Katherine Kelly on quitting Coronation Street for the National Theatre

Corrie's Becky McDonald takes to the stage in She Stoops to Conquer

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Had it been left to her, Katherine Kelly wouldn’t have had a leaving do from Coronation Street: “I’m crazy-busy till the end and I knew I’d be really sad.”

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But co-star Simon Gregson, who plays Steve McDonald, was having none of it. “Simon’s wife Emma, who’s a dear friend, said I should just let him do it: ‘He’s not put this much effort into our wedding!’ I’ve never seen him so excitable, like a little imp. It was an amazing party and there’s so much love here. Corrie wouldn’t get made without it.”

Still, to everything there is a season and Kelly has had a fantastically packed five years, in which her character Becky moved from peripheral petty villain to luminous leading lady – albeit one who swilled cider, smoked fags and, whenever it seemed she might live happily ever after, enthusiastically pressed her self-destruct button.

Becky became one of Corrie’s most popular figures, and Kelly was catapulted to fame, gracing an impressive three – three! – Radio Times covers.

Kelly’s next stop is a world away from Weatherfield. She has been cast as Kate Hardcastle, the lead in Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th-century comedy of errors She Stoops to Conquer, which opens at London’s National Theatre in January.

While some might find the Barnsley-born actor’s career path curious, she is Rada-trained and an alumnus of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“When I was at drama school in London, I used to walk across Waterloo Bridge, look at the National and think, ‘It would be fabulous to work there’, so I know how lucky I am – and the part is great and feisty.

“Theatre should be for everyone to see, just as television is for everyone to watch: my dad was an Irish immigrant who worked in a mine and one of his favourite plays is Waiting for Godot.

“Even if a handful of people who watch Corrie, who would normally walk past a production like that, stop and book a ticket because I’m in it, I’ll be happy.”

Kelly does admit to being nervous about making her debut at the National. “It’s a bit like training for a marathon when you’re used to a sprint. It uses different muscles. And I’ll have to lose all my Beckyisms.”

Kelly has clearly relished playing her, though. “You’re lucky enough being in Corrie and having such a great role to play, let alone to be here for its 50th anniversary. Being in it for five years at this particular time has been really fortuitous.”

But fortune favours the bold and wherever she ventures, Kelly will surely soar – as Suranne Jones and Sarah Lancashire did when they left their iconic Corrie roles (as Karen, a previous Mrs McDonald, and Raquel respectively).

Coronation Street will thrive, as it always does, but, for a while at least, Weatherfield will lose some lustre without the brilliant, vulnerable – and occasionally bonkers – Becky.

See more stunning photos from our shoot with Katherine

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This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 7 December 2011.