Leanne Battersby (Jane Danson) is currently going through hell in Coronation Street as she deals with son Oliver’s life-threatening illness, but despite the heartbreaking circumstances there’s a part of me that’s thrilled to see the character at the heart of the show again.
In fact any big storyline for Leanne feels long overdue, having been criminally sidelined in recent years.
Not only is she a member of one of the soap’s most infamous families, she’s linked to practically every other heritage clan on the cobbles through husbands and children, survived numerous tragedies and is still full of untapped plot potential, not to mention that Danson is one of the strongest, most powerful performers in the ensemble.
So while we’re in for a rough ride as Oliver is diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, we trust the devastating storyline is in safe hands. Since Oliver’s conception after the random one-night stand with gormless Steve McDonald more than three years ago, Leanne seems to have spent too much time making Simon’s tea while the spotlight fell on her partner Nick Tilsley’s nefarious (and endless) business schemes.
As the eldest of the Battersby kids, who crashed their way into Corrie history almost a quarter of a century ago in 1997, Leanne has a long history on the cobbles since rocking up as a teenage tearaway with Ginger Spice dip-dyed hair and a gobby girl power attitude to match.
Over the years we’ve watched her grow up on screen and endure drug abuse, prostitution, fraud, abortion and miscarriage. Clearly it’s not been an easy life, but Danson has always found the vulnerability beneath her character’s steely core.
At her step sister’s side when the bolshy Battersbys became the neighbours from hell all those years ago was Toyah (or ‘Our Toyah’ as she’s affectionately known). A bit younger, slightly softer and a touch dowdier than her sibling, she blossomed into a quirky, principled presence famed for her eco-activism (she politicised Emily Bishop into a treetop environmental protest).
Similarly she went on quite a journey as she grew up, and was at the centre of Corrie’s first ever sexual assault plot in 2001.
She spent 13 years out of Weatherfield living in That London and returned with great fanfare in 2016, with Toyah running the Rovers with Leanne’s ex Peter Barlow and plunged into a year-long surrogacy plot.
Since then? Not much, other than smooching handsome lawyer Imran and offering occasional advice to other characters when the fact she’s a qualified counsellor is remembered.
Toyah too has been a victim of the curse of the neglected Battersby sisters, but thankfully this is about to change. Corrie boss Iain MacLeod recently admitted to RadioTimes.com the character had been underused for too long, and promises to rectify that with her becoming a big part of Leanne’s emotional storyline while also facing her own life-changing challenges which are impacted by nephew Oliver’s illness.
Like other iconic female characters who came to the street as naive young girls and became strong women in the face of life’s adversity, such as Gail and Sally, Leanne and Toyah are real and relatable because we know where they came from and what they’ve been through.
Those kind of characters are what Coronation Street was built on – and we’re right behind the Battersby sisters as they seize the spotlight once again. And not just because they can be quite scary when they’re rattled and we’d prefer to stay on their good side.
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