Originally published on the Coronation Street Blog, 14 July 2015.
If Tracy Barlow isn’t initiating trouble, it’s sure to follow her about, and if the return of her ex-husband Robert Preston (Tristan Gemmill) isn’t enough, it sounds as if his current wife Joanie will make life far from plain sailing.
I caught up with Sarah Harding who will be playing the part at ITV in Manchester to hear all about it.
A big fan of the show, Sarah is very aware of its heritage and declares herself honoured to have landed this four episode guest role. She is excited, overwhelmed and nervous all at the same time and is very anxious that she do the programme, its audience and her own fans justice.
“Corrie is my favourite soap” she reveals, and talks of her northern roots on her mother’s side, recalling “when I went down the ginnel the first time when I visited the set it really reminded me of going back to my Grandma’s house in Moston.”
It is true that she didn’t audition for the part, as it is a short guest role, and Corrie bosses were aware of her work. Sarah explains that the whole thing came about on a visit to the set. “I was running around getting photographs” she explains, “and we got chatting that day and it went from there”.
Sarah plays the wife of Robert Preston with whom she owns a restaurant in Manchester. Asked if it’s a shock for her to find he still harbours feelings for Tracy Barlow, Sarah tells us “I’ve moved with him to the restaurant and obviously he’s still holding a torch for Tracy which I’m not happy about whatsoever. So I play a woman on the edge. She does come across quite angry and feisty, but she’s also hurting and people have got to remember that.” Sarah explains how Joni has been living in Tracy’s shadow and reacts badly on first meeting Robert’s ex-wife.
“She’s not a wallflower” she continues, “he clearly likes a feisty woman and I think Tracy and Joanie in the same room leads to fireworks.” It doesn’t help that Joni’s first reaction on meeting Tracy is to remark “I was expecting something more the way you go on about her”, or that Robert has been rather economical with the truth when reigniting his flame with Tracy.
So what was her first day like? “I started filming with Kate [Ford] on the first day” she tells us, “and she’s the total opposite of her on screen character. Tristan [Gemmill] and Lisa [George] were there too. It was really nerve wracking, on location and there were paparazzi. It was really good fun. I had to give Tracy a choreographed slap. Even though we were screaming and shouting at one another, we were giggling like schoolkids when they cut.”
I asked Sarah about her first time filming on the street “I shot on the cobbles for the first time with Malcolm [Hebdon] which was fun” she told me. “I’m trying to bang down Tracy’s door and poor Norris gets in the firing line”.
Asked how she’s finding the experience, Sarah remarks, “It’s very fast paced. With films you’ve a lot longer to learn. It’s different with soaps, it’s not easy but it’s been a learning curve.”
Both Sarah and the programme makers appear to be conscious that both herself and Shane Ward may be on the receiving end of added criticism and scrutiny. So is she ready for the reaction when her episodes air? “I know it’s gonna be a mixed reaction as people are going to be expecting high standards. You’ve just gotta be prepared. It’s the nation’s biggest soap and it’s a massive honour to be on it, but there are gonna be people that say ‘she can’t act’. I am just gonna say, it is what it is”.
She adds, “I did train in acting when I was younger, which a lot of people don’t know.”
It also helps that Sarah doesn’t focus on the negative when it comes to social media. “I try and look on the positive side. I’ve done something I’ve really enjoyed doing, and had a blast doing it, I’ve met some really lovely people, and everyone on the cast has been so lovely.” Sarah found a particular gesture by the sound technicians to be very amusing; they kept playing Girls Aloud tunes in between her takes.
Asked if she’s planning anything special for when the episodes go out, Sarah reveals, “I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to watching anything back. I’m my own worst critic. I’ll probably watch it with my Mum. She’s my biggest fan.”
I asked Sarah if there was anyone she’d like to have had a scene with. “Beverley Callard or Ali King would’ve been cool” she told me, “but like I said I’ve really enjoyed just being here and feel honoured I’ve been asked to do it. I didn’t know it was actually going to happen. It only started with a fleeting gesture and it escalated and I’m so glad it did.”
So would she like it to be more permanent? “There’s loads of stuff going on for me, including my music, so obviously I’d love to come back, but we don’t know at the moment.” Sarah explains that it would all depend on her availability, the storyline and her music, but we’re told that while the story is self contained for this period, that’s not to say it couldn’t continue in the future.
In addition to talking about Celebrity Masterchef, what it’s like to rise to fame from a talent show, and her time with Girls Aloud, Sarah revealed how she has left London behind to live the country life; she even has a veggie patch. Her hands are also full with three French bulldogs and two Persian cats to look after. “When I’m in a busy place I find it so noisy as I’m so used to the peace at night now” she tells us.
It doesn’t sound like there’ll be much peace on the cobbles for the short time Joanie is around, and I look forward to seeing Sarah in action.
By Emma Hynes