She’s back and she’s as brassy as ever. Yes, Liz McDonald returns to Corrie later this month after son Steve buys back the Rovers Return. But will she be a not-so-silent partner in the business, especially when it comes to Steve’s relationship with Michelle? And what has Liz been up to in her time away? Here, actress Beverley Callard talks about all this and the how she’s coping with life on the Street:
So, was it daunting coming back to the Street?
Well, nothing is as knackering as Coronation Street, especially when you’re in a big storyline. So I did think about whether I really wanted to do it again. It’s so full-on and you do have to stop real life. But I’m having a ball – I’m working a lot with Simon Gregson, Kym Lomas and Michelle Keegan and, to be honest, we can’t look at each other without laughing.
What did your husband Jon make of your decision to go back?
I have been very poorly in the past [Callard received elctroconvulsive therapy in 2009 while suffering with clinical depression] and Jon was worried that I hadn’t given myself enough time to be me. So I’m trying to be more sensible about things this time, although I do find it so hard.
I’m such a perfectionist and I worry over stupid things: the other day I was fretting because we had a scene in the Rovers that was set over lunchtime and there wasn’t ketchup on the tables. So, as you can see, I do sometimes take it to extremes.
You’ve been very open about your health, financial problems [Callard was declared bankrupt last year] and the loss of your mum – do you feel like you’re currently in a better state of mind?
I’m climbing back up again. I am still skint but I’m hoping that things are getting better. I don’t have any health fears, but I do still take medication. However, my mum’s death from Alzheimer’s last year was just horrific – the person who you love just dies in front of you, but the fact that they’re still there physically is just the worst thing.
Before she died, I was feeling guilty because work meant that I didn’t see enough of her. But, fortunately, in her few months both my sister and myself got to spend a lot of time with her.
When you left Corrie, did you think that would be the end for Liz?
Yes, I did. I agonised about going but, as far as my health was concerned, I’d completely overdone it. I was taken into hospital in February 2009, given 12 lots of ECT, loads of different anti-depressants that didn’t work and was back on set in June to film Steve and Becky’s wedding. I didn’t take enough time to get well, that was the thing. But I was so aware that I was letting everyone down and that scripts were being rewritten.
Why is mental health still seen as something of a taboo?
I think some people see you as unreliable and flaky and that you might not be able to do your job as well as you could. And I was very aware that some people at Granada felt like that about me at the time. I didn’t want to be talked about like that because, if I take something on, I usually finish it to the very end and do the best that I can.
Why did you choose to write about your experiences [Callard shared her story in a 2010 book]?
To be honest, I didn’t think I’d ever want to talk about it. Having electrodes put on your head and all the rest of it is absolutely terrifying. But while I was at the Priory, the visitor of another patient took a picture of me having a fag while dressed in Ugg boots and pyjamas and then sent the photo to the press. Now, the press didn’t print it because they were respecting my privacy, but it did make me think that if I didn’t tell the story, someone else would do so and do it inaccurately.
So, tell us about what Liz has been up to and why she’s back?
She’s been in Spain with Andy working in a health spa. Now don’t ask me how, but she’s accumulated loads of money, bought into the spa and it’s done really well. Then Steve phones her and tells her about his plans to buy the Rovers, which gives her the opportunity to come back. The script says that she always knew she’d come home because even though she loved it in Spain, it didn’t feel like real life.
Has she got a new look to go along with all this new cash?
I’d quite like her to be toned down a bit, but the skirts have not got much longer, I’m afraid. The costume department came up with a dress that was covered in silver and gold chains. I said, “listen, every time we go for a take I’m going to either clank around the set or we’ll need a tin opener just so I can speak”. So we got rid of that one.
But I do feel vulnerable in one of the dresses she has: it’s a black-and-nude lace number and it’s too tight. I was sitting there in a wonderbra, false eyelashes and with this skin-tight dress on and I said, “I haven’t felt like this in two-and-a-half years.” I was really scared to emerge from the dressing room.
Are things going to be awkward between Liz and Michelle? After all, Steve hasn’t told her in advance that Liz has put money into the Rovers…
For the last couple of years that I was there, Liz hated every girlfriend that Steve had. Every 18 months, I’d replay the same scenes and it was just so boring. So I told our current producer Stuart Blackburn about this and he assured me that they wouldn’t be doing that this time around. So Liz and Michelle are getting on really well and Steve is caught in the middle, acting like a complete plonker as usual.
Do you take your heels off when you have long scenes behind the bar?
Michelle Keegan, Kym Lomas and myself all have to decide when we put the Ugg boots on and when we put the heels on. We all need to go up and down in height at the same time, otherwise it looks really weird!
Has Liz got a fella at the moment? She’s definitely the kind of woman who likes to be in a relationship…
No, she doesn’t like to be on her own. At breakfast time, you do get to see Liz in a onesie because she hasn’t got a boyfriend at the moment. She wouldn’t be seen dead in a onesie if she had a man. She’s telling everyone she’s single but there is someone coming in for Liz. My God, it’s so exciting, but I can’t reveal anything else yet.
Are there any other characters with whom you’d like Liz to interact with more?
Obviously, Liz and Deirdre scenes are just amazing. I don’t know how much I’m supposed to say, but Liz, Deirdre and Eileen get very drunk in the Rovers. And as it turns out, Liz is the only one who knows all the words to Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.
I also love working with Barbara Knox. I think she’s fantastic. We’ve just had a few scenes together and we made all the crew laugh. I think Rita should have more big storylines.
Do you think the older generation should, in general, get more storylines?
Yes, I do. Although I’m not counting myself in that! I want to see Emily get a boyfriend and I want to know more about Rita. It’s great that we’ve got lots of young, glamorous people on the show, but I think it has to be kept real. I just want Emily to have a really nice time!
Exercise has always played a big part in your life – do cast members ask if they can lose a few inches off their stomach?
Oh yeah. They’re mad in that green room – every time you turn around, someone else is not eating carbs. And you think, ‘oh my god, what are you doing? You’re like a little doll!’ But unfortunately, that’s the sad side of the industry in which we work. Every time a new character comes in, especially if they’re female, they’re suddenly taking their kit off in Heat magazine and all the rest of it. Hey, I might end end up being the first grandma on the cover of Heat. We’ll have to see!
Beverley Callard returns to Coronation Street in the episodes airing on Monday 14 October