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Full of backchat and looking like a Poundland Spice Girl, a teenage Leanne Battersby stomped on to the cobbles 23 years ago. Since then, actress Jane Danson has lived through no end of drama as her Weatherfield alter ego.
Eloping to Gretna Green was the first of several of Leanne’s marriages, and while high points have included running the bistro and becoming a stepmum to Simon, her lows have seen her turn to drugs and prostitution.
But this year Jane, 42, has faced her toughest storyline yet as Oliver, Leanne’s son with Steve McDonald, was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease. It’s an illness some patients live with – but the outlook is bleak for Oliver, despite Leanne’s efforts battling doctors and courts.
In scenes sure to have left Coronation Street fans in floods of tears, the judge decided at the hearing that Oliver’s life support was to be withdrawn since there’s no medical evidence to support his recovery.
Coronation Street's Jane Danson and husband Robert Beck are all smiles as they hold hands on dog walk
Inside Coronation Street star Jane Danson's family life and adorable way she met husband
OK! caught up with Jane by Zoom at her home in Cheshire to talk about the storyline that’s moved her more than any other in over two decades on the Street…
Jane, it’s been a hard few months for Leanne and fans are going to be left devastated by Oliver’s fate…
We just hope we’ve told it truthfully. I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of families in this situation who are watching. That’s blown me away. People stop me in the street to say the writing and the performances have been really accurate. It’s amazing to hear, but it’s really sobering, as well, because we are just pretending.
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You’ve had help from charity The Lily Foundation, haven’t you?
Yes. The Lily Foundation (founded by Liz Curtis in 2007 in memory of her eight-month-old daughter, Lily, who died of mitochondrial disease) have been amazing, constantly in contact. As long as we’ve done them justice, then it’s job done. I’ve had some amazing stories over the years but with this one we felt an enormous sense of responsibility because this really is somebody’s life. Sadly, quite a few people’s lives. So we wanted to portray it in real time and as sensitively as we could. From a practical side of things, with Covid, there have been obstacles, but I think it’s pulled us even closer in terms of how we work. We had to support each other and you don’t know what somebody might be going through or have experienced. So for lots of reasons it was difficult, but I’m really, really proud of it.
You’re mum to Harry, 14, and Sam, 11, but in the past you’ve talked to us about miscarrying your third child. Did filming Oliver’s story bring that back?
I think you’d be lying if you said it didn’t have some kind of effect on you. It is a very different thing, although pain is pain. You know what that feels like. Just reading the scripts, there were several times when I had to put them down because it was so hard. I couldn’t see for tears. We’ve all had sadness I’m sure at some point in our lives, but I did try to distance myself from that. It is a different story, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t touch a nerve here and there.
For the past four years you’ve had Georgia Taylor – who plays Leanne’s sister Toyah – back on the show. Has she been a support?
I have just written a card to send her because she’s been amazing. Because of Covid restrictions we’ve not had tea breaks during filming and on really heavy days you start to flag. So she’d turn up with a takeaway coffee and biscuits to keep me going, pop to the shops if I needed anything… We’re super close anyway, I think because we’ve got that history. She’s one of my best friends and I’m so lucky that she’s back.
And as an actor, your husband Robert Beck was no doubt also there to listen after a tough day of filming?
What’s really lovely is that because he’s been part of the soap world he gets it. So to have that support, especially with this story… We just kind of make a good team, on lots of different levels. It’s lovely. We do bicker, don’t get me wrong, but we don’t argue. I’m not like Leanne – she exhausts me! Me and Ben (Price, who plays Nick Tilsley) always say, “God this is exhausting, can you imagine having this life?” Every day they are battling something.
Do Harry and Sam take much notice of your role in Corrie?
The boys aren’t interested at all. I don’t think they even realise how big the show is. I was telling my youngest, because he’s quite the actor himself, “You know Coronation Street is 60 years old this year? That’s like the longest-running TV programme ever.” And he was like, “Oh, is it?” It’s always been part of their lives, but it’s just Mummy’s work for them.
So could there be another generation of actors in the family?
I think Sam has got the bug. It’s a difficult one, because I was 11 when I got my first job, so I could never really discourage it. I just need to make him aware that to be in regular work for a long period of time is highly unusual. I don’t just want him to be aware of the nice bits because I know from my own experience and my husband’s that it’s not all great. You’ve just got to support them and hope that they make the right choices. Harry is the quieter one, he’s into computers, and is more studious. So I can see him going into that. And that’s no bad thing. The world is run by computers, isn’t it? But you just want them to be happy and well, don’t you?
Back to Leanne… She’s going to be facing challenging times, isn’t she?
We’ve been really conscious that when you lose someone you don’t just go back to normal life overnight. Soaps are guilty of that sometimes. People don’t want to see you crying any more, so you are back down the Rovers having a pint. This is probably the worst thing that could ever happen to you and I don’t think we can rush that. I always knew that this would change her character forever. So it will be really interesting for me to see just how far they take that. Because with losing Oliver Leanne’s broken, she’s just broken.
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