Angela Griffin was born in Leeds in July 1976. She joined the cast of Coronation Street as Fiona Middleton in 1992 and remained on the cobbles until ’98. She moved on to roles in Holby City, Cutting It, Harlots and Waterloo Road, while establishing herself as a TV presenter and voice actor.
Since 2021, she has turned her hand to radio, hosting BBC Radio 2’s Unwinds and hosting various other shows on the station. She has also branched out into film, with roles in the Netflix Your Christmas or Mine series and Choose or Die.
Recently she has returned to Waterloo Road as Kim Campbell, the former teacher now headmaster of the school. As her character has taken on more responsibility, so has Griffin as she has stepped behind the camera to direct episodes of the latest series.
Speaking to The Big Issue for her Letter to My Younger Self, Griffin looks back on a youthful start to her career and the obstacles she’s encountered along the way.
At 16, my main passion was acting. And I was getting to do it. I got a role in Coronation Street three months after I turned 16. I was a pretty early starter, in the nicest sense. I’d always wanted to be an actor. And by then I’d done some TV work on Yorkshire Television, I’d done kids TV including a series by Kay Mellor [Just Us]. So I had done my GCSEs, which didn’t go as well as I’d expected – I think I believed everyone when they said they weren’t revising, then they all did really well – gone to college and had started acting.
I didn’t grow up going ‘poor me’, because I was surrounded by people who didn’t have money. I was living at home with my mum and stepdad on a council estate in Cottingley, Leeds. And we knew what the people on the new estate thought of us. But there were bigger differences about me than the fact we didn’t have much money. I was one of the only brown people on the estate, me and my brothers. So that was the thing that made us stand out. I had a real sense of community and pride on our estate. I only realised I didn’t have much when I went to drama classes because they were full of people from north Leeds, so I was mixing with people from the big Victorian villa houses.
My mum inspired me massively. She is an incredible person. I could talk to her about anything. I have exactly that relationship with my kids now. Although it’s a different world. By my age, my mum had three children and they’d all moved out. Mum always had a few jobs – she’d be working full time, have another job at the weekend and something else during the week. And she still didn’t quite make ends meet. I remember knowing how amazing she was but also that she wasn’t properly compensated. The money that came into our house did not reflect the work she was putting in. It inspired me to try very hard to not make that my life.
We never felt our financial situation would hold us back. I never thought, ‘Oh, this is my lot.’ Most people stayed on the estate and went to work in the factory, but I didn’t realise being an actor was a middle-class kind of job. I didn’t think it wasn’t for me. My mum never let me know that, and I’m so grateful. When I said I wanted to be an actor, she just said, “OK, let’s find out how you do it” – because of course we didn’t know the way into the industry or that it was so hard. It’s even harder now. The obstacles have actually grown, which is mind-blowing.
I would do Corrie and four shifts at Burger King, while at college and also seeing this boy. It sounds like a lot. And I haven’t really stopped since. My brain needs four things going on at once. That’s why directing on Waterloo Road is so satisfying – you have to be thinking about so many things at once. I’m also doing a psychology degree at the Open University. So yeah, I keep busy. And I’ve tried to pass on the work ethic I got from my mum to my kids.
When I was younger there was no getting away from name calling. I was always aware that I was a different colour. I still had friends. I still had a gang. And I still loved school. But I’d have fights over the name calling. Luckily, I also had two older brothers, so when things got bad they would sort things out for me. It’s awful. It was just of the time. The things that were said to me in the playground would be so shocking today – the N-slur was a word I heard every single day. Through today’s lens, it’s absolutely horrific.
Floella Benjamin tweeted me the other day – I don’t think I will ever get over it! Because she was the first person on TV who made me feel the same as everybody else, in terms of what I looked like and my identity. I wanted my hair braided like her. She was an absolute inspiration. I don’t think I realised how much impact that had on my life. I was an ’80s kid. I grew up watching her on Play School, then watching Knight Rider, The A-Team, Gladiators. I didn’t go to the cinema much. It cost too much. We used to get videos from the guy who used to drive about the estate with them in his boot.
I grew up in a Caribbean household where the music played was reggae and country and western. That’s what we listened to every Sunday when the speakers would come out. And it would stay on all day. I followed my brothers’ taste in music – Adam Ant and Toyah – then, as I got older, I loved A-ha before I discovered raving: Ultra-Sonic, Jocelyn Brown, Alison Limerick, all the piano house.
I know we are supposed to give advice to our younger self, but I’d like my 16-year-old self to have a word with me. She was fearless. She was driven. And even though she was judged, very vocally, by lots of people, she didn’t let it stop her. I spun everything into a positive – if they thought I was different, well yes, I will be different. I’m going to capitalise on the fact. I can tread my own path. So my younger self should have a word with my 47-year-old self to remind her to be brave and have the courage of youth. I like my younger self. She worked hard and had a good laugh.
I knew I was being watched from the age of 16. The papers were following us a lot at the time. In a weird way I’m slightly thankful that a lot of my teenage years were in the limelight on Corrie – because I was very aware not to do anything too risky because it felt like there were eyes on me. And not just my mum’s.
My younger self would not believe the career I’ve had. When I got Corrie, I didn’t think I’d made it. Every job felt like it could be my last. For my first year in Coronation Street I kept my job in Burger King. Same when I went into Holby City. So to tell 16-year-old Ange that one day she would be directing a primetime BBC drama like Waterloo Road while also being in it? And doing films. And being a DJ on Radio Two. Or doing Help or working with Rob Lowe in Wild Bill. Wow. What would she be most excited about? Probably doing a voice in Postman Pat! But I’m glad she didn’t know what was ahead because that’s why she worked so hard.
I always felt good enough but most people on TV didn’t sound like me. Even on Corrie, where they did, you had the queens like Barbara Knox and Julie Goodyear. I’d feel grateful and lucky for every job, because this wasn’t a world I was supposed to inhabit. So part of me wonders if I could have started directing earlier. But maybe it wasn’t right for me then. Maybe that’s why I’m so buzzing off doing it now. Because I have 30 years of acting experience and feel so comfortable on set. I have a few regrets. Maybe I shouldn’t have done Fat Pets. But every mistake has led to where I am now.
I always thought I’d have kids but I never thought I would get married. That wasn’t the way the world worked where I came from. It was women sticking together and men would come and go. So that would surprise my younger self. But I’ve always been a serial monogamist. I probably stayed longer with some people than I should have because I thought no one would want me. I’d tell my younger self to know her worth. I had a baby with my husband at 27, we were married at 30 and we’ve been together ever since. My husband is really attractive and funny – so if your partner is a reflection of you, then maybe I’m all right.
I think I spent my entire life saying, “If you’re telling me I don’t belong here, then I’m going there”. That’s why I don’t want to tell my younger self too much. If she had known there was a glass ceiling, she might not have done it. But she didn’t. It’s only in hindsight I’ve realised this isn’t how it was meant to be. And I’ve got an incredible family, a brilliant career. And not only that, I’m really enjoying it.
Angela Griffin stars in and has directed several episodes of Waterloo Road, on BBC One, Tuesdays at 8pm, with all episodes available on iPlayer. You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.
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