In December’s edition of our Manc of the Month series, we’re paying tribute to a Coronation Street icon who tirelessly gives back to Manchester communities.
Julie Hesmondhalgh is best known as the award-winning actor who portrayed Corrie’s Hayley Cropper for 15 years.
But it’s her work off the screen that makes her such a notable figure in the north west, and a worthy addition to our Manc of the Month series.
Julie, 51, was born just across the Lancashire border in Accrington and has dedicated her life to acting, studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art when she was 18 before carving out a lengthy career on the small screen.
She is, of course, a familiar face to most of us thanks to her time spent as Hayley Cropper, a ground-breaking role as the first transgender character on a British soap.
Hayley’s storylines on the legendary cobbles saw her rejected and ostracised before she was, eventually, embraced, and Julie says it’s a huge testament to soap operas that they’re able to ‘break prejudice down’.
Back in 2019, she told Nihal Arthanayake on Radio 5’s Live Drive: “I think EastEnders, Brookside, Hollyoaks, Corrie, and Emmerdale have done so much in introducing issues through characters that you love. That’s how you break prejudice down.
“It’s to pre-judge, and once you know somebody, you can’t judge them by the same criteria anymore.
“When people are snobby about soap operas, I’m always like, that’s the beginning of everything – it’s a way of having conversations with people who are perhaps cut off from other communities.
“I know for myself when I went into that programme as Hayley, a trans character, there was so little understanding about what that meant.
“It was a joke – even the storyline was brought in as a bit of a joke at the time, and what you have to do is be in people’s living rooms and get people rooting for you to understand the issues around the character and to fall in love with them before that understanding kicks in.”
Julie is now a patron of the charity Trans Media Watch, which is dedicated to improving media coverage of trans and intersex issues.
Her charitable work doesn’t stop there – far from it.
She’s also a patron of Maundy Relief, Marple Drama, WAST, Manchester People’s Assembly, Reuben’s Retreat, The Alex Williams Believe and Achieve Trust, and The Sophie Lancaster Foundation.
On top of that, Julie supports food banks, hospices and arts charities, and once told the Guardian: “You have to admit it, I am a really good person.”
The actress and Labour party member has spent decades campaigning for various causes, some of which are particularly close to Manchester’s cultural heart.
She was a key player in the Together in One Voice event, a doorstep concert during the first lockdown that also starred Liam Gallagher and Mark Owen.
When the People’s History Museum was facing its greatest uncertainty to date last year and its future was seriously threatened, Julie was quick to pledge her support.
She described it as being her favourite museum in the world.
The red anorak worn by Julie when she played Hayley Cropper has even been included in an exhibition at the museum, alongside other LGBTQ+ artefacts.
One of her most significant charity projects saw her launch the 500 Acts of Kindness group, where 500 people donate a pound a week, and £500 is given to a nominated person, family or organisation.
She also set up the Take Back Theatre Collective, alongside writer Becx Harrison and visual artist Grant Archer, which tackles the politics of austerity in an artistic way.
A staunch supporter and protecter of the NHS, Julie said in a video for The People’s Assembly Against Austerity: “Sometimes we don’t know how lucky we are to have something until it’s threatened to be taken away from us.
“Now more than ever we need to be fighting for our National Health Service.”
She made the video, wearing a ‘Born in the NHS’ t-shirt, to encourage people to join an organised rally.
“What we want is to send out a message, loud and clear, to the Government that we are not going to allow our NHS to be eroded and taken away from us.”
Just last week, she was spotted giving up her time to volunteer at a local vaccine centre, praising the NHS workers who are ‘out working in all weathers, all the time’.
Julie has said, on multiple occasions, how much she loves the city of Manchester, for its culture and its people and its activism.
We can say with confidence that Manchester loves her right back.
About Manc of the Month
We all know that Manchester is home to some special people, some born here and others drawn here, and after a bumpy two years that effectively amounted to one big lockdown, it’s these special people that have inspired and led us through the tough times – so we decided to start a series that shines a light on those who should be celebrated.
Featured image: Publicity picture / Granada Television
TV & Showbiz
85-year-old gran from Altrincham stars in new Adidas running advert
Everyone’s favourite gran, Barbara Thackray, is back in the headlines and this time she isn’t just jogging and raising money, she’s featuring in Adidas’ brand new running advert.
