Corrie's Georgia Taylor and Jane Danson on 20 years of the Battersbys: 'We kind of clung on to each other'
Imagine 20 years as a Battersby! Corrie stars Jane Danson and Georgia Taylor chat about how far Leanne and Toyah have come
Hard to believe, but on the fourth of July, it will be exactly 20 years since the Battersby clan pitched up on Coronation Street. Georgia Taylor and Jane Danson – better known as sisters Toyah and Leanne – share their memories from back in the day, and reveal their hopes and dreams for their famous alter-egos...
Congratulations on your anniversary – does it feel like 20 years since you joined Corrie or does it feel like yesterday? Georgia: "It doesn’t feel like yesterday, but then 20 years seems like a huge amount of time. We were filming recently in a set that had that awful picture of me and Jane from our first ever Battersby photo shoot. I've got the hot pants on, and she's got the bleached bits in her hair. When I look at stuff like that, I don’t feel that it’s me." Jane: "It's a really weird one. So much has happened to Leanne and so much has happened to me that I think 'Oh my God, 20 years. That’s forever ago!'"
Will you do anything to mark the occasion? Georgia: "We’ve been joking about maybe recreating one of our classic Toyah and Leanne photo shoots and putting it on Twitter - so watch this space!" Jane: "I might even put the streaks in my hair! Thankfully, you can take them out now, whereas before, you had to live with them for about six months."
Given the initial, negative response to the Battersbys, are you surprised that you’re still here? Georgia: "I signed up for five months, and I never thought it would go on. I just thought: 'I’ve got five months on Corrie, that’s amazing!' and I took each day as it came. To be honest, the initial response didn’t bother me massively, because it’s what the producer at the time, Brian Park, wanted – he was like 'I want you to be the family that everyone hates.' Although I was surprised how much people hated us, I didn't think: 'Oh, they're gonna sack us because we're not popular.'" Jane: "We hadn't even filmed a scene and people hated us. They'd created this media spin. Of course, when we came onto the cobbles, we were really OTT. But as the family separated and became entangled with all the other characters, people warmed to us. You saw Toyah’s vulnerabilities and Leanne’s weaknesses, and how fractious Les and Janice were with each other. So within about three months, the viewers were quite excited by this new family."
Do you remember much of your first day? Georgia: "I remember the night before more. Jane and I stayed in a hotel in Manchester because we had to be at the studios for 7am. We'd met each other because we'd auditioned together and done photo shoots and press, but we weren't best mates. I remember we went to Pizza Express. I’d never been to one before, and I thought it was dead posh!
"Jane had been working as an actress since she was 11 and she had her own car, and I thought she was the bee’s knees. I even copied what she ordered. She said: 'I’ll have the American and a diet coke' and I was like 'Me too!' And then we got up early the next morning and did our first scene in Freshco's - or it might have been Bettabuys then. There was a big cardboard cut-out of Alma, and Leanne and Toyah drew a moustache on her." Jane: "I remember more about the first day than I do about a few weeks ago sometimes. We were filming on a Sunday, and we were together all day, anticipating what was about to happen - not just the job but everything else that came with it. Georgia was in the middle of her A Levels, so it was a tough time for her because she had exam pressure as well. We really bonded. Even though I’d done a few TV bits, I’d never experienced the attention that we were about to get."
Can you remember your first line? Georgia: "It was 'Dad? Happy birthday.' But actually, that was a mistake because it should’ve been 'Les'. Toyah never called him 'Dad,' she always called him 'Les'. Maybe because it was his birthday, she made a special effort." Jane: "'What took you?' It was on the street, because in our first scene, in Frescho's, we didn't say anything. My voice was really high-pitched then!"
Watch Toyah and Leanne's 1997 Corrie debuts:
What was it like being thrust into the limelight? Georgia: "There were a lot of things that we went through that maybe Vicky Entwistle (Janice) and Bruce Jones (Les) didn’t, because as the two young girls, we were doing photo shoots, kids’ TV shows and going to London to be interviewed. As much as Jane had worked as an actress before, she hadn’t worked on anything with that level of profile, so we kind of clung onto one another. Whatever happens, we will always have those shared memories, and no one else in our Battersby bubble will ever quite understand what we went through together. That cemented our friendship, without a doubt." Jane: "You can’t change history, and we’ve always got that bond. We were kids - 17 and 18. It was such an exciting time, professionally and socially. We were in situations that we wouldn’t normally have been in, but we went through it together. So if we were feeling vulnerable or not sure, we always had the other one to help us out."
