Once again, thanks to the Downeast Streeters NonProfit Society, Halifax was able to welcome another star from Coronation Street. This time it was Sue Cleaver who plays sharp tongued Cabbie controller, Eileen Grimshaw.
Last night was spent in the company of over 400 avid Coronation Street fans of all ages, right down to a 2 month old (Baby Morgan and Mum Tracy, in photo) who got to meet his first, but hopefully not last, celebrity. We were there to see Sue Cleaver who plays Eileen Grimshaw on the Street and we were not disappointed. Sue was sparkling, friendly and funny throughout the evening. I'm sure it was tiring for her, and indeed she looked a bit weary by the end of the event, but she was a trooper and kept us entertained with spoilers and gossip.
The evening was presented by the Downeast Streeters Non Profit Society, an offshoot of the Downeast Streeters fan group in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This is the third year in a row the Streeters offered fans a chance to meet and greet a Corrie fan and it was by far the most successful yet! The Society and organizing committee did a top job with the arrangements and many thanks go out to their hard work.
A little background...Sue was born in London but has lived in Manchester since her early teens. She did live in Ottawa for a couple of years in her late teens, working as a nanny. In fact, she's going to be visiting one of the now-grown children she was nanny to at the end of her visit to Canada. She also has relatives still in the Ottawa area. When she returned to Manchester, she went to drama school and has appeared in lots of stage and tv roles since. She lives with her partner Brian, who was also in attendance, and has an 8 year old son.
Sue and her partner Brian were a real delight. Brian works on the set as a lighting techy so has just as much inside information and was pleasant and easy to talk to. He didn't sit at the podium and talk to the audience with Sue but some of us lingered after the event and had a chance to chat to him and later he posed for some photos with Sue. He was born in 1964 and she mentioned that there's 7 months between their ages and I think she's the younger. Not knowing exactly when he was born, that would put her birthday in 1964 or 65. She's a lot prettier in person because they play her looks down as Eileen. She mentioned that though she buys some of the wardrobe they use for Eileen, they don't really wear the same types of clothes. She doesn't generally like Eileen's wardrobe although there is an exception.
Sue is a sponsor for the When You Wish Upon A Star children's charity that grants wishes to terminally ill children and sometimes she wears items of clothes with stars decorating them to symbolize her charity.
That, she says, is one of the upsides to fame. It's wonderful that she can use her public profile to do good for people that need it. She told us it was a great honour being in the cast of Coronation Street and it's amazing to see people out supporting the show. She enjoys meeting fans and appreciates their compliments. The downside, however, is that you really don't realize the impact of fame on your life and those around you. There have been times when people have approached her for autographs and for a chat at highly inappropriate times.
Sue knew 3-6 months ahead that Granada was interested in her, hoping to create a part for her but it isn't always that way. They do hold auditions though for long running characters they often do have someone in mind but it does vary from character to character. It's even a hard job being an extra on the set, you really do have to blend in to the background but there's a core group of extras, some of whom have been doing it for 25 years!!
Now the "dish"....
What is her relationship with Simon Gregson (Steve) like? What actors are the nicest? What actors are very unlike their characters? Does she have a favourite "son"? Oh, what about a typical day on the set and can you adlib? And what does hotpot really taste like!?
She said that she and Simon clicked instantly and they are close mates. They seem to have a lot of fun on the set too. When asked what was the funniest scene she's done, trying to keep a straight face, that sort of thing, she said pretty much every scene with Simon was an adventure. The set for the taxi office wasn't much bigger than the desk she was sat at on stage so it's pretty close quarters. If you notice a black book on the taxi desk, watch closely to see her face when she looks in it. That's her and Simon's "insult" book. They write things in it to "insult" each other, little pictures, jokes. She says it can get pretty "blue" at times but it's all in fun.
Another memorable scene involved "Eileen" smashing a bowl of trifle on the floor after a row with "Todd". The bowl was actually made of sugar glass, that is, it must have been like a candy shell so that it would smash and not cause any injury like glass might have. But they only had two bowls made and she accidentally broke the first one during a rehearsal so the pressure was on to be extra careful with the second and get it right the first time!
Watch closely (sooner in the UK, later in Canada) for a small pewter clock with a lighthouse. She was presented with that as a gift by the committee as a souvenir of her visit and said she'd try to put it on the taxi desk sometime and try to get a way to mention Nova Scotia. If she can. Adlibbing is generally frowned upon though unfairly, some actors can get away with it on occasion. (I have heard that Liz Dawn and Bill Tarmey (Vera and Jack) have been known to be quite the double act!) When she started, she did adlib a few sarcastic lines and it worked so well that now they write Eileen that way so it worked out for her.
