Dr Leah Dale, a high-flying academic who has limitless ambitions for her career.

Matters are made more complicated for Leah when her handsome husband suggests that they have a child – but does she really want a baby? Then she has problems in conceiving – is the problem hers – or his?

And then there’s the little matter of Rose, a young woman in the classes she teaches, who turns in what looks to be a brilliant dissertation, but, since Rose is always late for class, pays scant attention when she bothers to turn up, and never enters into any debate, is this really all her own work?

“It’s such a clever idea”, says Katherine, “made even more remarkable by the fact that our writer is Gaby Hull, and that it is his very first drama for TV. From the very start, you don’t know who is in the right, or in the wrong, and he really plays on that word, ‘cheat’.

“Has the younger woman cheated in her exams? Would Leah have let it all slip past, if the work wasn’t quite so perfect – and therefore been, implicitly, something of a cheat herself? And what about that marriage? Is everything quite as lovely between Leah and her husband as it looks from the outside?”

Reading the script, Katherine found it a real page-turner. “I think viewers are going to see that there is a difference between motivation and behaviour, and that life isn’t lived in one dimension, there are always many sides to a story. What you are seeing, in fact, is not a game of cat and mouse but more a game of cat and cat. Or maybe a boxing match, in that whoever wins the next round holds the power. That’s what I like about it, the fact there are so many different layers.”

Katherine is the daughter of John Kelly, the founder – just over 20 years ago – of the Barnsley-based Lamproom Theatre, which she remains involved with and continues to support its fundraising activities.

As a teenager, and before going off to Rada (where she won a place against stiff competition) she found herself at the independent Wakefield Girls’ High School, where other alumnae over the years have included Dame Barbara Hepworth, Helen Fielding and children’s author Monica Edwards.

So, now that she’s playing a senior lecturer in her latest TV drama, how does she look back on her school days?

“Oh heavens!” she laughs, “My report always said things like ‘If only Katherine didn’t talk too much’. I was a complete chatterbox. But I just loved the chat at school. I suspect that I just dropped on a really good bunch of people at that time.

“Looking back, I probably thought that school was just one big social event, and that, I suspect, really did annoy the teachers. I know that, sadly, this just isn’t the case for so many, and a lot of people have a traumatic time in high schools everywhere and I can completely understand how that can happen. So yes, I am very aware that I just lucked out at Wakefield.”

She’s just been back to Barnsley to visit the family which she does as often as she can. “It’s still where my roots are very firmly planted.”

Katherine married her husband Ryan Clark back in 2013, in a ceremony in Las Vegas, and the couple now have two little girls, Orla, four, who has just started school herself, and Rose, born in 2016.

Her daughters love coming north to see their grandparents and their uncles and aunts. “You know the place they adore? It’s the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Not because – at their ages – they are bowled over by the sculptures – that may come with time – but because of all the space to charge around, and be free. It means so much to them. We all love the Hepworth in Wakefield, as well, and I can’t wait to see what they do with the new garden space there.”

She’s overjoyed, too, by the extensive makeover to the Barnsley markets area and that the town seems to be on the climb once again.

“That is wonderful news – and long overdue. Barnsley needed to have its pride back. I still don’t think that I have forgiven Meadowhall for sucking all the life out of the place when it opened. But that happened to Rotherham as well. And Doncaster, and Sheffield city centre. They were all affected and badly wounded. Maybe there are now signs of an overdue resurgence.”

What you see with Katherine Kelly, is genuinely what you get. Frank, honest, and down to earth, she is not one to duck a question.

She also laughs a lot – often at herself. She is a classic example of that old saying that: “You can take a lass out of Barnsley, but you can’t take Barnsley out of the lass”.

She’s been in the public eye for nearly two decades now, picking up awards and plaudits along the way. Her first major role came with Last of the Summer Wine, playing a character called Sharlene.

That was back in 2003. Then came key roles in dramas like Silent Witness And then The Royal. The big break was a six-year stint in Coronation Street, as Becky Granger. But when she left the cobbles of Weatherfield in 2012, she did so “without a single regret”.

“I missed (and miss) a lot of my good friends and colleagues over in Manchester, but I just thought that it was time to move on. I wouldn’t have changed a minute of my time there, 
and it was a tough decision to make – but it was also time to explore fresh fields”.

One of the first plum jobs that she picked up after her exit was to play Kenny Everett’s wife, Lee Middleton, in a warts-and-all TV biopic about the outrageous entertainer and DJ, and his switchback life.

She won some excellent notices from the critics when she went back to live theatre at The National, in She Stoops to Conquer.

Since then there have been roles in big TV dramas such as Happy Valley (a role written specifically for her) and The Night Manager.

Her career continues to blossom though she admits she doesn’t have a grand plan. “I’ve never had a back-up plan, something to do instead of acting. I’m one of four kids from a family of freelancers.

“We all work for ourselves – which is sometimes rather frightening, but with it is frequently a buzz. I think that there’s definitely a strong rebel streak running through the Kelly genes.”

Cheat will air on ITV in March

Growing up in South Yorkshire

Katherine Kelly has fond memories of her childhood spent growing up in South Yorkshire. “I was always ‘the little mum’ because I had younger siblings and cousins,” she says.

Are they proud of what I’ve done? “Oh dear, that’s a bit too embarrassing to think about! 
Looking back, I was very much an ‘Eighties kid’, because I remember that I spent most of my time on a BMX.

“I have two brothers who are very close in age, and in our down time we were mostly out and about in the country around Barnsley.

“Most of my young childhood was spent Steven Spielberg ET-style with our coats strapped around our necks like capes, bombing up and down the road on our bikes.”