Michelle Collins is on the phone from the ladies’ loos at Granada. Fear not – she’s not actually using the facilities; it’s just one of the few places where she can find peace enough to talk about joining the cast of Coronation Street. Even her dressing room is a little noisy, on account of her daughter Maia’s presence. “It’s half-term,” she explains, “but everyone is making her feel welcome. Her, and me.”
As Stella Price, drafted in by Steve McDonald to take the reins at the Rovers, Collins’s character is immediately front and centre on the cobbles, so the warm welcome is just as well. Even before a tabloid leaked Stella’s secret connection to an established character, a new Rovers landlady would be newsworthy stuff, but Collins’s arrival is all the more exciting because she’s best known for playing Cindy Beale in EastEnders.
The soap transfer market was thriving before Collins swapped Walford for Weatherfield, but she is by far the highest-profile player to jump between soaps – and those mighty rivals especially.
“If I’d left EastEnders two years ago it wouldn’t have happened, but it’s been 13 years and I’ve done lots in between. But Cindy was such an iconic role that she does follow me around. I’m sure Coronation Street were concerned about taking that chance.”
And that chance was an opportunity like any other – one she had to audition for. “It wasn’t some overnight offer as a lot of people thought. I came in for a couple of screen tests and it went from there. If you’d said to me five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.”
Acknowledging the certain stickiness to the fame acquired when playing a significant soap character, Collins hopes that Stella lays Cindy to rest. “I wanted Stella to be as far removed from Cindy as possible. Stella is much more likeable – tough but with a good heart. And I’m different, too. I’m older and wiser and avoiding the peroxide. I see those pictures of Cindy and that bleached hair and… ugh!”
Of course, personality isn’t the only difference between Cindy and Stella. There’s also the variation in accent.
“Stella is northern!” Collins proclaims proudly. “I’ve had a dialect coach but, to be honest, you have to feel around and pick things up as you go along. Stella could have been southern, but that would have been a cop-out for me.”
Is accent an issue?
“I’ve not been seen for things because I wasn’t northern and that really annoyed me. That’s what happened with Candy Cabs: they just wouldn’t see me because I was southern.”
Graciously, Collins demurs when I ask if she’s now grateful for dodging that particular bullet and instead praises her industrious colleagues. “EastEnders was three times a week when I was there but this is five. If I hadn’t done something like this before, I’d be shocked.”
Not that Collins is frightened of hard work. “I’m 49 now and I’ve been working pretty much nonstop for the past 30 years. I consider myself a grafter and as a single mum, I’m the chief breadwinner in my family. The toughest thing at the moment is commuting from London, but you just have to knuckle down.”
As Stella is clearly designed to go some way to fill the gap left by the departure of Liz and Becky’s impending exit, there can be little doubt that Coronation Street has big plans for Stella, though Collins won’t be drawn on how long she’ll be in Weatherfield.
“I’ll be here for as long as they want me and for as long as I’m happy. I’ve got a good feeling though. It already feels like home.”