Sometimes a line won't read well as written when spoken in the accent, or the colloquialism just isn't right so that will be changed. Overall though, you don't adlib or change what the writers have done. She thinks the writers on Corrie are generally really good and if a scene is well written, you almost know what the next line will be because it's so natural which makes it easier to memorize. Some writers are more receptive to actor feedback and suggestions than others, too.
A typical day starts early, 7 a.m. in makeup. Some days you are really busy if you're in a lot of scenes but many days are more tiring because you are hanging about a lot in the "green" room. There's a tight schedule though. They're on the set 6 days a week now that there are 5 half hour episodes aired in the UK (We in Canada still only get 4 a week). Everyone in the cast gets along so well and never fall out. There is no "star" behaviour, they're all mates. Sue seems particularly close to Simon Gregson, as well as the lads that play her sons, Bruno (Todd) and Ryan (Jason) who are both lovely boys. Bruno, though playing the younger brother, is actually older than Ryan who seems to be Sue's favourite but only by a thin edge. She gets on famously with both of them.
When asked who were the nicest among the cast members, she seemed a bit hesitant to pick favourites but did confirm that some of the nicest were Eileen Derbyshire (Emily), Betty Driver (Betty) and Bill Roache (Ken), who still has all his own hair and everyone is quite jealous of him. Speaking of hair, when the subject of "Kevin" and "Steve's" recent very short hair cuts came up, she laughed and confided that she teases Simon that he looks like Sam the eagle from the Muppet show with that peak of hair down his forehead.
David Neilson, who plays Roy Cropper, is really nothing like his character. David is charming, attractive, witty and he does indeed stand up straight when not in character. He's got a house in Spain as do several other cast members (Kevin Kennedy (Curly), Beverly Callard (Liz), Liz Dawn (Vera)) and he commutes from there these days. Brian Capron, who played the maniacal Richard Hillman is lovely as well. Totally unlike our favourite serial killer. She says he's "mad as cheese" and never stops talking, like an "old woman" she said!
And for you Kate Ford fans and detractors, Sue informed us that she thinks Kate is brilliant and really very nice in person. It's very difficult to play an evil bitch. It's great fun for the actor but the reaction from fans is pretty awful at times. Kate gets a lot of hate mail and tries not to take it too seriously. What else.... One of her best friends is Denise Welch who used to play Natalie Horrocks Barnes. Chris Gascoine who plays Peter Barlow is a sweetheart, she and her partner have bought Charles Dale's (formerly Dennis) house because he and his wife have moved to Cardiff, both Ryan and Bruno (Jason and Todd) are single and, is Jimmi (Dev) single? Hard to say at any given time, she laughed. Jenny James (formerly Geena) and Lee Boardman (formerly Jez) are having a baby!
And Hotpot..... "mings"... that is, it's pretty bad. They make it fresh daily in the studio but it stinks like "poo". The beer used is a very weak shandy though at one time Guinness sponsored the show but it didn't last too long as the cast would get half cut on set! (I don't know if that's true but it was quite the picture).
It was hard for her to comment on some of the other storylines because she often has no idea what's going on in other than her own. They usually just get the script, rip out their own bits and never really hear about the rest unless they get chatting together about it in the green room or she hears it from fans.
One other thing that was interesting, in response to another comment about multi-racial storylines, Sue thought they didn't do enough cross-cultural representation. They really are a multi cultural society and though there is some evidence of it, she thought you really couldn't have too many.
There were spoilers but anyone that reads ahead will know already most of what she mentioned. There were a couple of interesting suppositions which may or may not happen so...
... When asked if Todd was going to turn out to be gay, she confirmed it and said it was possible that Sarah may end up with the other brother! Another tentatively exciting rumour had to do with Kevin Kennedy who was recently seen at Granada so though Curly is just leaving our screens in Canada now, maybe there's hope of a future appearance, even if just a short visit! Also, Linda Baldwin won't be back and the outcry of controversy over Martin and Katy's relationship has died down in the UK.
Sue is really happy at the moment being in the cast and says she has some good storylines coming up so will be there for awhile longer. We were all chuffed to hear that. She really is a fan favourite with a wide appeal. It was such a treat to hear her and get to talk to her. I know she enjoyed her stay here as much as we enjoyed having her. Again, the organizing committee and the volunteers did a bang up job and extra thanks go to Mike Shacklock who was her host during the visit.
Sue's Charity: When You Wish Upon A Star
My Coronation Street page with links to the write ups for previous star visits.
Photos copyright "tvor" and Mike Shacklock.