Culture

Julie Hesmondhalgh: "My fatal flaw in life? I suffered badly from jealousy"

Julie Hesmondhalgh on playing Corrie's Hayley Cropper and the social impact of acting and the arts

I grew up in Accrington and by the time I was 16 I was very into booze and trying to get into clubs underage. There was a nightclub called The La-di-das, all plastic palm trees and fountains, not quite like the terraces of the industrial north. Thursday nights were alternative nights and we’d all go in, trying to pass for 18, drinking ridiculous cocktails and dancing to The Smiths. I was doing that but I was also a bit of a do-gooder. I was head girl, always going around with tins collecting for some cause. Both those sides of me still co-exist.

I was really lucky. The time I was a teenager, working-class kids could go into further education without running up debt, and into the arts through subsidised school trips to the theatre, things like that. I studied film and theatre studies at a further education college. I loved reading and music. The first two albums I bought were Wham! and The Smiths. That concurrent love of cheesy pop and indie, that also still lives in me.

I felt very sad when George Michael died, especially when we found out about all those kind things he did. What an incredible thing, that he did them all so privately. What an inspiration. I just hope that when he died he knew how loved he was.

The cast of series three of ITV drama Broadchurch

I went to LAMDA, a really posh drama school in London. There were five of us from Accrington, which is amazing really. After that I signed on for years while running a theatre company. It was an apprenticeship really, I learned more than you could ever dream of.

It’s much more difficult for young working class people to do that kind of thing now. If I could go back and talk to my younger self I’d say, keep an eye on that. I can remember when the whole concept of benefits began to change, from being something that supported you to being a shameful thing for scroungers. I think I, alongside my generation, should have seen the way it was going and we should have fought harder against it.

Morrissey was absolutely lovely to me

I think my fatal flaw in life is that I suffered really badly from jealousy. What I took so long to understand – and I’m still learning today – is that there are enough nice things to go round. So you don’t have to resent it if someone gets a good job or a nice boyfriend.

I have a really wonderful friend called Connie. We went to college together and she was always miles more beautiful than me, miles more talented than me. And even though I loved her with all my heart, I spent a lot of time being really really jealous of how all the boys fancied her, and how she was much better than me. I had this conversation with her recently and I just said, I’m so sorry. Because she didn’t have a jealous bone in her body. She genuinely celebrated other people’s successes. And I don’t think I’ve always been like that.

Of all the things that have happened to me, the one my teenage self would be most impressed by would be bumping into Morrissey in Kendals [department store]. I was so overwhelmed, all I could manage to say was: “All my life!” Afterwards I thought, right, that’s not how I imagined the start of my lifelong friendship with Morrissey. But he was absolutely lovely to me. And I went back to work and one of the wardrobe lads told me he’d met him when he was a schoolboy working in the Post Office. And he’d burst into tears, he was so overwhelmed. And Morrissey just put his arms around him and hugged him.

Julie Hesmondhalgh as Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street

The other thing I might tell my younger self – and it pains me to say it because I still like a drink – is that most of the worst experiences of my life have been because of alcohol. I’d tell myself to keep an eye on that. It’s not always the best route to a good night or a good life. It’s taken me maybe too long to realise that. Even now, I’ve not completely got my head round it.

I don’t want to be this completely perfect specimen who never says or does the wrong thing. But I could have avoided doing some really stupid things that I regret if I had learned when to slow down the drinking.

It’s taken me years to understand this but I believe now that drama and telling a story can be as powerful, maybe more so, than any kind of political campaign. I used to worry that acting was a bit frivolous, that it didn’t tally up with making the world a better place. But I know now that it does. It’s what Meryl Streep talked about in that brilliant Golden Globes speech. Empathy.

Playing Hayley in Corrie [the first transgender character in British soap history], I saw how that changed things. Not because people were whinging about the issue in newspapers. But because they got to know someone who was in their living room four times a week. And they rooted for that underdog, and for that relationship. It was just a no-brainer for them that Roy and Hayley should be able to get married. And through that, the country began to change its ideas about transgender people and gay marriage.

Yesterday I came down to London to do a photo shoot for Broadchurch. They made me all up and put me in this Victoria Beckham dress. My instinct would normally be to think, this is the promo stuff I have to do, it’s really a load of shit, this is not who I am.

But I thought of my teenage self and I thought, well, look at you! You would never in a million years have imagined you’d ever do anything like this. You’re having your hair and make-up done, wearing really posh clothes that you’d never ever buy, and having your photo taken for a magazine. My 16-year-old self would think she’d died and gone to heaven. How lovely. Celebrate it.

There are so many things about my life that my 16-year-old self wouldn’t believe. I never even imagined what fame might be like. I never thought I’d own a house, I assumed I’d always be skint. So even in my 16th year in Corrie, I’d be standing having a drink in the Rovers with Betty, and I’d think, oh my God, how did I end up here?

I’d be amazed just to think I’m married with two daughters. I run a social and political theatre company here in Manchester. This week I went to this amazing place called The Destitution Project in Bolton, where they work with asylum seekers who are living in poverty. I spent the day with them, meeting amazing people. This is my life now. And I absolutely love it.

Series three of Broadchurch returns to ITV next month

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