Why Haley won’t come a cropper on road to stardom that’s paved with cobbles

Julie Hesmondhalgh
Julie Hesmondhalgh
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They began as soap stars but the qualifying adjective soon became redundant. They were stars by any measure.

Anna Friel, Sarah Lancashire, Davy Jones from the Monkees, and even Ben Kingsley are among the actors who broke out of journeyman jobs on northern serials and into the big time. Last night, Julie Hesmondhalgh let it be known that she plans to join them.

Julie Hesmondhalgh (right) with David Tennant and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch

Julie Hesmondhalgh (right) with David Tennant and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch

After 16 years as British soap’s first transgender character, Coronation Street’s Hayley Cropper, ITV has confirmed that the 46 year-old mother of two will be a central figure in the third and final series of its crime drama, Broadchurch.

She will appear alongside David Tennant and Olivia Colman as the victim of a sexual assault that is the central mystery of the new episodes.

It has been three years since she left the cobbles of Wetherfield, in husband Roy’s arms, having taken a lethal cocktail.

She still gets “Hayley hugs” from the public, she says, but hopes one day to be numbered among the actors who have put such soap personas behind them.

“It’s been three years now but three years is nothing,” she said, adding that her former Coronation Street colleague, Suranne Jones, still gets the same recognition.

“It’s hilarious to me. It’s been 10 years and she’s a Bafta-winning superstar,” said Ms Hesmondhalgh.

The Barnsley actress Katherine Kelly, who graduated from Corrie to Life On Mars and The Night Manager, had trodden a similar path, she noted.

“There is always a list of people I would eventually like to join. There has only been a handful that have done it. Suranne, Sarah (Lancashire), Katherine Kelly, and maybe one day they will add me on to that list.”

In fact, the roll of honour goes back almost as far as soaps themselves, and the Street has not been the only launchpad for a stellar career.

Anna Friel appeared in Emmerdale and, more famously, as Beth Jordache, who buried her father under the patio in Brookside, before a string of transatlantic film roles.

Sarah Lancashire went from Coronation Street, where her father, Geoffrey, had been an early scriptwriter, to the gritty Yorkshire dramas, Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax.

Sir Ben Kingsley’s journey from Scarborough to the set of Gandhi also passed through Wetherfield, where, in the character of Ron Jenkins, he chatted up Ken’s wife, Val Barlow.

Davy Jones, before becoming a Hollywood teen idol in the Beatles-inspired Monkees, also passed over the cobbles, as did Peter Noone, the future lead singer of Herman’s Hermits.

The list of Australia’s soap alumni us even longer, with Hollywood stars Margot Robbie and Liam Hemsworth, not to mention Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, having served time on Neighbours.

Ms Hesmondhalgh said she would have to get used to being in more august company if she were to completely shake off Hayley Cropper.

“I’ve had to work very hard at feeling like I’m not a competition winner,” she said.

“I’m a woman in my late 40s now and I’ve got to stop acting as though it’s ‘thank you very much for having me’.”

She said of Broadchurch, which returns on February 27: “I was a little bit overwhelmed by it all. We did a photo shoot the other day and it was like being at Madame Tussauds. But I had that in Corrie as well. There would be times when I would be in the Rovers thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’”