Una Brankin

Ahead of her role in panto at Belfast’s Grand Opera House ac­tress Claire King talks about life in Corona­tion Street, why she will never do re­al­ity tele­vi­sion again, her mar­riage break-up and new love, writes Una Brankin

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - COMPETITIONS -

”As a soap fan who can re­call Claire King vamp­ing it up in Em­merdale as Kim Tate, it was great to catch up with this star. She’s just left Cor­rie and is itch­ing to get her teeth into an ex­cit­ing new drama — no doubt her run in panto in Belfast will pro­vide some light re­lief in the mean­time”

That husky voice, that smoky laugh — to mil­lions of soap view­ers, Claire King will al­ways be re­mem­bered for play­ing the ma­nip­u­la­tive Kim Tate in Em­merdale, a role that won her the Best Bitch in Soap award. That was back in 1989-1999. Over the last two and a half years, she has played Erica Hol­royd, Liz McDon­ald’s man-eat­ing friend from Spain, on Corona­tion Street. But it seems that blondes who have starred on ri­val soaps do not fare so well on the cob­bles.

When Michelle Collins ar­rived on the Street in 2011 to take over the Rovers, it was a case of: what’s Cindy from EastEn­ders do­ing in Cor­rie?

At least Michelle had a fully-de­vel­oped char­ac­ter to play and dra­matic sto­ry­lines to por­tray. Poor Claire King was crim­i­nally un­der-used as Erica, who was only cen­tre-stage too briefly dur­ing her pass­ing ro­mances with Steve McDon­ald and Dev Ala­han, and her dal­liance with Kevin Web­ster.

Fed up with her char­ac­ter go­ing nowhere, the ac­tress left Weather­field re­cently to pur­sue other roles, in­clud­ing adding sparkle to this year’s pan­tomime, Peter Pan, at Belfast’s Grand Opera House.

“I felt the writ­ing wasn’t work­ing for me,” she says, from her pub­li­cist’s of­fice in Eng­land. “It was al­ways dif­fi­cult as I came in as a lone wolf, Liz’s friend from Spain, with no fam­ily. I was like a pinball bounc­ing around th­ese dif­fer­ent si­t­u­a­tions.

“It’s a pity; I’d imag­ined three or four of us sit­ting round a ta­ble chew­ing the cud — me, Sue Cleaver (Eileen), Bev­erly Cal­lard (Liz), Patti Clare (Mary) — like the real Corona­tion Street of old. That’s what I al­ways loved about it.”

Since Erica ar­rived in Weather­field in the spring of 2014, the cast has in­creased to 65, many of them younger char­ac­ters, and the episodes have risen from three to six a week. Sto­ry­lines are be­com­ing more is­sue-led; the po­lice sta­tion and the hospi­tal are be­ing kept ex­tremely busy with Street res­i­dents.

Claire agrees it’s all go­ing a bit EastEn­ders, re­mark­ing that she found the more fran­tic film­ing sched­ule hard work, but happy that it in­cluded some comedic in­ter­ac­tions with the kooky spin­ster, Mary.

“I had to graft it out — they’d film an episode a day,” she says. “It was a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish to Em­merdale. But I was so ex­cited to join Cor­rie and I loved work­ing with Patti. She’s bril­liant — she cre­ated Mary.

“Patti’s pretty bonkers too,” she laughs. “But she’s ab­so­lutely lovely, the sweet­est lady you’ll ever meet. I thought we brought out a bit of the old hu­mour Corona­tion Street is known for.”

Al­though she moved on from Em­merdale 18 years ago, the ac­tress never left the Dales. Orig­i­nally from Brad­ford, she and her brother, Piers, help care for her el­derly par­ents, John, (77), who has mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, and mother An­gela, also 77, who has rheuma­toid arthri­tis.

She shares her home, near scenic Har­ro­gate in West York­shire, with a lo­cal busi­ness­man who prefers to keep out of the lime­light.

“Yes, I’m glad he’s not in show­busi­ness,” she says with a huge guf­faw. “It works bet­ter; he keeps my feet on the ground. We’ve been to­gether 10 years.

“I do miss him when I’m away work­ing but I go where the work is. I’m al­ways trav­el­ling, on tour or film­ing. He can al­ways visit.”

On Chan­nel 5’s com­pelling In Ther­apy pro­gramme re­cently, Claire dis­closed she turned to drink and suf­fered de­pres­sion af­ter her ex-hus­band of 10 years, Peter Amory, cheated on her with their Em­merdale costar, Sa­man­tha Giles, and left her in se­ri­ous debt in 2004 due to his then-gam­bling habit. She was only £9,000 short of pay­ing off her mort­gage when he gam­bled away the house and sav­ings.

How­ever, it was only when she dis­cov­ered that Peter had been cheat­ing on her with Sa­man­tha, who played Bernice Black­stock, that she de­cided the mar­riage was over.

She found out about the af­fair when she re­ceived a let­ter from his new lover’s hus­band and ad­mits “go­ing off the rails” for a while there­after.

Since then, she has for­given both — even con­ced­ing can­didly, on Loose Women, that

“it could have been me” in the other woman’s shoes.

Part of her heal­ing process, she ad­mits, in­volved a lit­tle rejuvenation.

“It wasn’t a face-lift, as the pa­pers said,” she protests. “It was a one stitch thread lift thing, on ei­ther side. I wasn’t cut open. It’s only a tem­po­rary thing; it doesn’t last.

“It did the job for me at the time and gave me a lit­tle boost, but it’s not some­thing I’d be­come hooked on.

“I’m very anti-Bo­tox; I’d rather stay nat­u­ral. I can’t have it any­way be­cause my im­mune sys­tem’s so low.”

