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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Jen Pharo

Claire Sweeney admits nerves ahead of Corrie debut and warns character will 'cause trouble'

Everyone loves a birthday surprise but Claire Sweeney was over the moon to win a dream part on her favourite TV soap Coronation Street on the day she turned 52.

Incredibly, it wasn’t the first time she’d landed a role on her birthday – in 1990 Claire won the life-changing role of Lindsey Corkhill in Brookside as she celebrated her 19th.

“Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence?” smiles Claire. “I got offered Brookside on my birthday and I also got offered Coronation Street on my birthday.

“When I got the call from my agent to say that Coronation Street wanted me to join them I nearly dropped my phone! I was in Majorca with my mum and my little boy Jaxon (eight). We were just quietly sitting on a balcony having a cup of tea and then I got this life-changing news, it was just so surreal. I went out that night and I think I was still in shock while we had a celebration dinner with my mum and my best friend, and it was so wonderful and exciting. I was so glad I was with my family when I got the news, it was the perfect birthday present.”

Liverpool-based soap Brookside was a huge success before it ended in 2003 and as well as launching Claire’s acting career, it also catapulted her into the hearts of the British public who also welcomed her next career moves as a TV presenter, a pop star, a radio DJ, an M&S model and a West End star.

Claire admits she nearly dropped her phone when she was offered the role on the ITV soap (David Cummings)
Claire was on holiday with mum Kathleen and son Jaxon when she got the call (David Cummings)

She appeared on the first series of Strictly Come Dancing, the inaugural Celebrity Big Brother and this year she presented an alternative commentary of Eurovision live from her hometown Liverpool.

But Coronation Street has always been a dream for Claire and even though she’s conquered almost every area of show business, she doesn’t mind admitting she was a little bit nervous.

“Joining Corrie is a big thing,” confides Claire. “The nature of our job is I’m always a little bit nervous and a bit apprehensive. I’ve gone through my whole working life like that, I’m always so grateful when people enjoy what I do. The day I’m blasé is the
day it’s all over!”

Claire is playing Cassandra Plummer, the long-lost mother of Tyrone Dobbs and the estranged daughter of Evelyn Plummer. To win the role, Claire had to do a self-tape, which is where you film your own first audition and send it to producers to be considered for a role.

She was quickly called in for a chemistry test with actor Alan Halsall, who has played Tyrone Dobbs since 1998.

As she walked to the studios, Claire caught sight of Corrie’s famous cobbles and the significance of the moment didn’t so much hit her as punch her.

Claire has grown up watching Coronation Street and iconic characters such as Ena Sharples, Bet Lynch and Elsie Tanner are the heroines of her childhood.

“I was walking towards the studios, I saw the cobbles on my right and my stomach flipped,” admits Claire.

“I went, ‘Oh my God! It’s real!’ and then as you walk into the studio you are met with a massive picture of Ena Sharples and you’re like ‘Wow, this is history!’”

Coronation Street has been running for 63 years and Claire remembers older characters including Stan and Hilda Ogden and Jack and Vera Duckworth with affection and admiration for the way they won their place in viewers’ hearts.

“I’m such a fan… it was a household staple in our home. I grew up with Bet Lynch, Elsie Tanner, Hilda and Stan Ogden, Jack and Vera…” enthuses Claire.

“I grew up with it as part of our household, part of my childhood and to suddenly be part of it and in that show. I can’t quite believe it.”

Cassandra is a gift of a role, as viewers have already learned from Dame Maureen Lipman’s character Evelyn, Cassandra is an addict, who gave up her son Tyrone when he was born. But Evelyn hasn’t been completely honest – she also told Tyrone Cassie is dead. Claire can’t say too much about the storyline but she will reveal that Cassie is back for the best soap reason there is.

“She’s come to cause trouble,” teases Claire.

“She’s a wildcard. You’ve got the dynamics between her and her mum, and then the dynamics between her and Tyrone. It’s going to set off fireworks.”

The role of a troubled addict is a joy to play for Claire.

“She’s bringing quite a few problems with her!” she grins. “She’s very unpredictable. She’s wonderful, yet fiery and wild. There are moments of complete vulnerability and helplessness, then moments where she’s really good fun.”

To make sure she had the medical side covered in preparation for her role, Claire talked to her GP about withdrawal and specifically the opioid substitute Pregabalin Cassandra uses.

“I spoke to my doctor about the Pregabalin that Cassie’s addicted to,” shares Claire. “My doctor has treated people who are addicted so she talked me through it.”

As an actress, costumes and make-up help Claire get into character and Cassandra’s hoodies and baseball caps are a world away from the high-glamour look Claire effortlessly carries off in real life.

Claire’s first day didn’t call for any dialogue and she enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere, and seeing lots of familiar faces and quite a few crew members from her Brookside days who now work on Corrie.

The role of Cassie dons a very different look to glam Claire (David Cummings)

But her second day was a very different experience.

“The first day I didn’t say anything but on my second day I had a massive scene – a 14-page two-hander with Dame Maureen Lipman – so that was a baptism of fire!” says Claire. “That was my first time speaking and I was very nervous but I was very prepared.

“I didn’t need to worry because Maureen was so kind to me that she’d even taken me out to dinner the night before with castmate David Neilson, who plays Roy Cropper. Maureen went out of her way to make me feel more comfortable and that really helped,” says Claire.

“She was so supportive, as was David. The pair of them took me out and it was just a lovely thing to do. She’s amazing and working with her was like a masterclass.”

Claire is also full of praise for Alan who plays her son Tyrone. “He’s not only a brilliant actor but he’s super, super nice to work and spend time with – I’d be happy to be his mum in real life!”

Despite having already triumphed in practically every genre of show business, soap operas are Claire’s great love, so she’s very thankful to have been chosen by Corrie producer Iain MacLeod.

“I was wanting to get back into on-screen drama,” she says. “I was working and very busy but as much as I love theatre I still had that hunger to land that one plum, dramatic screen role and it takes that one person to believe in you and that was Iain for taking a chance on me. I just feel very lucky and very grateful.”

One of Claire’s ultimate icons is Bet Lynch played by Julie Goodyear, 81. Earlier this month, Julie’s husband Scott Brand broke the news that the acting legend is suffering from dementia. Claire is deeply saddened, hailing Julie as a genius of the soap genre.

“When I had my second audition for Corrie, I went down a bit of a YouTube rabbit hole watching a lot of Bet Lynch scenes,” shares Claire. “In one scene she was in the back room at the Rovers. She was crying her eyes out because she’d been dumped or something awful and then she walked through the Rovers to the front and put on her game face and that transformation was so brilliant. She was such a wonderful character.”

Coronation Street breeds unforgettable women and Pat Phoenix’s Elsie Tanner, Beverley Callard’s Liz McDonald and Sarah Lancashire’s Raquel Watts were also icons for Claire.

So does she think Cassie will become one of Coronation Street’s wonder women?

“Gosh, I wouldn’t even dream of that, it’s down to the audience. All I can do is my best and hope they love it.”

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