We talk to Julie Hesmondhalgh

Julie Hesmondhalgh

All Hail to ‘Hayley’

Known to millions as transgender Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street, and in demand for TV and stage work, accomplished actress Julie Hesmondhalgh is a proud ambassador for her home town of Church and the Borough of Hyndburn. Some 200 people gathered in The Coppice Theatre at Accrington and Rossendale College to celebrate Julie receiving the highest award that can be bestowed by Hyndburn Council: Freedom of the Borough. Writer Peter Joneswas among them.

There was laughter and fun at Julie’s Freedom of the Borough ceremony – not a bit like a solemn occasion – and that summed up the whole character of the event.

In her acceptance speech, Julie thanked the Mayor, Hyndburn Council and Michael Cunliffe who organised the evening, she said how proud she was to be a Lancashire lass, and thanked her family – “three of the best people in the world.”

She described her father John, who passed away recently, as “wonderful, sensitive, poetic, funny and kind.” Her mum she described as “fierce, tough as old boots and unconditionally loving.” David, her brother, encouraged her to go to drama school when she got the place in 1988.

Julie told how Ernest Street Baptist Church instilled in her an ‘evangelical spirit’, and it was Hyndburn Park Nursery and Junior School and in particular Mrs Olga Mulderrig who encouraged her to do the English Speaking Board exams at the age of eight and nine. Julie thanked Mrs Hindley and Mr and Mrs Walmsley who taught her at Moorhead High School (now Accrington Academy) and said: “Mr Walmsley’s rhyming couplet plays were my first taste of leading roles.”

About Accrington and Rossendale College: “Those years between 16 and 18 were formative for me and where I found myself. Sitting in Elmfield Street with my new theatre studies friends, listening to Mozart, eating biscuits, putting the world to rights…it was at Accrington College that I met some of my greatest friends, friends for life.”

Martin Cosgrif, who taught Julie at college and now lives in Stratford-upon-Avon, made the trip to there for Julie’s big night. Julie said: “Martin was a totally inspirational teacher.

“While I was at LAMDA there were five of us from Accrington at LAMDA at the same time. That is just a testament to his talent. Thank you, Martin, for everything. I would not be here without you; that’s for sure.”

Julie also thanked Lancashire County Council for grant support, Accrington Amateurs (now Accrington Theatre Group), Blackburn Drama Club and Oswaldtwistle Players, who played a big part in her becoming an actor.

She thanked ‘my fantastic husband’. Ian Kershaw. “I travelled miles, kissed many frogs and then I found him up the road in Oldham.”

Julie praised Sylvia Lancaster and all at the Sophie Lancaster Trust, “for inspiring me with your tireless work, to make the world a better and more tolerant place.” Sylvia is the mother of Sophie Lancaster, the Bacup girl brutally murdered in 2007 by five youths for dressing as a Goth. Julie played the part of Sylvia in a play called Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. Sophie said she wouldn’t have trusted anyone else than Julie to play her character.

Julie had a special mention for the late Dorothy McGregor, also a Freeman of the Borough, the inspirational founder of the Maundy Relief charity. “She taught us all about real love and giving and charity.”

It was Julie’s turn to sit in the audience as Simon Brierley, with the help of slides presented a sort of This is Your Life, which took us back to Julie’s beginnings in Elmfield Street, Church, and up to the present day.

In the second part of the evening, local schools and drama groups gave performances ranging from dramatic sketches to acrobatics and musical theatre, including a special presentation by four
children from Julie’s old primary school, Hyndburn Park.

There was an acrobatic display from Accrington Academy, singing and dancing from St Christopher’s C of E High School whose cast were all dressed as animals, and a hilarious performance from Oswaldtwistle Civic Arts Centre and Theatre entitled The Life of Hayley Cropper in Three Minutes and Twenty Seconds. In which the young actors played characters from Coronation Street, tracing Hayley’s time there from the sex change in Amsterdam until her exit in 2014.

Julie told the young performers: “Every time you’re creative. Every time you sing, or write a song, or dance, or choreograph, or bang a drum, or sketch a portrait, scribble a poem or act a part,
you are making the world a better place. Art is not an indulgence or a luxury. It’s an essential part of living.”

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