Her low im­mu­nity is due to arthri­tis, a con­di­tion she has en­dured for 25 years.

Al­though it was the rea­son be­hind her exit, on Day 16, from Celebrity Big Brother in 2014, she has learned to pole dance for a role and came sixth in Strictly Come Danc­ing in 2006.

“I be­lieve it’s hered­i­tary; Mum has it,” she ex­plains. “It hasn’t held me back at all. My med­i­ca­tion keeps it un­der con­trol. It’s just the cold damp days that can get to me. I eat healthily (as cer­tain foods in­flame the joints). I have a Mediter­ranean diet with lots of fish and veg­eta­bles and salad, and I drink lots of wa­ter. But I’ ll have your Ul­ster Fry for a spe­cial treat when I’m over for Peter Pan.” The healthy life­style has paid off. From her horse-rid­ing hobby and swim­ming in Spain, where she has a hol­i­day home, she is fit and trim. For­tu­nately for Claire, her glam­orous good looks have never at­tracted the sex pests preva­lent in her in­dus­try. “I haven’t been sex­u­ally ha­rassed but it’s gone on for a cen­tury and prob­a­bly will con­tinue,” she says. “I’m sure it’s the tip of the ice­berg and it will turn into a witch hunt. “I don’t think any form of ha­rass­ment should be tol­er­ated at all. If it makes you feel un­com­fort­able, then it’s wrong.” She turns 55 in May. The prospect doesn’t seem to bother her. “I’ve had it all out so I’ve by­passed the menopause,” she says, mat­ter-of-factly. “It was a med­i­cal is­sue, seven years ago. I just ended up with very large lumps so I got rid of them and they re­moved ev­ery­thing. “I don’t know if it’s ac­cel­er­ated any­thing, I just carry on as nor­mal. Turn­ing 40 was worse than turn­ing 50. For ac­tors, it’s frus­trat­ing as you be­come some­what in­vis­i­ble, as women do, gen­er­ally in life. It doesn’t work the other way around for men.”

The hys­terec­tomy brought an end to any no­tion of moth­er­hood — “I just never got round to it” — but a step­son from Claire’s pre­vi­ous mar­riage, and her part­ner’s chil­dren “have filled the hole”.

Af­ter Em­merdale, from 1999 to 2004, Claire took the part of G-Wing Gov­er­nor Karen Betts in the prison drama Bad Girls, for which she won Best Ac­tress at the TV Quick Awards for two years in suc­ces­sion.

She has also ap­peared in many other pop­u­lar TV drama se­ries in­clud­ing Hol­lyoaks, Doc­tors, Holby City, The Royal, Dalziel & Pas­coe and Ca­su­alty, and has lent that sul­try voice to a num­ber of TV and ra­dio pro­grammes, as well as ad­ver­tise­ments and lis­ten­ing books.

On stage, she has starred in The Naked Truth and the Vagina Mono­logues, along­side Jerry Hall and Only Fools And Horses ac­tress, Sue Hold­er­ness, and on the big screen, she has starred in A Rea­son to Leave re­leased in De­cem­ber 2016, and Milk And Honey, re­leased this au­tumn.

Apart from Strictly, re­al­ity tele­vi­sion is an ex­pe­ri­ence she would never re­peat.

“Celebrity Big Brother nearly killed me,” she chuck­les. “Re­al­ity isn’t re­ally my cup of tea. I’m A Celebrity? I wouldn’t mind the creepy crawlies, it’s the other peo­ple that would be the prob­lem!”

For her ideal role, she plumps for for The Wicked Lady, a part made fa­mous orig­i­nally in black and white by Mar­garet Lockwood, and later by Faye Du­n­away in a glossy re­make.

The part would show off Claire’s horse-rid­ing skills — she has held an ama­teur jockey’s li­cence, owned two race­horses and used to ride out for a few train­ers as well as tak­ing part in a num­ber of char­ity races.

She has also pre­sented a doc­u­men­tary for This Morn­ing on the plight of the horses in Le­sotho in aid of World Horse Wel­fare.

“I’ve never worked in Belfast be­fore but I’ve been to the Down Royal races — I’ve friends there and it’s a crack­ing day out,” she en­thuses. “I’ ll miss it this Box­ing Day though, with the panto. And I’ve no idea where I’ll be hav­ing my Christ­mas din­ner.”

In the Grand Opera House panto, Claire will star as The Mag­i­cal Mer­maid, the un­der­wa­ter en­chantress on hand to help high-fly­ing Peter Pan out-wit vil­lain­ous Cap­tain Hook.

“I have a fish-tail so I won’t be do­ing any­thing too stren­u­ous, no danc­ing or singing — I’m some­what limited in my move­ments,” she laughs.

“I did man­age to do Strictly; this is a lit­tle eas­ier. I’m an old hand, at this stage. I re­ally don’t get much free time.

“I’m just strug­gling on with my ca­reer, full­time, but I’ll go on hol­i­day af­ter the Panto. I’ve been work­ing non-stop this year and I’d love to go to see the Ko­modo Drag­ons in Bali, or some­thing like that.”

Another dragon she’ ll have to face, first, is her co-star May McFet­tridge.

“I might be wear­ing some of her ter­ri­ble blue eye­shadow,” she hoots. “She has dodgy joints too? Ha, we’ll be a right pair!”

SMALL SCREEN QUEEN : Claire on Corona­tion Street and on Strictly Come Danc­ing, where was part­nered with Bren­dan Cole. Right, at the TV Quick Awards in 2008

BUSY LIFE : Claire King on a pre­vi­ous visit to Belfast in the Hil­ton Ho­tel and (right) in the panto

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