‘It’s been an absolute blast’

Hayley Cropper’s exit from Coronation Street is destined to be one of the defining stories in the history of the nation’s favourite soap.

In an exclusive interview, Julie Hesmondhalgh tells TV Times just how hard it’s been to leave Corrie and about the challenges of filming Hayley’s final scenes.

Plus, we have exclusive video tributes from co-star Sue Nicholls and Corrie boss Stuart Blackburn, an audio clip of Julie telling TV Times what she thinks Hayley’s legacy will be and Julie’s top five Hayley moments.

So read on for a tribute fit for a Weatherfield legend…

Hi Julie, tells us about your final day of filming at Corrie after 16 years playing Hayley…
“Jennie McAlpine [who plays Fiz] gave me a card that made me really cry, I did my last scene with Debbie Rush [Anna], and that made me cry, Helen Worth and Sally Dynevor [Gail and Sally] both made me cry, and Ali King [Carla] made me weep. That’s not bad going for 12 o’ clock, is it?”

You’ve said previously that you made the decision to leave at the end of 2012, when you took time away to perform in the stage play Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster …
“I started thinking about leaving when I was doing the play, and sat on it for a few months before telling the producers that that was what I wanted to do. It wasn’t an easy decision but then again, it wasn’t one I struggled with. The more I thought about it, the more I realised it was the right time for me. Weirdly enough, even in all the heartbreak of leaving, I have no regrets.”

Heartbreak is an apt word to sum up the emotion surrounding Hayley’s exit on Monday. When Julie handed in her notice, producer Stuart Blackburn knew that he had no option but to kill Hayley off – after all, there’s no way the character would walk out on husband, Roy. So, last summer, the fictional factory worker was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer….
“The months that have followed have seen Julie and David Neilson, who plays Roy, give exquisite performances as the Croppers have had to come to terms with Hayley’s impending death – turns which have earned them both nominations for Best Serial Drama Performance in Wednesday’s National Television Awards.”

How difficult was it to film those shocking final scenes?
“That was the hardest day. Afterwards, I rang my husband, Ian, and said that I found it difficult. He runs a youth club in our village on Wednesday nights and bless him, he got cover, so he was there when I got home and lit candles, and poured me a glass of wine.

“I have to be careful when I’m talking about this because I’ve been able to take the make-up off every night and be healthy and happy, but it has been hard. There’s a real sadness about saying goodbye to this family that I’ve been part of for so long; sadness about leaving David and also sadness about saying bye-bye to Hayley, who I love.

“Everywhere I go, people are really lovely and say ‘Stop making me cry!’ and I think ‘God, you haven’t seen anything yet.’ I think the story has been beautifully paced and it hasn’t all been heartbreak, but the end is hardcore – it’s really upsetting.

As you’d expect, Hayley looked very frail. The hair and make-up department can help her to look like that, but did you also have to make changes – for example, in the way you speak?
“Yes, that’s been really hard for me actually, because my natural rhythm’s very fast and Hayley’s is, too, and it has been really hard to slow it right down. I think that will be quite shocking to see because she’s always been so quick, and it’s quite a fast descent into that. That and losing weight were the only real things that I could do to show she was ill.”

What have you been doing to unwind after filming the more traumatic scenes?
“Well I’ve got kids so they don’t care! I go home and they’re just like ‘Mum, why did you put that in my packed lunch yesterday!’ So you know, I might come in all fragile and I’ve had this really hard day and they couldn’t care less. I have to say, my little one, it’s like ‘I’m not watching it, I don’t want to see it,’ that’s absolutely fine, but they have no real sense of it at all and that soon brings you back down to earth.”

Did you see the episode of C4’s Gogglebox which featured the scene where Hayley and Roy argue after she tells him she wants to die at a time of her choosing?
“That, honestly, was one of the most amazing moments of my life. I was on a night shoot and I got loads of messages saying you’re on Gogglebox, which for any of us is like the coolest thing. I went home and watched it, and to actually see people in their homes, watching it, and seeing the impact of it on them and the conversations that it’s started, well that makes 16 years worthwhile.”

When Hayley was introduced to Coronation Street in 1998, it was part of a comical storyline in which Roy went on a series of disastrous dates. The plan was Hayley would appear to be the perfect match – until she revealed she was a transsexual. And that would be the end of that…
“But in my head, it was never like that. I knew that it was working between me and David, and I knew from the response I was getting that people liked Hayley. I knew I was only in for a short space of time, but in my head, I was always coming back.

