For more than 30 years, Sally Dynevor has been a constant fixture on the nation’s TV screens, raising a family with husband Kevin, sewing knickers in the factory and propping up the bar at the Rovers. As Sally Metcalfe (formerly Webster) on Coronation Street, her character has endured cheating, divorce, bigamy – and even prison. But it was a breast cancer storyline that would prove her biggest challenge, as the actress discovered she was suffering from the disease at the same time as her onscreen namesake. Here, in her Letter to My Younger Self, she describes how important it was for her to tackle the topic, and how she turned her own diagnosis into a positive.
This month, Dynevor is putting herself to a very different test as a contestant on Dancing on Ice. Having spent the last three decades on the cobbles, she’s trying out a smoother surface to test her inner strength and face up to the crippling fears that held her back in her youth.
I hated school and by the time I was 16 I was dying to get out. I was a real daydreamer. So I sat in school thinking about all the things I’d do when I left. I started doing drama classes on Saturday mornings when I was 13, and it became my passion. The moment I joined that class, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Oh my god, I was so not a natural-born star. I was very timid and quiet. I really had to get my head around it. If you met the 16-year-old me you’d think, oh god, she is square. Really square. I had a parting down the middle of my hair, and I wore a pencil skirt and blouse on my first day of drama school. I just wish my younger self had been more experimental. I wish I could have expressed myself. I wish I’d been a punk, I wish I’d been a goth, like lots of the new people I met at drama school. But I wasn’t, I was the timid one in the corner.
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I wouldn’t say I was particularly close to anyone in the family. I think I found my tribe when I went to drama school. My parents never knew anybody who was an actor. They were just a struggling working-class family doing various jobs. We didn’t know anyone who went into the arts. So for me to say to them, I’m going to drama school, that was kind of a shock for them. They were like, couldn’t you get a job in the factory up the road? You’d get 25 quid a week. Why don’t you do that? But of course I’d had my head turned by this time. And I’d met people who were very interesting, like David Johnson who ran it. He was this wonderful maverick who I just absolutely adored, he completely opened my eyes. So my parents didn’t completely understand but they were happy for me to do what I wanted. They’d come and see my shows when they could. I didn’t know if they ever thought anything would come of it, to be honest. But I think they were proud of me for doing something out of the ordinary.
I love people and I love chatting, but the other side of me is quite shy. And that’s always been the case. I’m not a very confident person and that’s held me back a bit. I’ve been so lucky with Corrie and bringing up my children and my husband and… it’s just been such a wonderful time. I just wish that when I was younger, instead of fretting and worrying about what the future would hold, I’d just enjoyed it. I wish I’d had the inner strength I have now. I was just too frightened. That’s why I’m doing Dancing on Ice, because I decided I need to prove to myself that I’m OK, I’m doing OK. It’s about time people got to know who I am. And I’m not Sally.