Coronation Street star Jennie McAlpine opens up on horrific trolls who called her fat and told her she couldn’t act

After nearly 20 years at the same job you might be forgiven for feeling a bit jaded. But for Coronation Street’s Jennie McAlpine, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

When the actress breezes into our photoshoot after an early wake-up call, she’s bubbling with friendliness and enthusiasm – quite appropriate considering her soap character’s name is Fiz.

She’s just as Corrie fans would expect her to be: genuine, warm and approachable. For someone who started out on the comedy circuit aged 13, her sense of humour shines through too. We saw proof of it when she won over more fans on 2017’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Today, referring to the outfit she’s travelled from Manchester to London in, Jennie jokes, “I’m not sure if double leopard print is fashionable, but if it’s good enough for Bet Lynch, it’s good enough for me.”

Since Jennie’s first appearance on the Weatherfield cobbles in 2001, she’s become a very familiar face on our TV screens. Poor Fiz Stape has endured more than her share of dramas, from her marriage to a serial killer to her daughter Hope’s cancer diagnosis. Thankfully Jennie’s life is, “far less dysfunctional and dramatic!”

You could say she has Corrie to thank for meeting her husband Chris Farr after they were introduced 15 years ago by her co-star Antony Cotton. Now married, they run a diner called Annie’s in Manchester and have two children – Albert, five, and 16-month-old Hilda.

Returning to work nine months after Hilda’s birth was tough for self-confessed homebird Jennie. But her passion for Corrie makes the trade-off worthwhile, even if it does require a juggling routine worthy of the Britain’s Got Talent golden buzzer!

Armed with a cup of tea and with a set of rollers in her hair, Jennie settles down as she takes a trip down Weatherfield’s memory lane and shares her experience of growing up in the public eye…

Can you remember the moment you found out you’d landed the role of Fiz?

Yes, I was standing outside Pizza Hut on Deansgate in Manchester when the call came through. I was 17 years old, working in Boots and doing drama workshops at college. I was only supposed to be in it for four episodes. I told my dad, “I don’t think I’ll be back,” but then they asked me to stay on and Fiz became one of Mike Baldwin’s knicker stitchers in the Underworld factory.

What was it like doing your first red carpet appearances?

I never wanted to be famous and I wasn’t interested in being stylish so I’ve never been that keen on them. It’s scary with all these people shouting your name. I always go “hiya!” and get caught on camera pulling a funny face, so I’m rubbish at them. I remember being with Antony Cotton [who plays Sean Tully] when this guy asked, “Who are you wearing?” Antony told me not to tell them but it was already out of my mouth – I was wearing a supermarket-branded dress. The guy’s face was a picture, but my supermarket dresses are always my favourite things in my wardrobe.

How does being in the spotlight make you feel now?

It gets more intimidating as I get older because I feel more self-conscious. I’ve always been more of a homebird so it just doesn’t come naturally to me. I borrowed some diamonds once for an awards do and I felt like such a fraud. I would never have worn them usually.

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Do you get imposter syndrome?

I’m definitely an imposter, but I’m in good company because I think half of the Corrie cast feel like that. We all live quite ordinary lives.

People assume if you’re famous, you must be super confident…

I’m quite shy. Some people are good at pushing themselves forward, but that’s not me. I was chatting on the red carpet once when Ricky Gervais arrived and this photographer suddenly knocked me over to the floor so they could get in my spot. I was fine with it. I didn’t jump back up and have a go at them. I was like, “Oh, that’s me off to the bar then!” [Laughs].

Do you ever get stage fright?

I used to want to do stand-up comedy and I played The Comedy Store in London when I was 13, but the thought of it frightens the life out of me now. Corrie has been like a comfort blanket for me. Mind you, I’ve just been on holiday and I know that when I go back to work I’ll get butterflies, like that feeling of going back to school. I feel really comfortable when I’m doing my scenes with Alan [Halsall, who plays Tyrone Dobbs] and the family, but when I go to another set that I’m not used to it feels a bit scary.

What was it like growing up in the public eye?

I’ve been Fiz for longer than I wasn’t Fiz. I wasn’t Fiz for 17 years of my life and now I’ve been her for nearly 20, so I’m about 93 per cent Fiz and 7 per cent Jennie! It’s a different world today with social media so I think it’s harder for younger actors and actresses. We don’t really know what’s going on in people’s lives and that’s why it’s so important to be kind.


