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Coronation Street’s Georgia Taylor on Toyah’s future: “She could go to prison for Imran’s murder”

Speaking exclusively to Johnathon Hughes, the star also looks back as she celebrates 25 years on the cobbles.

Big RT Interview: Georgia Taylor (ITV)
Published: Friday, 17th June 2022 at 9:00 am
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Toyah Battersby is the kind of Coronation Street character you can turn to in a crisis, a trained counsellor full of empathy and advice, a reliable rock to her family who does her best to fight for the underdog. Or at least she was.

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In a shocking turn of events, Toyah stands accused of murdering husband Imran Habeeb after his litany of lies were exposed. The poor woman’s world has been spectacularly wrecked, so how does Georgia Taylor, who plays her, feel about such an epic reversal of fortune?

“I think it’s brilliant, but if you told me this would happen two years ago I probably wouldn’t have believed you!” she laughs, speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com. “That’s the beauty of soaps, these u-turns can happen to characters who find themselves in situations that completely turn their lives upside down.”

That’s putting it mildly – Imran’s untimely death in a suspicious car accident has left Toyah widowed after just weeks of marriage, destroyed her long-held dream of becoming a parent, turned half the street against her and could see her jailed for murder.

At first it was unfathomable that Toyah intended to kill her own husband (despite what Adam Barlow says, but what does he know?), although ambiguity still lingers as to what made her drive headlong into a brick wall. Fragile Toyah’s state of mind is being called into question and a flashback proved frustratingly inconclusive – which Taylor insists is entirely deliberate, teasing there’s potentially more to be revealed about the controversial crash.

“Toyah is remembering little snippets then pushing them to the back of her head. In the aftermath she is confused and traumatised about what she’s been through, and it’s clouded her judgment and affected her decision making. We are still playing that sense of ambiguity and I’m leaning into the fact its quite chaotic in showing her grief and distress.

“Whether it was intentional or not, she was still the one driving and played a part in the death of her husband. Her guilt over that is not going to go away.”

Despite legal advice to claim diminished responsibility as she was upset after discovering Imran’s deceit in getting custody of his son from baby mama Abi Webster, tenacious Toyah is sticking to her moral guns and refusing to pretend she temporarily lost her mind in the hope it gains sympathy in court.

ITV

“She won’t use suicide as a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” explains Taylor. “As a trained counsellor she’s seen people at their lowest ebb, it’s underhand to make out she had suicidal thoughts when she strongly believes she did not get in that car with the intention to kill either her or Imran. That shows an extraordinary moral backbone, as it would be the easy option to get her off the hook.

“That allows me to hold onto the essence of who the character is which is useful in such a complicated situation. Now we’ll see what happens around her, and how others react.”

That includes the audience: the grey area of how much Toyah is responsible for the tragedy is dividing opinions off screen as well as on, as reflected among vocal fans on social media. “As a viewer you go on a journey with a character,” reasons Taylor. “You can love them in one episode then they do something that makes you think they’re an idiot!

“Sympathy is something that comes and goes as the story develops. As long as people are interested and entertained, even if it means they’re screaming at the TV, then we’re doing our job.”

Taylor is tough enough to take fan flack, having been blasted into Weatherfield a quarter of a century ago in a blaze of publicity as part of the ‘family from hell’. Yes, it really is 25 years (or at least it will be on 4th July) since the bolshy Battersbys had their iconic introduction to the Street and were instantly detested by the nation – which was the whole point.

“Corrie were fearless and didn’t care if we were hated,” recalls the actress. “They wanted us to be! You had Les headbutting a beloved character like Curly Watts practically on day one, Leanne and Toyah terrorising the likes of Mavis Wilton and Percy Sugden, it was no-holds barred! They only contracted us for five months to start with, so the four of us didn’t know if we’d last beyond that. We certainly didn’t take being there for granted.

