Nicola Thorp hit the headlines last year with her campaign to change dress code laws having been sacked from her receptionist job for refusing to wear high heels, and she’s about to have the spotlight on her again for a very different reason – she’s playing Pat Phelan’s daughter in Coronation Street.
Thorp has bagged one of the most high-profile jobs on telly, playing villainous Phelan’s long-lost love child, also called Nicola. For any actor new to a soap, coping with the media scrutiny that comes with the territory is daunting. But after taking her petition on discrimination to the House of Commons and facing Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, the confident Thorp is not fazed by her impending soap stardom.
“My experience last year helped me gain confidence and be self-assured,” she says on the Corrie set, in her first interview since the casting was announced. “Because of what happened, hopefully this will be a walk in the park!”
The much-publicised campaign started when Thorp, working as a temporary receptionist in a London finance firm between acting jobs, was fired for not wearing high heels. When she questioned the decision, she was spurred into action: “I said they were a sexualised element of dress which I didn’t think was necessary in an office, to which I was told ‘no, that’s the law’, so I thought ‘I’ll try and change the law then,’ and set up the petition.”
After sharing it on social media Thorp gained more than 150,000 signatures. “I never expected that kind of reaction,” she continues. “The response was overwhelmingly positive. People who’d been discriminated against, not just women, spoke up about their stories.
“The media focused on the shoes, but it was about how discrimination law works in this country. At the moment you have to pay £1200 if you want to take a case to tribunal – who can afford that? I tried to change the law on dress codes so others wouldn’t have to shell out for tribunals. I’ll be continuing to fight that.”
Lancashire-born Thorp’s reputation as a strong, opinionated woman makes her a canny choice for Corrie, with its history of tough heroines, and the actress is a lifelong fan. “I was drawn to the show because of the strong female characters. Growing up there weren’t many other programmes where you saw things from the womens’ point of view.”
Thorp’s character, Nicola Rubenstein, makes her debut in tomorrow night’s episode (12 June) , as the care worker for teen tearaway Seb Franklin. As Nicola organises the lad’s apprenticeship with builder Pat Phelan, she has no idea that this chirpy chippy is actually her estranged father – and neither does he…
“Nicola gives Phelan a business card and he recognises the surname. Realising her knew her parents, he’s struck by how much she looks like her mother. This sparks his memory and it tranpsires down the line that she is his daughter.
“Both Nicola’s parents are dead, but it turns out her whole life has essentially been a lie. Phelan had an affair with her mother, but had no idea about Nicola until he does some digging…”
Fiendish Phelan is one of the biggest baddies in soap, will his daughter be a chip off the old block? “She gives as good as she gets,” teases Thorp. “I describe her as warm, very caring but fierce. It will be a huge shock when she finds out who he really is, but she’d be stupid not to want to get to know her real father. I think she’s going to be the light in his life and show a very different side to Phelan’s character.”
This isn’t the first Weatherfield role Thorp has been in line for, however. “Two years ago I screen tested for Kate Connor,” she reveals (the part eventually went to Faye Brookes). “As a northern actress you’re always being asked when you’re going to appear on Corrie. I was so nervous at that audition I had to throw a set of keys on the Rovers bar, but I threw them so hard they flew off the end! Auditioning this time, I was a bit calmer…”
Thorp’s other roles have included small parts in Doctors, Father Brown and Doctor Who as Clara Oswald’s mum in flashback scenes – the actress went to school with Jenna Coleman who played her daughter.
Now she’s scored her self-confessed dream job on Coronation Street, Thorp is full of praise for the warm welcome Weatherfield has given her thus far – which is just as well, as she reveals she’ll be sticking around for a while.
“Everyone’s been great, Connor McIntyre is nothing like Phelan and has become my on-set dad. He put me at ease from day one, such a generous guy. It’s crazy, a few months ago I was shouting at the screen when Phelan attacked Andy – now I’m his daughter and I’m having lunch in the canteen with Dev and the Platts!
“My first day on the street itself I was just in awe. And I have said to costume is it okay if my character doesn’t wear high heels just yet… They said that was fine, it’s really difficult to walk in them on the cobbles anyway!”
You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of Coronation Street below.