Jill Halfpenny: “I felt like the luckiest girl alive”

The Dark Mon£y and Coronation Street star has been a television mainstay ever since her "happiest days" on cult Geordie kids classic Byker Grove – but wasn't a fan of the divisive former Prime Minister

When I was 16, in one respect I felt like the luckiest girl alive. I felt like I was living my dream. I was already working on Byker Grove but even though I loved what I was doing, no one wants to feel like the odd one out. Bringing attention to yourself in comprehensive school can inflame things, can’t it? And being on the telly even more so. So the flipside was living my dream while going to a comprehensive school. People were like: ‘Do you think you are good because you are on the telly?’ That dichotomy of feeling like I had found my people, loving being creative, and literally not being able to wait to be at work but also being in school and feeling like the odd one out was strange.

A little local dance school just off the dual carriageway in Heworth became my world. I remember asking my mam if I could go to a dance school. This was the early Eighties in Gateshead, so she was like, ‘Well, Dorothy from up the road, she goes to the church hall and they have dance lessons there.’ So I knocked on her door. I immediately felt I had found my tribe. I don’t feel like such a weirdo any more. This was before Byker Grove. The dance school also got involved in performances, when people needed to hire kids to be dancers in pantomimes. Very early on I remember thinking it is all good and well dancing in the background, but I want to be Snow White.

Dark Money: Trailer

What’s the price of justice?Babou Ceesay and Jill Halfpenny star in a new thought-provoking four-part drama about a family faced with an impossible decision.

Posted by BBC iPlayer on Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I honestly could have flown to work, I was that happy at Byker Grove. I absolutely loved every single minute of it. Everyone was great. And I was earning money like you would never have believed when you were a kid. I had a bank account with thousands of pounds in it. That meant I could go to our version of a designer shop in Newcastle – I remember buying a skirt for £70 which felt like a huge amount of money. That blew my mind. But what was uncomfortable was that my friends couldn’t do that. I realised I wanted to hang out in bedrooms with my mates, not go to posh places – but it gave me money to get through drama school.

I was such a late bloomer but I would tell my younger self not to abandon herself within relationships. You are such a people pleaser, Jill, and you are such a co-dependent that you will love someone so much because you want them to love you back that much. Be confident that you are enough. You don’t need to go the extra 10 miles and be like superwoman to be loved. You are loveable just as you are. Because what you will do is go the extra 10 miles and then be resentful that the other person doesn’t. It is not their fault, they didn’t ask you to do that – so know you are enough and you will be OK. That is where your problems arise, when you feel you are not enough.

Anyone young reading this, thinking being a perfectionist is a positive thing? It is NOT A POSITIVE THING!

I was four when I lost my dad. And when you lose a parent, you will never look at the world the same again from that point. I would tell my younger self that you will build up armour around you and present to the world a version of yourself that you think is more acceptable, which is probably a more cheery disposition than you actually have. I would say, don’t bother doing that, Jill. It will wear you out. Eventually it will make you feel really depressed and then you will have to be more true to yourself. But that took a while.

I would tell my younger self to stop thinking there is a destination to get to in your life where everything will be OK. There is no such thing. Have you heard the phrase striving and never arriving? There is no magical destination. Because if you do wake up one day and go, ‘Well, I have got the career, I have got the husband, I have got the dog, I have got the child’, all you will think about is what happens if you lose one of them. It is very Buddhist, but this moment right now is it. We only have now, so just get that into your head way earlier and you will be much happier. There is this idea in acting where you get to a certain point and you have made it. I don’t believe it exists. I imagine Anne Reid is sitting somewhere going, ‘God, I am brilliant, me!’ But no way. She is an actress, she will be thinking about what the next job might be. I have projected that onto her. I love her, though. I just love her.

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The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.

I grew up hating Margaret Thatcher. Kids are so politicised these days but I lived in my own little bubble as a kid. The only thing I remember is my stepdad having rants about Margaret Thatcher over the dinner table. There was a girl at my school whose dad was a miner on strike, so I remember all of that. Even as a child, I remember thinking this woman, this Margaret Thatcher, was taking away a sense of self from people. I remember the way my stepdad talked about her – that there was a sense of dignity and respect that seemed to have been taken away from people who were fighting to grab that back.

The experience of winning Strictly [in 2004] was mad. What really changed for me is that when I started the show I was Kate from EastEnders but by the end people knew my name. That was just a massive difference. I was always surprised at the diversity of people who watched Strictly Come Dancing – from van drivers shouting, ‘Alright Jill, give us a little cha cha cha’ or someone who I would have thought was posh when I was a kid. I don’t know any other show where politicians, members of the royal family and a regular mam and dad like I had would all watch the same programme. It really is a mass audience. But I got frightened by Strictly. I was 29 and again, I do this thing where I go into my shell and crawl back a bit. I would say to that girl, enjoy it, get out there and be proud – don’t be worried you are not good enough or you will disappoint. Let the insecurity go. But I am just ridiculously hard on myself and I don’t condone that at all – anyone young reading this, thinking being a perfectionist is a positive thing? It is NOT A POSITIVE THING!

I spent a lot of time worrying about what other people think of me. I bored myself stupid with it

I would tell my younger self to care less. Care less, Jill, about what other people think of you. It is literally none of your business. If you know you have done a good audition, whether you get the part or not, there are so many other different factors involved – just do what you need to do and care less about what people think. I spent a lot of time worrying about what other people think of me. I bored myself stupid with it. I am not for one minute saying I’m cured, I am just saying I’m better now. I am very conscious   of it. Also, believe in yourself. I would have to be truthful and say I still have this idea that I don’t belong. It is such bullshit. Says who? We all belong because we are all here on this planet – therefore we belong. In a much larger sense. Of course you belong, what you are saying is nonsense, but you have made a very good case for it in your head. I would tell my younger self that where you want to be is where you belong.

I would love to be able to relive a day with my dad. And be able to tell you exactly what happened on that day and what he said to me. Because I have so few memories of him. I would really love to have a day with him where I could hear him even say my name. I would love that. I have imagined it quite a lot. I’m sure we did have those days, but why can’t I access those? I want to hear him say he is proud of me. Even though it seems, why wouldn’t he be? But the brain, the human condition, wants to hear it. I want to ask him loads of questions, I would quiz him about everything. But if I was reliving a day before he died I would just want to be happy.

Jill Halfpenny stars in Dark Mon£y. Catch it on on Mondays on BBC One at 9pm

Image: Rachell Smith