“Old ladies would say to me ‘When are Hayley and Roy getting married?’ I’d say, ‘They’re not allowed to because of the law’ and they’d be like, ‘Never mind that!’ That’s the way to change lives. I remember at their wedding, Roy made a speech and said – and this remains one of my favourite lines, ever – ‘We have remained the same; the world has turned to meet us.'”

What do you think Hayley’s legacy will be?

*Click here to hear Julie talk about Hayley’s legacy on Coronation Street*

Hayley received a Christmas present from Becky. Would you have liked Katherine Kelly to come back for a guest appearance?
“I would’ve loved it. But Kate’s just flown off to Australia to have her baby. And she’s so busy now; even if she wasn’t pregnant, it probably wouldn’t have been impossible. Becky still knows nothing about Hayley’s illness and that’s a way of getting round that, because obviously she would’ve flown straight over from Barbados if she’d known.”

Throughout that time you’ve had an incredible working relationship with David Neilson. In the scenes – like the right-to-die row we’ve just been talking about – how much of it is worked out between David and yourself in advance, and how much is instinctive?
“There’s a synergy that comes a little bit from a natural understanding between us, that we’ve always had since day one, we’ve recognised each other as kindred spirits and knew we could trust each other. And we’re flexible.

“We can give each other notes or suggestions and it’s fine, we don’t have a set idea – some actors have a very set idea about what they’re doing – the other end of that is someone like Ali [Alison King who plays Carla], who is just completely instinctive. It’s just so interesting working with different people in the cast.

“With Jennie McAlpine, if I’ve got to do a scene where I’ve got to get upset with Jennie then job done. All you have to do is look at that little face and you’ve gone. She’s always played it like an ordinary girl. We did a scene, she was saying goodbye to Hayley. Roy was very very upset in the scene and she had to come in and see that and so she got very very upset, and so she had a line where she said something like ‘I’ll look after him’ and leaves, and she was very upset when she was saying it, and she asked to go again because she felt like she would be being strong for Roy and Hayley at that moment, and I said to her afterwards, I think you’re the only actor I know who would do it, cos the rest of us would be bang, nailed it, cried, real tears, yes! That was good, and only she would say actually, that doesn’t serve this story very well.”

So what lies ahead for Roy? Do you think he’s destined for a life of solitude, or is there another soulmate out there for him?
“I think in reality, Roy would never be with anybody else. I think it was a miracle that they found each other. But in terms of the show, it would be a waste not to see him with someone. I think Mary will have her eye on him and that’d be brilliant.

“My relationship with David has been the best. Few actors have that – 16 years working with the same person!  It’s been an absolute blast.”

Interview by ALISON SLADE

As part of Hayley’s legacy, Julie is aiming to collect 20,000 signatures for an e-petition, to fight for better research, funding and awareness of pancreatic cancer. To sign the petition, please visit: epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48389

Click below to watch special video tributes from co-star Sue Nicholls and Corrie Producer Stuart Blackburn


Julie’s top five Hayley moments

First kiss
July 1998
“I’ve always loved Hayley and Roy’s first kiss by the boating lake. It was supposed to be on the lake, but we got rained off so we were in the shelter.”

Dutch courage
July 1998
“Roy came to Amsterdam to find Hayley and that was the beginning of a new era for them. He was outside the house boat and Hayley wasn’t there, but from the top of the canal side you could see this red anorak, tottering down.”

Unlikely friends
“I have loved the development of Hayley and Carla’s friendship because it’s really unlikely, but it’s really worked. It started with the siege. I didn’t really know Ali King at the time and that’s when we became friends in real life.”

The wedding
August 2010
“I loved the wedding. They had a blessing before that, and the thing I remember most about it is my real-life husband was in it – although we weren’t dating then. Les Battersby had rung the Weatherfield Gazette and he played the baddie journalist.”

Blackpool rocks
October 2013
“It had a bit of fairy dust on it, that shoot. We needed a gust of wind to blow Roy’s paper away, and a gust of wind just came. And when it was supposed to be a beautiful, still night, it was. That’s my all-time favourite moment.”