Coronation Street’s Gail Rodwell has a brush with the supernatural next week when clairvoyant Rosemary Piper tells her she has a message from beyond the grave from one of her dead husbands. With so many deceased spouses to choose from (four of the Weatherfield widow’s exes are dead), Gail’s curiosity is aroused and she organises a session with the psychic.
Rosemary reveals it’s husband number three, serial killer Richard Hillman, who is communicating from the ‘other side’, but what does the gruesome ghost want with Gail?
“Richard’s message is genuinely disturbing,” reveals award-winning actress Sophie Thompson, who arrived on screen as Rosemary this week. “Obviously this guy was not very nice and affected Gail’s life profoundly. To even hear his name must chill her bones. She wants to know more, but at the same time she doesn’t – there are very mixed feelings.”
Gail eventually bites the bullet and books more time with Rosemary to get to the root of Richard’s presence, and is stunned when she’s told the homicidal Hillman has put a curse on her family! Promising Gail she can exorcise the demon of Tricky Dicky, for the right price of course, viewers may start to question if Rosemary is telling the truth or taking vulnerable Gail for a ride…
“Rosemary is a mysterious bird and purports to be psychic and have this information,” considers Thomspon. “Who knows if her gifts are genuine? Audrey and Gail are responding to her as a true creature. She’s only giving so much away and seems curious and vague.”
Whether Rosemary is the real deal or not will play out over Thompson’s guest stint on the cobbles which is set to run until at least May, but the actress has embraced the spooky side of the character in her preparation for the part. “I did watch quite a bit of Psychic Sally!” she laughs. “I have a friend who’s a professional psychic. I have a healthy respect for the whole thing but keep my distance from it because I think the sixth sense is something that is sort of there in a kind of Pagan way.
“I’ve bumped into a few ghosts in my time, I think. I had a very weird experience in the dressing room corridor at the Bristol Old Vic which is meant to be haunted. There are lots of things that can’t be explained in life, and I quite like that.”
Thompson’s talent for breathing life into quirky, comedic characters over her distinguished career, most famously in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral and BBC4 sitcom Detectorists, make her ideal Corrie casting, as does her obvious love for the show. “I literally feel like I’ve won some sort of prize,” she whispers, her sheer delight evident. “My first day was in the salon with Sue Nicholls (Audrey) and I was so happy, I got a bit giddy.
“I always loved being immersed in that world where fabulous ladies in brilliant hats drink milk stout in the Rovers. I’m only sad Rosemary isn’t wearing a headscarf and carrying a duster like Hilda Ogden, but I’m channeling that kind of spirited Corrie bird we all know and love.”
It’s not the first time in soapland for Thompson, who memorably played Phil Mitchell’s unstable fiancee Stella Crawford from 2006-2007, who subjected his son Ben to physical and psychological abuse. “Joining a soap is like getting on a moving vehicle, like those old buses where you’re hanging onto the post as you jump on with your legs flying out behind!
“I’m very grateful for having that experience at EastEnders to get over the initial frights of a soap filming schedule. You have to try and look dead calm and not let the side down. I couldn’t have been luckier that my Corrie story is with Gail and Audrey, these wonderful women.”
Thompson’s time is finite for the moment, but are there plans to make mysterious Rosemary a permanent fixture in Weatherfield? Perhaps she could rent some premises in the newly-unveiled Victoria Street extension? “Who knows?” she grins. “At the moment I’m counting my lucky stars I’m here now and enjoying how the story unfolds. You don’t know what’s coming next – a bit like life – and then you get the scripts.
“Helen Worth (Gail) talked about that and she said she likes taking things as they come because it’s more like real life then. I thought that was very wise. But you’ll have to wait and see what else we find out about Rosemary…”
You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of Coronation Street below.