Melanie Hill isn’t one to lament the past, but admits there’s one mistake she’s still kicking herself over.
“It was when my agent said, ‘I’ve got an interview for a new series set in an office and it’s going to be improvised a bit,’” reveals the 53-year-old.
“I went, ‘Oh, I don’t like the sound of that’ and didn’t go for my interview.”
The show turned out to be The Office, which went on to win a horde of awards and make huge stars of Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Martin Freeman, following its launch in 2001.
“It’s like one of those kill me now moments!” laughs Hill.
But then, when a show does appeal to the actress: “I’ll risk it and go for it,” she exclaims.
“I did an episode of Merlin and had an arthritic hip, and risked getting on a horse. It paid off, because I got the job.”
Hill has since had a hip replacement, which will come in handy for all the bending and kneeling she’ll be required to do for her latest role as Cathy, a keen gardener who strikes up a friendship with fellow allotment owner Roy Cropper, on Coronation Street.
Although Hill’s been working on stage and screen for 30 years, and was recently seen in ITV’s Cilla, she admits the screen test for Corrie was “probably the most nervous I’ve been, because it’s so iconic. I really wanted to get it, so it meant a lot to me.
“My daughters love it but my mother’s the best, she’s chuffed to bits,” laughs Hill, who’s mum to Lorna, 27, and Molly, 23, from her marriage to the actor Sean Bean, which ended in 1997.
Neither are interested in the industry “and I’m quite happy about that”, remarks Hill. “You do have to have a thick skin and be quite tough. I don’t think they would be able to withstand that side of being told you’re too fat or too old or too whatever to get a job.”
The actress is aware there’s going to be a lot of interest in Cathy, given she’s the first woman Roy shows any sort of interest in since the death of his partner Hayley, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh, in January last year.
“She was so well loved and the fans felt it so much, which is why I’m gradually introduced, and as a friend,” explains the actress. “I think there’s going to be a few problems being accepted by people (on the street, too.)I’ve had a few names mentioned where there will be barneys.”
Like Roy, Cathy, who she describes as someone who “talks a lot out of nerves and is quite ditzy”, has been widowed.
The actress is remaining tight-lipped as to whether she can predict romance.
“Who knows, they’re both single but it depends on a lot of things. Cathy’s very shy herself and it’s an interesting character, because there’s more to her than meets the eye. You think you’ve got her down but then she doesn’t want Roy to go back to her house and see where she lives – that’s going to become interesting.”
As for working with David Neilson, who’s played Roy since 1995, she couldn’t be happier.
“He’s wonderful to work with. That’s the first thing people said to me when I got in the building, ‘Oh my God, you’ll love David’ – and that’s without exception. He is adorable and nothing like Roy.”
As soon as she was cast, Hill found herself a place in Manchester. “It’s important to me to be comfortable with where I am. I don’t want to commute up and down and it’s great to have that space,” says Hill, who hails from Sunderland but has lived in the south since studying at Rada.
In the mid-Eighties, she popped up in TV series Juliet Bravo and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet before taking over from Gilly Coman in 1989 in the Liverpool-based Bread. The sitcom ended in 1991 but she’s still remembered for playing the overprotected daughter Aveline.
“It’s unbelievable,” she says, although the role she’s most recognised for is Maggie, from the long-running school drama Waterloo Road.
“I think it’s because the kids love it, and they’re the ones who run after you and tell you.”
The show ended in March after nine years. “The fan base was so loyal, I did feel sorry for them,” says Hill, who’s primed herself for being approached on an even greater scale when she makes her Corrie debut.
“It’s getting recognised when you’re having a bad day – you feel rubbish and someone’s chasing you – that isn’t very nice,” she admits. “But then, I don’t really go out much. I get a curry, watch a bit of football and go to the pub. I’m quite simple and keep myself to myself.”
Coronation Street airs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights on ITV
Melanie Hill makes her debut on Monday, April 20