Arts

Corrie and Emmerdale star Claire King looks forward to being good in Belfast panto

Former Emmerdale and Coronation Street actress Claire King will star with panto dame May McFettridge this Christmas in Peter Pan at the Grand Opera House. She tells Joanne Sweeney why it's nice to play a 'good girl' for a change

Former Coronation Street and Emmerdale actress Claire King will be starring in Peter Pan at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, this year with May McFettridge

THERE'S a difference between being 'strong' and being 'tough' according to Claire King, the actress who not only played one of Emmerdale's most devious characters, Kim Tate, but who also starred in ITV's prison drama series Bad Girls as prison governor Karen Betts.

Despite being known for some of her more feisty television roles, Claire says she prefers being known as being strong, rather than tough.

"I think I've had to be quite strong with having poorly parents [her father has suffered from MS for years and her mother is ill], and being the breadwinner, and I have to look after them as well as work and pay the bills like everyone else has," Claire says.

"So you do have to be strong really, but there's a difference between strong and tough, as I'm still as soft as putty inside."

The 54-year-old will get to show her softer side when she stars alongside another woman known for her big heart, May McFettridge, in this year's panto Peter Pan at the Grand Opera House, Belfast.

Staged by the world's biggest pantomime producer, Qdos Entertainment, the team behind last year's record-breaking panto Cinderella, Peter Pan is sponsored by Dale Farm and promises to be packed full of comedy, stunning costumes and amazing special effects.

Claire will play Mimi, the Magical Mermaid, who helps Peter Pan escape the clutches of Captain Hook in the show, running from December 2 to January 14, in what's billed as a gravity-defying adventure to Neverland, sprinkled with the necessary fairy dust.

"I don't get many offers to do Mimi the Magical Mermaid role, funnily enough," laughs Claire. "It's my first time doing Peter Pan, although I've done a few pantos over the years, normally playing the Wicked Queen, so it's nice to play a good girl for a change.

"While I have played some good roles in the past but the ones that are always remembered are the tougher roles, should I say?

“Erica Holroyd in Coronation Street was a goodie, the type of person who you would like to go out with, and Karen Betts in Bad Girls was firm but fair and not nasty. It just seems like everyone remembers Kim Tate. But out of all of the hundreds of roles I've played, I think I've played only two nasty characters – not as many as everyone thinks."

Her time in Belfast will be a number of firsts for Claire.

"I've never worked in Belfast before although I've been over quite a few times either on holiday, or for a weekend, or to go racing at Down Royal as I've got friends who live there," she explains. "And I will be spending Christmas here so I'm looking forward to finding out what Belfast can offer me.

"This will be new experience for me, and boy, what an experience it will be with Madame McFettridge!"

Claire has just recently left her role as Erica Holroyd in Coronation Street after three years of walking the famous cobbles and drinking at The Rover's Return.

Her last scenes on Coronation Street were shown in August, but Claire says that she has no regrets in leaving the established soap.

"I don't regret it as I don't think that [the scriptwriters] knew what to do with the character. They weren't writing for me so I was twiddling my thumbs a lot," she says.

"I appreciate it that it's very hard going in [Coronation Street] if you are a single character and you don't have a family or partner, as you're kind of left as a pinball really, bouncing around between characters. I got to the stage where I thought, ‘No, it's time to go' and since then, I just haven't stopped."

Apart from appearing in two major soaps in an acting career which spans more than 30 years, Claire's own personal life has had the ups and downs normally associated with soap operas.

Her first and only marriage to date to actor Peter Amory, who played her stepson Chris Tate in Emmerdale, broke down after she discovered he was having an affair. It later turned out that the affair was with co-star Samantha Giles, who played Bernice Blackstock, the character in the show who was the Rev Ashley Thomas's first love before Lauren Potts.

In recent press interviews, Claire has been honest about her problems with depression and alcohol after being plunged into debt when her marriage broke down, due to her ex-husband's gambling addiction.

And she recently revealed that from the age of 30 she has battled with the rheumatoid arthritis, which threatened to leave her in a wheelchair, by keeping physically fit and active and by taking vitamin supplements.

"I keep active by riding my beautiful horses when I get the chance and learnt to pole dance when I did the stage play The Naked Truth, which is similar to the Full Monty, only for women. I strutted my stuff on Strictly Come Dancing and I also enjoy swimming and walking the dogs," says Claire.

She did not baulk when her agent told her several years ago that it was time for a facelift and she ended up having one and was delighted with the results.

Does she ever regret being so publicly honest?

"I suppose sometimes you might do," she muses, "But somebody else might come out and say it on your behalf if you don't – there might be someone to rat on you. In my opinion, I think if it helps other people, then why not be honest?"

On the topic of the current controversy in the arts and entertainment world, Claire says that thankfully she has never been sexually harassed in her career.

However, she says another serious concern for women in acting is the lack of lead roles for professionals of her age.

"I'm lucky – touch wood – that I'm still working, but I know quite a few of my friends who have given up the business as they just can't get work," she says.

:: Peter Pan starring May McFettridge and Claire King is on at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, December 2 to January 14. Tickets from www.goh.co.uk

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