“Well, did you like it?” Michelle Keegan asks as we sit down. I’ve just seen the three-part ITV drama Tina and Bobby, in which Keegan plays Tina Moore, wife of England’s 1966 football World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore. Yes, I say, you were very good. “Oh, thank God.”
A secretary at an insurance company who had met Bobby at the Ilford Palais dance hall when she was 15 and he was 17, Tina married Moore in 1962. With that 1966 victory, she was thrown into the limelight alongside the decent, dignified and quietly brilliant man who had overcome testicular cancer to play for his country.
Bobby was the epitome of a proletarian hero. He was a golden captain for a golden age. But as the 1960s and 70s went on, he went into darker places, at the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico even enduring a trumped-up accusation of theft in a Bogotá jewellery shop. Later, his football career at an end and with business failures behind him, he suffered depression, there were extramarital affairs and extended drinking bouts. Bobby’s cancer came back to finally claim him in 1993, after three decades of illness and treatment. He was only 51. For much of that time, Tina stood by his side.
“They were like the first Posh and Becks,” Keegan says. “I can really appreciate what they went through, though they never had what I have nowadays, where everyone’s a paparazzi with their mobile phones.”
Lorne MacFadyen and Michelle Keegan re-create a 1972 photo of the golden couple
Her own marriage, in 2015 to Mark Wright, The Only Way Is Essex star and ex-semi- professional footballer, is one of the reasons the press have chased Keegan, 29 – that and her stint as Tina McIntyre on Coronation Street from 2008 to 2014. In 2016 Keegan’s performance as Lance Corporal Georgie Lane in Army drama Our Girl drew post-Corrie acclaim and now, in Tina and Bobby, it looks as if she’s about to do it again. Though the interest shown in her can be less in her career and more in her marriage.
“There is always something there that’s negative,” she says, “and you can’t switch it off. It’s always on the phone, it’s always on TV.”
Does that get to her? “A few years back it did,” she says. “But now I just think, ‘Meh.’ I don’t let anything get to me any more, I have self-belief. In the past I felt like an imposter and thought: ‘I shouldn’t be here – they’re going to find out that I’m not a real actor.’ But people saw me grow up on Coronation Street, and I was totally different by the end. I’ve learnt that even if I don’t make the right decision, it’s not the end of the world.”
Keegan says she only went to the Coronation Street audition for the experience. “To see what it’s like and get used to the camera. I thought I had no chance. It wasn’t until the very last audition that I thought, ‘I might get this.’ I finally knew when the producer dropped a massive wad of scripts on the table, and said, ‘Learn these’. I went numb. I remember putting them in the car and driving in silence until I stopped to pick up my dad from work. He saw my name on the scripts and started to cry.”
The family are from Irlam in Salford, which makes her, she says, “proper Manc”. When she married Wright she moved south to his patch in Essex, which, it turns out, was also Tina Moore’s. One of the hardest parts of the role was Tina’s voice. “I’ve always done northern parts,” says Keegan. “So everyone asked, ‘Did Mark show you how to do an Essex accent?’ But Tina went to elocution lessons, so she was a bit more neutral compared to Bobby, but with an Essex twang, which helped me a lot.”
Tina, now 72, whose memoir Bobby Moore: by the Person Who Knew Him Best is the basis for the series, came along to watch Keegan re-create her youth. “It was her story, so it was daunting – she’s so glamorous yet she’s very approachable.”
More testing for Keegan, and Lorne MacFadyen who plays Bobby, was the bathroom scene where Tina insists that Bobby shows her the results of an operation to remove his diseased testicle. “It was a serious, poignant moment,” she says, “where Tina says, despite all this you are still a man. Bobby never broke down, never showed his emotions. But in that scene he does, and it’s what really happened. That just hit home for me.”
Tina and Bobby didn’t make it to the end – they were divorced in 1986 and Moore married again, in 1991, to British Airways stewardess Stephanie Parlane, who became a prodigious fundraiser for the bowel cancer that killed him only 15 months after they wed.
Does Keegan look at Tina’s story and wonder about her own marriage? “We’ve only been married for a year and a half,” she says. “And Tina and Bobby were together for over 20 years, they had two kids, and they had a very, very happy marriage. Even at the end, Tina never said anything negative about him, and I think that shows her character, and what a strong woman she was.” When I ask if she thinks she’s like Tina, Keegan looks up quite fiercely.
“Do I see myself as a strong woman? Definitely. Yes, I do.”
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news