Starstruck by a telly favourite

Reporter: Martyn Torr
Date published: 11 February 2014

MARTYN MEETS...local favourite and TV star Suranne Jones

IN the years I have had the privilege of meeting Oldham folk for this column, no chat has gone on as long as that with lovely actor Suranne Jones.

For more than two hours we chatted about her life and times... and just about everything else, from her love of all things Oldham, her transparent delight at the life she leads and loves, from teaching drama in Africa and Belfast to appearing on television and stage. Did I mention she’s also a writer?

It was fascinating stuff and I was captivated, enchanted, enthralled. In short, I was starstruck.

There, I’ve admitted it. It’s in the open.

Suranne — or Sarah, to give this lovely lady her proper name — was a delight from the moment I finally made her acquaintance in the Blue Legume restaurant in Upper Street, Islington.

We should have met in the Euphorium Bakery, but how was a lad from Oldham supposed to know there are two on the same street, and while I was in one...

But a couple of calls from her PA, Sheila and there we were, together at last. I’m sure the pleasure was all mine. Suranne was wonderful company from the moment we met until I got a little kiss and cuddle as we parted.

I was made to feel quite special, and I’m sure that this wasn’t an act. She is a genuinely warm and engaging person.

But I’m waffling.

Here I was, in the company of one of the most popular actors in the country, basking in the glow of a Bafta nomination for her role as Rachel Bailey in “Scott and Bailey”, the television detective series based in and around Oldham. She is about to spend a month at the Royal Exchange in Manchester in a production of “Orlando”.

And everyone knows Suranne from her time in Corrie, when she played Karen Phillips who became Karen McDonald when she married Steve.

I’m not a big fan of the programme but I do recall, when I was last married, having to watch the soap and that Suranne’s character had a raunchy encounter with a factory owner while her telly hubby was hammering on the factory door!

“I didn’t like you then,” I confessed sheepishly, to which Suranne replied:” I didn’t like her either!”

I meant Karen of course - not my lovely new mate Suranne.

Did you know Karen was Suranne’s second Corrie character? Her first - also called Phillips, which was a bit baffling - was Mandy Phillips.

Her big breakthrough, which ultimately led to the Corrie parts and her subsequent life as one of the most sought-after female actors in the country, came in a Maltesers advert. You can see it YouTube.

In person, Suranne was so utterly delightful that I had to ask how she ended up with parts like the two-timing Karen in Corrie and the randy Rachel in “Scott and Bailey”, when neither is anything like her own personality?

“They are just such good parts,” she replied.

It’s as simple as that, I suppose. Take “Orlando”, also a good part.

The Virginia Woolf story is about a young nobleman who woos and wins the hearts of many women, some grand, others not. He lists Russian royalty, Queen Elizabeth I and a Spanish dancer among his conquests and yet remains gloomily dissatisfied.

Hounded out of England and betrayed, Orlando falls asleep for seven days and wakes up as... a woman, who has to find her way back home in a journey that takes almost 400 years!

This time-travelling, gender-swapping story romps across continents and centuries and is why Suranne is so keen to bring him (and her) to life in what she describes in the “wonderful space” that is the Royal Exchange.

Her eyes sparkle as she talks excitedly about the role, and sheer challenge of the part. It is this enthusiasm — I would say boyish if she wasn’t so obviously not a boy — that clearly sets her apart among her peers and makes her so much in demand.

Suranne is now 35, not that you would know it. Born in Foxdenton Lane, Chadderton, she attended Cardinal Langley School in Middleton — a couple of years behind Manchester United legend Paul Scholes — and from an early age was already a precious lass with an eye for performance.

“My teacher Miss Clare got me interested in the Oldham Theatre Workshop and I just loved it.”

And that, really, was that. Sarah Anne, as she was christened, was hooked and the the English theatre has reaped the benefit.

In addition to acting — her list of accomplishments is too long for this piece — Suranne also loves teaching drama. Twice she has travelled to Africa, once to Sierra Leone to help the child soldiers from the civil war help rediscover their adolescence via drama workshops as they struggled with HIV and ravages of a war-torn country.

“Drama is a powerful tool, I love my life with all the other crazies. I have found myself in the world of acting and I am lucky to be offered so many challenging roles,” she says

Of “Scott and Bailey”, Suranne believed there needed to be more roles for women “that wasn’t wife-of, sidekick-to, mother-of, mistress-to” character.

She told me: “Sally (co-writer Sally Lindsay) and I were chatting away over a bottle of wine in a pub when the idea came to fruition.

“Sally was interested in the concept of a programme detailing the lives of two professional women. I suppose it is the ‘Cagney and Lacey’ of Manchester though I think it’s more gritty and real.”

And then it was time to go, our lunch in The Blue Legume was concluded. As we left the restaurant we continued to chat about an actor’s life and the demands outside of the production, promotional appearances, interviews and the like.

“These can be onerous at times, but it is all part of the business. And I really don’t mind, after all I want people to see the shows I’m in.”

I do, too. She was lovely. And she can share my Maltesers anytime...

Edited version. The full interview can be seen in tonight’s print and eChron editions