The Altrincham-born and bred grandmother, who has become a local legend and inspiration across the UK with her incredible fitness and fundraising feats in recent years, is no stranger to being interviewed following her amazing efforts, but now she’s popped up in the new Adidas running ad too.
Barbara stars alongside the likes of Liverpool footballer Mo Salah, Qatari hurdler Mariam Farid and Egyptian runner Khadija Hegazy in the new TV and YouTube ad spot.
In the genuinely moving minute-long commercial, Barbara’s lovely little face pops up right at the end. Always save your best till last.
Actually quite stirring and inspiring, right?
Maybe it’s just us going soft in our old age (we never used to well up and interviews, promise), or maybe it’s because we know all the truly wonderful things she’s been doing for charity and her local community of late.
The Alty nan, who turned 85 earlier this month — the same day she broke her own PB in the annual Trafford 10k — has raised over £20,000 for St Ann’s Hospice in just a few short years, having been a champion of the organisation for more than 10 years amongst her sister’s illness and eventual passing.
She only started running when she turned 77 but now she runs around 12 miles every week.
The organisation’s Fundraising Manager, Lucy Leeming, said: “The awareness Barbara has raised across Greater Manchester for the importance and vitality of St Ann’s Hospice has undeniably helped raise funds and awareness for our charity.
“Her passion and dedication to towards our charity shines through in everything she does for us, we’re so grateful to have her support.”
As for Barbara herself, she’s still encouraging people of all ages to get into running; her only advice is “to begin gently and listen to your body.” No wonder the global sports brand chose her: she embodies everything the campaign is about.
To show this Alty gran some love and help her continue her incredible efforts, you can donate HERE.
Soccer AM cancelled after nearly 30 years on the air
Sky Sports have reportedly made the decision to cancel British TV and sporting institution Soccer AM after nearly three decades on the air.
The iconic football and comedy talk show which first aired in 1995 and enjoyed huge popularity throughout the 90s and early 2000s is set to end at the end of this season (its 28th) with just 10 episodes left, as per an exclusive report by The Sun.
According to a source who revealed details to the outlet, Soccer AM will be axed at the end of the 2022/23 season due to low ratings and viewing figures, which have both gradually decreased over time — as has the running time, which went from 240 minutes to just 90 in more recent years.
The insider went on to claim that the decision has come as “a complete bombshell” to those involved with the programme, with “morale at an all-time low”.
Staff on the show were reportedly told of the cancellation on Tuesday, with their last episode airing on Saturday, 27 May, the day before the end of the Premier League season, at which point they will be made redundant.
Issuing a response to the news, a Sky Sports spokesperson said: “Soccer AM has played an important role in our coverage of football for the past three decades, and we continually adapt to the evolving needs of our customers.
“We now go into a period of consultation to discuss the proposed changes with our people. We are unable to provide more detail while these consultations are underway.”
As for current presenters John Fendley and former footballer Jimmy Bullard, who have been at the helm of the show since 2019, the two are said to have been left “fuming” by the decision. Figures from within Sky and around the footballing world have been paying tribute to the programme.
The show began with Russ Williams and long-time host Helen Chamberlain presenting back in 1995 before the latter was joined by veteran TV personality Tim Lovejoy just a couple of years later, with the two going on to become the most famous pairing in the show’s history.
As well as recurring comedic guest ‘Tubes’ (Peter Dale), some of the most famous guests you can think of made their way through Soccer AM‘s doors down the years, including the likes of Oasis, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kevin Hart, Dave Bautista, umpteenth footballers and countless others — you name ’em.
However, the show was not without its controversies and reflected a very different time and admittedly outdated part of British culture, to say the least.
Perhaps the most infamous serial segment of the show was its ‘Soccerette’ feature, which saw attractive young women walk into the studio and asked how old they were as men cheered “great age!”
The show obviously had to evolve over time but sadly its viewership continued to dwindle, no matter how much affection there was back in its heyday.
Speaking to Mirror Sport back in May 2022, leading figure Bullard admitted “it’s hard trying to refresh a show every single week with all the new material”, but that he still found it a privilege to be trusted with reinventing a show that is still “the start of a lot of people’s mornings on a Saturday.”
It was certainly far from perfect and pretty problematic at times, but it still played a huge role in the lives of many British people and young football fans’ formative years.