Coronation Street spoilers: Hayley is told her cancer is inoperable – David Neilson interview

"It’s always at the back of Roy’s mind that Hayley will die," says the actor


Corrie fans should be braced for heartbreak next week when Hayley (Julie Hesmondhalgh) is told her cancer is inoperable and that she has just six to twelve months left to live. As the harsh reality of the illness sinks in, Roy becomes determined to step up to the mark, while Hayley holds back the tears. Here, actor David Neilson reveals how the Croppers intend to stay strong and enjoy the time that Hayley has left:


Can Roy accept the news that Hayley is going to die?
It’s always at the back of Roy’s mind that Hayley will die. I think that thought is always lurking when people find out they or a loved one has cancer, but people know that cancer isn’t always a death sentence anymore. A lot of people successfully get through treatment and survive.

Roy knows his stuff and he knows pancreatic cancer’s not a good thing to have, but the thing is, even with intelligent and rational people, there’s always that hope for a miracle and that hope remains there till the end. I’ve seen completely rational and intelligent people suddenly turn to things out of desperation, things that they would have once scoffed at.

Is he surprised at how stoic she is?
The thing is, Roy has always been a bit of a control freak and has never really liked Hayley going out and having a good time. Now he’s done the research, he knows that going out drinking isn’t good for you, but Hayley wants to carry on. When she announces she’s done a wish list of things she’d like to do, he goes along with it reluctantly.

Some of it is quite frivolous and not very Roy, but he’s trying to do his best. His devotion to Hayley means he will make every attempt to do whatever she wants of him – even learning to drive.

Is it all doom and gloom for Roy and Hayley?
We have this very sad storyline, but we will still have that lovely warmth and humour for Roy and Hayley. That’s the thing I’ve found with people who are in these devastating situations – you can still have some really wonderful laughs. It’s a bizarre time where the black humour just comes out.

How do you feel about this being Hayley’s exit storyline?
I sort of knew when Julie said she was going that Hayley would die so it was more of a question of how? It’s a difficult story and I don’t want it to be over sentimental, I want it to be real and to show the love between Roy and Hayley.

It has to be true to life and true to the people that are going through it. We have to remember that this is real for people and with that realism some people are going to find it hard to watch, but you have to make it real to be true to those people.

Tell us how do you feel about Julie Hesmondhalgh leaving the show…
I think it’s great for Julie. Obviously, I will miss her as we have a great working relationship. I’m intrigued to see which direction Roy will go. It’s quite exciting as it gives me a chance to move Roy on and develop the character. It’ll be interesting to see what new relationships will come out of this.

How do you feel about the way Roy has reacted so far?
The way the writers have got Roy reacting is quite beautiful. Because of his personality and the way he is, he focuses on Hayley’s diet and makes her eat right and drink herbal tea. He’s trying to cope with it in a very practical way to start with, but it’s an avoidance of emotion. He’s not dealing with a certain aspect of it.

Roy knows he can’t come off the rails. We’ve already seen Roy in a state prior to this, and even though he’s in a very sensitive place, I don’t think he can afford to indulge himself by going into that place again. He tries to be practical and tries to do the right thing, but in doing that, he does the wrong thing.

So what’s his emotional state like?
Hayley’s usually the strong one and she’s still trying to be. The one thing Hayley was terrified about was telling Roy because she didn’t think he would be able to deal with it, but you don’t see Roy dealing with emotions as others do. Roy deals with it in a very raw way – he probably doesn’t have the tool kit to deal with it in the way others do.

Has it been difficult to play a storyline like this?
Usually, the big storylines we deal with aren’t on subjects that personally affect a lot of our audience. Most people aren’t in tram crashes or subjected to serial killers, which are usually the staple of a show like this.

Suddenly, you’re dealing with something that everyone who’s watching has had to deal with in one way or another. When it gets to really sensitive stuff like this, you almost feel like a fraud. At the end of the day, we are acting and we can walk away from it, but for others it’s real life and you can’t walk away from real life.

What reaction do you think you will get from the public?
It will be interesting to see what reaction we get from the audience. Telling that story is daunting but it feels right. It’s a story that’s not remote but very true and it’s a major privilege to play. The subject is so close to so many people’s hearts.