Culture

Suranne Jones: 'I’d love to tell mum about my son'

In her letter to her 16-year-old self, the star reflects on the buzz of drama college, the haze of new motherhood and the conversations she wishes she'd had with her parents

Suranne Jones in black and white

Image: Ruth Crafer

Suranne Jones was born in Chadderton, Greater Manchester, in 1978. She attended Cardinal Langley Roman Catholic High School in Middleton but found her calling when she became a member of the Oldham Theatre Workshop. After early theatre roles, she landed a small, short-lived role in Coronation Street in 1997. Three years and many auditions later she returned to the Street with a major role as Karen McDonald, the long-suffering partner of Steve.

Suranne left the Street in late 2004 and followed it up with acclaimed roles in hit dramas, among them Vincent, Unforgiven, Scott & Bailey, Doctor Foster and Gentleman Jack. During this period, she periodically returned to the theatre, including stints in Top Girls, Beautiful Thing and Orlando. Maryland, the first project from TeamAkers, the production company formed by Jones and husband Laurence Akers, will premiered on ITVX.

In her Letter to My Younger Self, Jones looks back on a career beyond her wildest dreams.

At 16 I had just left school. I was doing a BTEC National Diploma in performing arts at Oldham College, and saving up for driving lessons. That was a big thing, I really wanted a car. I had a filofax and I loved that, it made me feel like my life was go-go-go. I liked going to the local pub when I was on my lunch hour for a pie and to play snooker. And at college I enjoyed being in an atmosphere with all the rest of the drama students who just wanted to make stuff. It was a very creative, buzzy atmosphere. I was already auditioning for things – I had an agent in Halifax. Coronation Street was on my radar; all my family were like, “Coronation Street is the thing to do if you’re a Northern actor.” And of course, I ended up doing it.

Suranne Jones on the set of Corrie
2000: Early days at Corrie as factory girl Karen Phillips. Image: ITV/Shutterstock

I was very frightened about rocking the boat when I was being bullied at school. These days we are taught to call people out, and there’s great support for mental health. But it wasn’t always like that. I was very frightened of causing a stir. I didn’t have the right support and I wish now I’d fought back more – maybe not literally, directly against the bullies, but in calling them out. And I also felt there was a very traditional route that was expected at school, but I didn’t want to follow that. So I just kept my head down until I could get out. Which is kind of sad, now that I think about it. I stopped going into school, I bunked off a lot. I went down to Manchester Arndale shopping centre with my mates Vicki and Anthony – we sat in the bus shelter and had a Blue Riband and a cup of tea. We did that a lot.

My mum had breast cancer when I was 15. My parents were obviously very wrapped up in that while I was going through this very formative time in my life. It was all tied up – nothing’s ever simple, is it? There was a lot going on at home and my mum was still quite young really. The second time my mum had cancer, when I was older, we talked a lot more, I went to her appointments with her, and she would show me her body. When I was in Corrie she came on Lorraine with me, and we did some stuff for breast cancer awareness. She was very quiet my mum, she was quite a timid character, so I thought that was very brave of her. And it gave me the mindset of looking after myself and an understanding that life is very fragile.

The bullying took away my confidence. It stopped the teenage Susanne imagining being successful or respected by other people. Oddly though, she was ambitious, even when she didn’t have a lot of belief in herself. But if I went back to talk to that girl at school and tell her she was going to do all the things I’ve done, she’d say, “Are you kidding me? I’ve just been beaten up getting off the bus.” But then that girl went to college and found her people. Very early on I got the role of role of Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls at the Grange Art Centre in Oldham. I was like, “Oh my god, I’m not even a soprano”, but they didn’t care. They were just developing and encouraging people. And my confidence started to shine.

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There are still situations now when I talk to my younger self. I say, “Wait a minute, hold up. Look at what’s happening right now.” At the 2022 Bafta awards I was presenting with Camille Cottin and backstage with Olivia Colman. I was meeting lots of younger actors I really admire. I had shows nominated for awards. And I was like, “Oh, this is such a lovely thing.” We didn’t win anything, but it didn’t matter because I enjoyed that day more than a day where maybe I did win an award, because I took time to notice it and let it sink in.

Suranne Jones and husband Laurence Akers
2022: Attending the Bafta TV Awards in London with husband Laurence Akers at the Royal Festival Hall, London. Image: Lia Toby/Getty Images

I had six months off when I finished Gentleman Jack. I was developing Maryland (the upcountry ITV drama she created and stars in), and that is a long and frustrating process which needs total commitment. But I know it will be worth it to say to my family, “I’m going to go off and do this, but then I’m going to take the whole summer off. And we’ll have that time other families can’t.” So yes, it’s an acceptance of a lot of pain. But it’s also an acceptance that your family is not like most other families. I can give in certain ways, but I can’t do what other mums are doing.

There was a time where I really struggled with that. I had a good few years of thinking, I’m not a good enough mother. I’m not a good enough wife. And I’m not really doing a very good job of acting because I’m worried about those other things. I think now I’ve got more of a balance; I’m very fortunate to be able to say, I’m not going to work for a bit because I have to just not work, and I have to be at the school gate and go to my son’s terrible joke telling session. It really was not very good, but I was there.

If I could have one last conversation with anyone it would be my mum, 100 per cent. I would love to say someone else because you know, sometimes with these interviews, you’re like, “Oh, I won’t go there.” But actually, it just is my mum, because she passed away with Alzheimer’s when my son was just one year old. So there’s so much to tell her about what life has been like as a mum, what I thought I was getting into with marriage, and what actually you get into with a child. I’d like to talk to her about being a wife and a mother. Because I lost her too early. I knew that she wanted grandchildren. My brother gave her that before I did. But I’d love to tell her about my son and what’s happened in the last few years. And I’d say, “Tell me about you and dad when you were younger.”

I tried to have that conversation with my dad. During lockdown I remember saying to him, dad, you need to write down the recipe for fried steak and mash. Dad, you need to tell me about when you met mum again. And then funnily enough, he did pass. So I guess I just don’t know enough about her.

Suranne Jones with Maryland co-star Eve Best
2023: With Maryland co-star Eve Best. Image: ITV

If I could go back to one time in my life, I would like to revisit the first week of having my son. It’s all such a haze. I had to have a C-section, and it came out of the blue because he was breached. So I’d like to have that week with him, but without the haze and the shock. So I could remember it properly. I look a lot at photos of that person in that moment and I wish I could be back there, really in it, really present. That’d be lovely.

‘The memory of my mum I treasure… what’s coming to mind now is when I was about 11 and I was doing an am dram piece called Wait Until Dark at the Lyceum Theatre in Oldham. And my mum was trying to run lines with me. She knocked on my bedroom door and said the first line – she had her glasses on, and the script in her hand, and she was terrible. We never got past the first line because she was just awful. It was very funny. That was the last time I asked her to run lines with me. I would give anything to just feel that again.

Suranne Jones stars in Maryland, which airs on ITV and ITVX from 22 May

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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