Have you experienced trolling?

Yes I have. Things like, “you’re fat” and “you can’t act”. When I returned from maternity leave, people wrote, “Why has she come back?” It’s really not nice. Some of the comments you get on the online newspaper articles are horrid. Reading those is a road to somewhere you don’t want to be, so I stay away from them. It’s really easy to say “ignore it”, but there are times in our lives when we’ve lost people or we’ve just become mums and we’re more vulnerable. I go on social media but I don’t think I love it and I hope it becomes extinct by the time my children have grown up.

What are your personal Coronation Street highlights?

The friends I’ve made. I’m very close to Julie Hesmondhalgh, Suranne Jones, Katherine Kelly and Sally Lindsay, who all helped me out when I was a teenager. And all of my factory girls, plus Andy Whyment, Georgia Taylor, Alan, Maureen Lipman and our Chesney, [played by Sam Aston] who I still call “Little Sam” even though he’s much taller than me. Oh dear, I know I’ll have definitely missed people out. I’m very sorry!

Who makes you laugh the most on set?

Alan. He loves practical jokes but I hate them because I don’t like embarrassment or the idea of hurting people’s feelings. I go red really easily.

We’ve lost some great Corrie legends over the years – who do you miss?

Tony Warren, our creator. It was magical listening to his stories of the old days. Working with Liz Dawn and Bill Tarmey was incredible. And of course losing Anne Kirkbride was really tough but we had to come back in and keep working, like with any job. I did the same when I lost my dad [mental health campaigner Tom McAlpine who passed away suddenly in March 2017]. I haven’t spoken about this before, but I went back in and filmed scenes the day after he died. I knew that’s what he would have wanted me to do.


Did anyone on set know?

I told Alan what had happened and then he told everyone else. The producers were great, checking if I wanted to go ahead. It was two scenes in the Rovers. I’d cried the day before so to spend the morning laughing at work was quite cathartic. Also there was a new actor coming in and I didn’t want him to be messed around.

How did it affect you?

I hadn’t really slept the night before so I was pretty knackered afterwards. It took a lot out of me. I know other people wouldn’t have chosen to do what I did and that’s absolutely fine – we all react differently to grief. Even talking about it now is hard. He was 71 when we lost him and it was a total shock. Nobody expected him to die. Although he never got to meet Hilda, he met Albert and we talk about him at home all the time.

How are the children doing?

Albert’s in reception at school and he loves it. He knows I’m on telly but he’s not impressed. He’s more excited that his friend’s dad is a builder. I’ve been on CBeebies reading the bedtime story but Albert always wants to watch Jessica Ennis-Hill’s one instead! Hilda is already running and climbing and generally annoying her big brother. They couldn’t be more different. Albert is really patient. Hilda’s much giddier.


As a parent, how difficult was the recent storyline where Fiz’s daughter Hope was taken away by social services?

It was really upsetting for both Alan and I. I’d do anything for my children. You become like a lioness if they’re threatened. Poor Fiz loves Hope but she doesn’t always get that love returned. To hear your kid say “I don’t love you” must be awful.

After your secret wedding in 2017, are you and Chris tempted to renew your vows so your family and friends can witness it?

No. Do you think I’m awful for saying that? I love the idea of being a unit and being married but I don’t like being the centre of attention.

What makes your relationship work after 15 years?

We don’t have time to disagree! We’ve tried planning date nights but then we’ve cancelled them because there’s been a chicken in the fridge that needs using and a really good programme on the telly. Sometimes if we’re on the school run together we have a date on the bench just up from Albert’s school. It’s not very glamorous is it?

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Did you always know Chris was the one?

Antony Cotton introduced us and we pretty much clicked straight away. I was 21 at the time and Chris was working in catering. He’s really kind and we have the same sense of humour. He keeps track of anniversary dates and he’s very practical, too. We complement each other really well.

How many more years do you see yourself at Corrie?

It’s a brilliant job to have a family in because of the stability, but for all I know I might be for the chop at any time. I stepped away to do the jungle and I loved working with Rylan [Clark-Neal] last year on Supermarket Sweep so I’m very lucky that I get to do different things. Returning from maternity leave the second time after nine months away was a wrench and I could so happily stay at home all the time, but I love Corrie so I have no intention of leaving right now.

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