Born in Accrington, Lancashire on the 25th February 1970, actress Julie Hesmondhalgh was bred on northern serial drama including Coronation Street, never dreaming that one day she would find herself on one of the most famous streets in Britain. As she approached her mid teens, television spawned more edgy dramas including Eastenders and Brookside which made ‘the street’ seem a little dated and quaint. Julie could identify much more to the people and situations which were depicted in these shows. Yet she had an ambition to one day appear in Coronation Street and raise awareness for a social issue but in eighties Lancashire, this sounded a million miles away from what Julie thought was possible. Yet in 1998 she secured the role which would undoubtedly change her life forever.
Press play, below, to listen to the full interview
It seems almost impossible to imagine in the gender neutral world of modern Britain but during the late nineties, the subject of transgender was almost unheard of and was something which not many people were even aware of. A born campaigner Julie was the perfect candidate to be tasked with tackling a pressing social issue. Making her first appearance on the on 26 January 1998, Julie was cast as Hayley Patterson, the checkout assistant with a substantial secret. Born Harold Patterson, Coronation Street created a character who was at the centre of a groundbreaking moment for British television. Yet when Julie joined the show, Hayley was merely a supporting character devised to add to the woes of Bettabuys manager Curly Watts. It wasn’t until Alma Baldwin introduced her to the slightly eccentric Roy Cropper (played by David Neilson) that the character of Hayley really grew legs and Julie’s dream came true.
Roy and Hayley’s union wasn’t just unique in terms of sexuality. Together for almost two decades, they very rarely had cause for argument, unlike the dysfunctional characters who surrounded them. Despite the huge issue which overshadowed the character of Hayley, there was something very mundane and normal about their life: Roy was busy running Roy’s Rolls which became one of the major social hubs of Weatherfield and Hayley became a seamstress at Mike Baldwin’s factory Underworld. Such a happy home life provided the perfect setting for Roy and Hayley to become foster parents to teenager Fizz Brown played by Jenni McAlpine. After a turbulent start, Fizz adjusted to life with the Croppers and created a bond with Hayley which saw her grow into a healthy and successful young woman.
In 2013, on revealing that she was intending on leaving the show, Julie was tasked with tackling et another ethical issue. Under strict instructions from her boss Carla on not feeling 100%, Hayley is eventually sent for a CT scan where she is diagnosed with stage-two pancreatic cancer. Like all great serial drama, Coronation Street has a moral responsibility to tell these challenges stories as accurately as possible and raise awareness for the illness and its sufferers. Pancreatic cancer is a illness which relatively went under the radar in regards to funding and education which Coronation Street and in particularly Julie was determined to put right. The story raised issues surrounding euthanasia and coincided with the retired Dr. David Arnold and his wife Elizabeth who were able to get permission for their daughter to administer both of them with a lethal dose of poison following a long dispute with the courts. Julie was so proud of how Coronation Street represented this issue and was honoured to be chosen to head up such a powerful storyline.
On the 22 January 2014 Hayley Cropper drank a lethal cocktail and passed away in the arms of Roy. It would seem that the character had gone but the many issues that she helped to highlight during her fourteen years on the cobbles, Hayley might have been gone but her legacy in serial drama would be felt for years to come. This left Julie with a new challenge to consider and the celebrated television actress was now inundated with prospective new challenges. In 2015 Julie was cast as Cleo in Russell T. Davies’s edgy comedy drama Cucumber surrounding the lives of middle aged gay men in 21st century Britain. Lasting for just eight episodes, the cult series was a hit with the critics and a specific audience who liked to be intellectually stimulated. From the outset the cast and crew all acknowledged that Cucumber wasn’t a returning series and so it was time for Julie to move on to pastures new.
For her new venture, Julie returned to familiar territory of the Manchester Exchange where she’s recently starred in the critically acclaimed WIT followed by two more stage productions, proving that the star of stage and screen is still doing what she does best. It was a great pleasure to speak to Julie Hesmondhalgh and wish her all the very best for the rest of her career.