Waterloo Road star Kay Purcell is set for her best Christmas ever.
On Christmas Day, the actress, who grew up in Leyland with her adoptive parents June and Bob, will be back in her home town with all her family around her enjoying a big Christmas dinner - all thanks to the Charter Theatre!
They made the mother of three’s Christmas dream come true by asking her to play The Wicked Queen in our city’s seasonal panto, Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, fulfilling an ambition she had to appear on their stage since she began acting.
And it marks the success of her fight back after some difficult years in which she suffered a breakdown triggered by postnatal depression and divorce. She says: “It’s been a bit of a time. But I’m still here!”
Her illness began after the birth of youngest daughter, Indika, now six. Around the same time, she discovered her then husband had an affair during her pregnancy.
At the time, she was known to millions as feisty Cynthia Daggert from Yorkshire soap, Emmerdale and, at first, she tried to continue acting but eventually realised she needed to leave the profession she loved to recover.
She says: “I did two plays and a TV series and then came out. I had to go to work so it just got worse and I split up with my husband.
“It was basically the breakdown of the marriage, a baby and never wanting to be a single parent again. And it just caused huge family divides. Divorce never gets acknowledged because it not only breaks that immediate family but it affects everybody else.
“A lot of people were going, ‘Oh, he only had an affair and it was only this and it was only that.’ And I was like, ‘No, I was pregnant.’ And that then spiralled the breakdown which meant I came out of acting and reassessed my life. And I’m glad to say I’ve come back - and I’m doing it.”
As illness took hold, she found acting took too much of herself. She says: “That’s why I came out. I had to go through whatever it was I went through.When you’re having a breakdown, and I know numerous women that have done this, you lose sense of all proportion, who you are, what’s going on. All you can think about is getting through.”
“But as soon as I started feeling better, as soon as the fog started clearing, it was like, Ooh, I’ve got to get back to acting.”
A tentative call to her agent and within a week, she found herself offered the part of tough dinner lady Candice Smilie in prime time TV series, Waterloo Road. She recalls: “I was like, ‘Ooh God,’ and they said, ‘Well, it’s not a big part..’ and I thought, yes, it’s time now.”
These days, she is also known as social worker Gina Conway in children’s TV series Tracy Beaker. And she still finds herself getting recognised from her days in Emmerdale. She laughs: “It’s 10 years near enough since I was in Emmerdale and I’m still recognised!
‘Oooh, hello! Hiya, how are you doing?’ And I’m like, ‘Hello? I dont know who you are? And then they go, ‘Are you still working at Sainsburys?’ And I’m like, ‘I’ve never worked at Sainsburys.’ But they insist! I went out for a family meal when I was in Emmerdale, and we’re all eating and, next thing, two people just come up, join us and start chatting to me but as if I was Cynthia Daggert! But all my family were there, going, ‘Erm...’
“When I played Cynthia, I was being made homeless and I got letters from people offering to put me up, sending me money. And I was going, They’re sending it to Yorkshire Television. It’s really strange how people react to soaps.
Kay does not watch television herself and is stunned how many people recognise her. She says: “I literally couldn’t get over last year, being out and getting recognised for Tracy Beaker - But of course, it’s huge! It’s amazing when young children come over and they’re just like, ‘Oh, you’re Gina!’”.
Although she left Leyland aged 16, she returned around 11 years ago. She says: “I’ve done all the big cities. Now I want to be around my family. My parents are getting older and they’ve been amazing and I want to be there for them.”
Family is so important to Kay that she was actually calling her agent to say she had decided to drop panto this year in favour of spending a family Christmas when the Charter Theatre offer came. She says: “I was meant to do Wrexham and I was calling him up to say, ‘Listen David, I’m not going to do it. and he said, ‘Kay, love! You’re at the Charter Theatre in Preston!’
Kay Purcell plays The Wicked Queen in the Charter Theatre’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves from Tuesday December 7 to Sunday January 2. For tickets, call the box office on 0845 344 2012.