“There was no coming back because only death could part her from Roy.”
Julie discovered her love of performing at the tender age of eight, when she was made to prepare a speech and deliver it to her class.
She went on to attend the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. After graduating, Julie and some of her classmates set up Arts Threshold, a fringe theatre co-operative in a basement in Paddington, London. While it wasn’t a moneymaking venture, Julie believes she and the other members learnt a lot about performing during this time.
One thing Julie recalls from her years training to be an actress was her desire to one day be in a popular television drama playing a controversial character, and that’s exactly what she went on to do.
Julie made headlines when she joined the soap in 1998 as timid shop assistant Hayley, who had a secret past as a man, and was the first transgender character to ever grace the screens in a soap opera.
For her portrayal of Hayley, she won Best Serial Drama Performance at the 2014 National Television Awards and also Best Actress at the 2014 British Soap Awards.
At first the transgender community was upset that a transgender actress had not been chosen for the role, but Julie worked hard on and off screen to win them over. The wife and motherof-two campaigned for the rights of the LGBT community throughout her 16 years on the show and continues to do so to this day.
Julie took time off from Coronation Street to appear in the television movie Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster, which tells the true story of a young Goth woman who died after being brutally attacked. She also became the patron of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. In 2015, Julie was awarded a Royal Television Society Award for Best Female Actor in a Drama for her role as Sophie’s mother, Sylvia.
Back on Coronation Street, Julie’s final exit was portrayed in an unforgettable storyline that sparked widespread debate about the rightto-die issue – her character was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer >>
and went on to take her own life.
It was during this time that Julie worked with pancreatic cancer charities to raise awareness of the disease. She also attended a parliamentary debate in 2014 on the subject of the right to die, in which Coronation Street gained an honourable mention.
Julie admitted she was worried about committing professional suicide when she left Coronation Street for good. She knew there was no possibility of her character coming back to the programme because only death could part her from her husband Roy. Plus, she was in her mid-40s, a tough age for an actress to find work. But Julie decided to risk it all and reinvent herself in her career.
It was when she took time off from Coronation Street to play Sophie’s mother in the film Black Rose: The Murder of Sophie Lancaster that Julie realised there were other roles out there that would allow her to make a difference.
She has appeared in the British TV series Cucumber and a standalone drama, Taxi for Linda.
In 2016, Julie took on another breakthrough role when she joined the cast of acclaimed crime drama Happy Valley as Amanda Wadsworth, a midwife and working mother who has a fraught relationship with her husband John.
In April this year, it was announced that she would join the upcoming third season of Broadchurch.
Despite Julie’s initial fears, it seems her career is going from strength to strength. But the actress says she still watches Coronation Street and feels proud every time Hayley’s name is mentioned on the show because it helps to keep the memory of her character alive.
She says even though she cried during the episode in which her on-screen husband scattered Hayley’s ashes, she feels she picked the right time to leave the show and credits Coronation Street for the career she has now.