Katherine Kelly: A role with surprise in store

Barnsley’s Katherine Kelly might be best known for playing drinking, smoking, trouble-making Becky McDonald in Coronation Street, but her latest role has shown there is much more to her repertoire.

Katherine Kelly
Katherine Kelly

The RADA-trained actress has been receiving accolades for her performance as Lady Mae Loxley, an Edwardian socialite in the hit ITV1 Mr Selfridge (Sunday 9pm).

“She’s definitely not aristocratically-born”, laughs Katherine of her latest character. “She’s a working class lass who has done rather well for herself – she was a singer and dancer. She was spotted in the chorus by Lord Loxley, and has married very well indeed – but it’s very much a ‘marriage of convenience’. He got an extraordinarily glamorous wife, she got a very rich husband. She is about as much like Becky as chalk is to cheese – although probably their roots aren’t that different, come to think about it”.

Katherine, 33, and now sporting short dark hair, says: “It is an amazing leap from playing someone in a contemporary drama like Corrie, where the costumes are all ‘present day’ and very ordinary and conventional, to playing Lady Mae, who only dresses in the best couture fashion, and whose hats alone can fill a room. In fact, I swear to God that the cameramen seemed to have to shoot around my headgear – one quick turn and I could take your eye out! It wasn’t so bad with the ‘corset’ thing this time around, because women’s fashions were getting more loose and flowing, but I thought that I’d died and gone to heaven when I saw some of the creations that Lady Mae gets to wear. Don’t let’s forget that these were the days when women of her status would change their clothes three, four, maybe five times a day – morning wear, luncheon, afternoon, tea-time and dinner… and that’s just an ordinary day, nothing special.

“She’s shrewd, hard-nosed, quite calculating, and she drives a hard bargain – but she knows what she wants, and what he can do for her in return. She wants votes for women, and she’s a suffragette, so she persuades Selfridge to give her (and them) his support. And when he did – and this is a fact – most of the big stores in London had their windows smashed in a wave of protests – Selfridge’s never did. Their windows remained untouched”.

Lady Mae, she says, “is a fictionalised account of a woman who really did stand behind Selfridge, and who is pivotal to his success.

“Today, I think, they would have been proper business partners – but that was unthinkable back in 1909”.

Acting is clearly in Katherine’s genes. Her father John established The Lamproom Theatre in Barnsley, in 1998 and she is still a keen supporter. After graduating from RADA in 2001 she pursued a stage career including a spell as leading lady for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

But it is for her television roles that she has won most accolades including Best Serial Drama Performance in the National Television Awards 2012 and Best Exit 
in the 2012 British Soap Awards for Coronation Street which she first appeared in 2006.

Last year Katherine was applauded for playing the role of Sheffield’s Lee Middleton (Kenny Everett’s long-suffering wife) in The Best Possible Taste. Following on from the success of Mr Selfridge she will star in The Last Witch – a supernatural drama written by BAFTA-nominated writer Sally Wainwright.

From stage to screen

Katherine Kelly was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and is best known as Becky Granger in ITV soap opera Coronation Street. She trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London, with fellow students Meredith MacNeill and Laurence Fox, graduating in 2001. She was a leading lady at the Royal Shakespeare Company 2004-2005. Since then she has worked extensively in TV, film, radio and voice-over.

Mr Selfridge is on ITV1 on Sunday at 9pm.