Have you kept any memorabilia from back in the day? Georgia: "Early on, my mum kept a lot of magazine clippings from the TV Times and teenage mags, but I think she gave up pretty quickly because of the sheer volume of it. I hated any picture of myself, so I wasn’t going to be making a scrap book. But Jane’s kept quite a lot of stuff, and every now and again, she’ll find something when she's having a clear out, and Whatsapp it to me. She’ll be like: 'Oh my God, what is that outfit?' I can laugh about it now, but at the time, I found it quite stressful." Jane: "I’ve got loads of TV Times covers. I’ve got a little dressing room at home that I made for my eyes only, so I’ve got covers and photo shoots with all the different hairstyles over the years. It’s memories of growing up on screen."
Toyah and Leanne Battersby in 1997
What would be your advice to your younger selves? Georgia: "I’d have probably tried to make myself relax more. Photo shoots were very difficult for me. I used to be very hard on myself - I think you are when you're 17. I’d probably say: 'Don’t stress about it! It’s a daft thing that you’re doing. People will look at it, and they’ll be eating their fish and chips in it next week.' I'd also say: 'You are allowed to say no to things.' We were never forced to do anything, but back then, I thought I had to say yes to everything. I was so grateful to be working, I’d do anything. And I wish I’d kept a diary because there are probably lots of hilarious anecdotes that I wish I’d written down." Jane: "I was a bit more uptight then – I think the whole attention thing scared me. You’ve not got the life skills to be emotionally equipped for it, have you? Someone showed me an old photo of me and Georgia recently, and I’d thought I was really fat back then. We were slightly fuller in the face, but we looked absolutely fine. I was like 'What was I worrying about?'"
What have been your favourite storylines from the past 20 years? Georgia: "I loved all the stuff with Spider when Toyah became an eco warrior – that was when we saw a real shift in the character. I think when you are a teenager, you are looking for direction and you soak things up like a sponge – and she really did. And I loved it when Ken Barlow tutored her.
"Jumping to now, I love working with Chris Gascoyne (Peter). You don't get to rehearse at Corrie, so when we’ve got a bit of down time, we’ll often go into a quiet room and workshop our scenes. It’s nice to work with someone who has a similar work ethic." Jane: "I've never laughed so much in my whole life as I did when I worked with Bradley Walsh (Danny Baldwin). I was pregnant at the time, and I was the size of a house. The tricks they came up with to hide my bump! The best one was when they had me carrying a box of knickers at Underworld, and they cut a hole in the side for me to put my bump in! I also loved it when Leanne had the affair with Nick and the subsequent consequences of that with the tram crash and Peter nearly dying. And I’ve loved all the stuff with Ben Price, who plays Nick."
What do you think makes a Battersby a Battersby? Georgia: "I think when it comes to family, they are really loyal, and they will stick up for each other. Toyah was probably the softest of the four and didn’t have as many hard edges, but if anyone crossed her family, she would be on them like a ton of bricks, and that hasn’t changed. We saw that recently when Toyah and Leanne confronted Chloe. When we were filming those scenes, we weren't sure how we felt about it, but people went mad for it! And there's humour as well. Toyah and Leanne love each other, but they can really take the mickey out of one other." Jane: "I think Leanne’s the eternal teenager, and still gets a bit stroppy now and again. She’s not quite as bad as she used to be, but that will always be in her. They were all so feisty when they came in, and they didn’t take anything from anybody. They’ve always had to fight for survival. Things didn’t always go right for them, and for Leanne, to a point, that’s still going on."
If you were still on the cobbles in another 20 years time, what would you like Toyah and Leanne to achieve? Georgia: "If Toyah can’t have a child, I’d love her to find something else that she can put all that energy and love into, because she is a very compassionate person. Maybe she could get back into her volunteer work. Or maybe she could open an animal sanctuary. Oh my God, I’d love that! I’m putting that out there! That would be amazing!" Jane: "At some point, I would like Leanne to have some happiness. I think she needs somebody really strong who will look after her, because she’s always doing the looking after in relationships. I think a character like Cain Dingle in Emmerdale would be good. He’s naughty but dead strong, and he’d give as good as he gets!"
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When she is not writing about soaps, watching soaps, or interviewing people who are in soaps, she loves going to the theatre, taking a long walk or pottering about at home, obsessing over Farrow and Ball paint.