“We came in when a new producer, Brian Park, was making a lot of changes. Some of the ‘old guard’ were written out and attention was moving to younger, newer characters, it was a transitional time for Corrie. There were big storylines like Free Deirdre which garnered massive attention from the public, the media and even in parliament!

“Looking back there was a huge shift in the culture generally around 1997, Labour came back into power with Tony Blair, Britpop was exploding, things were changing and we seemed to be in the eye of the storm.”

It was a baptism of fire for a shy 17-year-old, and Taylor is surprised how much she took overnight fame in her stride. “I was the last Battersby to be cast and was thrown in to try some improv with three actors who’d already met. If I had to do something like that now I’d be much more stressed! I was excited and couldn’t believe my luck.

“Everyone in the cast was lovely but I particularly remember Amanda Barrie (Alma Baldwin) chatting to me and Jane (Danson, aka Toyah’s sister Leanne) very early on. She was so warm and told us a few things to be careful of and look out for. We were just making a cuppa in the kitchen and she came over to us, which was incredibly welcoming.”

Coronation Street’s commitment to getting grittier during this era led to the soap tackling the issue of sexual assault for the first time. The storyline in which Toyah was raped but did not see her attacker rightly garnered critical acclaim for Taylor, but attracted criticism for sensationalising the subject.

“I felt privileged to be given the story and wanted to prove myself, but by keeping the identity of the rapist a secret they made it a ‘whodunnit’. That was in questionable taste and in all honesty I don’t think they would do it now, but it was over 20 years ago and you learn things.

“There was controversy, but people responded positively to the work I did which was encouraging and I won some awards which was lovely. Maybe on some level helped me a year or so later to leave and try other things.”

In 2003 Toyah moved to ‘That London’, allowing Taylor to spread her wings elsewhere including a memorable stint in Casualty as troubled doctor Ruth Winters. After more than a decade she was lured back to Weatherfield in 2016 to reprise Toyah as a grown-up. The character has evolved from cocky kid to a caring, decidedly calmer adult (at least on the surface), and even though her teenage years are behind her she’s about to get a reminder of those early days in the shape of Spider Nugent, Toyah’s first love who will make a return this summer.

Spider returns to Coronation Street (ITV)

The cheeky chappie eco-warrior’s sweet romance with the naïve schoolgirl is fondly remembered, not least by Taylor herself who is looking forward to reuniting with co-star Martin Hancock.

They were so innocent and very chaste, unusually for a soap!” she reflects affectionately. “Fans love those gentle relationships borne from a gentle, organic friendship, like Roy and Hayley, and recently with Nina and Seb. Spider celebrated Toyah’s principles and how she wanted to better herself, which her family made fun of. In a way he shaped the woman she’s become.”

Imran hasn’t been gone long, but Spider’s surprise comeback means everyone expects him and his old flame to pick up where they left off. Can he mend Toyah’s broken heart?

“He turns up at the most turbulent time in her life, so how will he fit in with this chaos?” questions Taylor, skilfully avoiding any plot spoilers. “She is still devastated at losing Imran and has never been about quick hook-ups, when she cares for someone she’s all in.

“Martin and I still have that chemistry and the characters share a huge history, which holds a lot of power. All I’ll say is: when a producer brings back an iconic character like Spider they’re not just going to rock up for no reason, are they?”

Read more Big RT Interviews:

Whatever the future holds Toyah is at a crucial turning point, and Taylor can’t completely disregard the prospect her alter ego may soon be behind bars…

“That is absolutely possible. If she does I really want a storyline showing her coping in prison so I could feel like I’m in Bad Girls! Just put me in some joggers and a sweat shirt and have me playing pool…

“If that doesn’t happen and she’s found not guilty it will be interesting to see how she rebuilds her life after this. There will be some people who will still suspect her, you’re never going to convince everyone. Either way, Toyah has a really long battle ahead of her.”

Visit our dedicated Coronation Street page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers. If you’re looking for more to watch check out our TV Guide.

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