He’s known to millions as endearing, unlucky-in-love supermarket boss Curly Watts. But behind the scenes, actor Kevin Kennedy suffered during his Corrie years with an addiction to alcohol that eventually landed him in rehab. His experiences are recounted in a new warts-and-all autobiography that charts his ordeal and road to recovery. And here he talks to RadioTimes.com about staying sober and the recent press reports that he could be staging a comeback as Curly:
How did it feel revisiting that low period in your life?
I hated it. Nobody wants to write down the fact that they’ve been an idiot and behaved like a knob head. But it’s important to give a voice to recovery. The disease of alcoholism has a voice, but the solution hasn’t. Every week, you can turn on the TV and see drunken Brits in Malaga or cameras tracking drunk youths on the streets of our big cities. But who’s speaking for the millions of people in this country who are in active recovery?
So what effect did writing the book have?
Well, once you set out on the road to recovery, you don’t really examine the past. It’s all based on the future and what lies ahead of you. So revisiting all that wasn’t an enjoyable experience. It was actually very depressing. But it also forcefully reminded me of how far I’d actually come from those days.
Why did you choose to wait 15 years before telling your story?
I wanted to put some distance between me and the actual events. I couldn’t have done it straight away because it would have been too destructive – I’m quite superstitious and I might have been courting disaster. A lot of people who have sworn off the booze and drugs have gone back to them and I still might. It’s only a daily reprieve. But doing it this way at least gives me the chance to offer a balanced view.
Did your Corrie co-stars know at the time know that you had real problems with alcohol?
Some of them had a good idea, but others had no idea at all. You have to remember that alcoholism is a lonely thing. It’s a shame-based illness and it’s the shame that keeps you ill. So it’s not something that you advertise or talk about because most of the time you’re in denial. I was a functioning alcoholic and there’s a lot of that about. You’ve got airline pilots, doctors, dentists – all in high profile jobs and all functioning despite being alcoholics. But it came to a point where I just couldn’t function anymore.
Can you tell us about that pivotal moment when Brian Park, who was producing Corrie at the time, booked you into the Priory?
It was a window of sanity and a moment of realisation that the game was up. I’d got into the ring with booze too often and I’d lost the fight. I just had this moment of clarity when I realised that if I didn’t grab this opportunity, then one of two things would happen: if I was lucky I’d die quickly, but the other prospect was that it would kill me slowly and everything would be taken from me. But I knew that if I didn’t surrender, I’d be dead.
In the book, you say that if you were to return to Corrie, then no one would be happier than you. So was there any truth to the rumour from earlier this year that Curly is to make a comeback?
I did have a meeting with the producer Stuart Blackburn, which then got blown out of proportion. I think the press were jumping on the back of the unfortunate things that were happening at the time with Michael Le Vell and were picking on anything. But yes, I had lunch with Stuart and we had a very nice discussion – it was 90 per cent football and ten per cent Coronation Street. He said that if an opportunity arose for Curly, then he’d think about it. And that’s fair enough. That’s all you can ask for.
So you would like to return as Curly?
It’s no secret that I’d like to do some more. What really whetted my appetite was doing the spin-off DVD A Knight’s Tale [in which Curly was reunited with Ken Morley’s Reg Holdsworth] and then I did some filming on the street itself for the ill-fated musical last year. I think there are a lot of good stories still to be told but it’s all up in the air. Who knows what’s around the corner? I could be in EastEnders for all I know!
When you look back to your earliest days on the show, was there anyone in particular who took you under their wing?
It was definitely Pat Phoenix, who really was an amazing lady. She loved the theatre and she knew that I’d come from the West End. I think she realised that I wasn’t just some kid straight out of drama school and that I had, to a certain extent, paid my dues.
It was an amazing time because the show still had all those amazing stars in the cast: Doris Speed, Jack Howarth and Bernard Youens were all there, for instance. It was a real eye-opener. But I didn’t worry too much – because I’d been mixing with actors in the West End for a year, I knew how to behave and when to keep my mouth shut. But it was Pat who gave me the best piece of advice: always remember who you are and remember what you are to other people.
After all you’ve been through, do you feel happier now in your own skin than you ever have before?
I think that’s fair. Being in We Will Rock You makes me feel artistically fulfilled as I get the live buzz singing to 2000 people every night. And, even better, I can go back to Brighton at the end of the evening, get my anonymity back and see my two little girls. What’s not to like?
I don’t regret anything that I’ve done. Sometimes you can get analysis paralysis where you overthink a decision that you’ve made. That can drive you mad. It’s all about acceptance. We all make mistakes and bad calls. It’s what you do afterwards that counts.
Kevin Kennedy’s autobiography, The Street to Recovery, is out now