A household name for 13 years as Michelle Connor on ITV1 soap Coronation Street, Kym Marsh recently returned to long-running drama Waterloo Road season 11 playing down-on-her-luck dinner lady, Nicky Walters.
Nicky’s been struggling to make ends meet and, since the school changed its name from William Beswick to Waterloo Road, has been worrying about how she’ll afford new uniforms for her children: top boy Preston (The Bay's Noah Valentine) and his bolshy younger sister, Tonya (newcomer Summer Violet Bird). And, in this week’s third episode, Nicky’s family situation goes from bad… to worse!
In an exclusive interview with What To Watch, Kym — who graced the dance floor on Strictly Come Dancing 2022 — reveals more…
How would you describe Nicky, your character in Waterloo Road?
"Nicky’s lots of different things. She's very feisty and fiercely protective of her children, who always come first for her; she doesn't always get things right, but she tries her best. There's also a vulnerability to Nicky, which you see quite a lot as the series progresses, and she’s very funny; she's got a real funny bone. I enjoy playing her so much, because I never know which side of her we're gonna get from one episode to the next. She's a great character."
The realities of the current cost-of-living crisis are laid bare for Nicky and her family…
"Nicky's struggling so much with money. She'd lost her salon business during the COVID pandemic and she's been struggling to make ends meet ever since, working all the hours God sends to scrimp and save for her two children, son Preston and daughter Tonya. Kids are expensive — there’s always a school trip or something to pay for — and Nicky’s concerned about how much new school uniforms are going to cost. But she doesn't want her kids going without."
Does Nicky feel obliged to maintain that very British ‘stiff upper lip’?
"Nicky’s all about appearance, so she’s trying to pretend everything's alright, particularly to her children; she's trying to shield them so much, because she doesn't want them to know. She doesn't want to feel like she's failing them."
In this week’s third episode, Nicky’s secret is exposed when the bailiffs come knocking. How do her children react?
"Tonya is a bit intolerant of her mum, whereas Preston is more supportive. He gets that she's struggling and realises he needs to be a bit more grown-up than Tonya. When the bailiffs arrive, Nicky’s trying to maintain that everything’s gonna be alright. Even when the three of them turn up to school with their suitcases, she’s desperate to pretend there’s nothing wrong. She wants to convince herself more than anyone else."
With Nicky being a single parent, does Preston feel like the man of the house?
"Preston does feel a little under pressure; he knows his mum's going through it and he’s doing his best to be there for her. But, at the same time, today’s teens have their own pressures and Preston’s juggling a lot for such a young man. So he’s trying to support his mum while dealing with stuff himself."
What’s the dynamic like between Nicky and headteacher Kim Campbell? And what was it like working with Angela Griffin, who plays her?
"There are lots of differences between Nicky and Kim but also lots of similarities. Angela’s great — not only is she a brilliant actor but she’s also just a really good person. She's so joyous on set and makes you feel very at ease. Although we were on Corrie at different times [Angela played Fiona Middleton in the soap between 1992 and 1998], we laughed about certain things and, obviously, both of us have worked with Simon Gregson, who plays Steve, so we had that in common. I've still got so much love for Si. He's one of life's good people and will remain one of my friends, always."
Can you personally relate to Nicky’s situation?
"When I was a young mum I struggled with money worries. I had my first child, David, when I was 18 and my second, Emilie, when I was 21. During those early childhood years, there were times when being able to heat the home and put food on the table was a worry. We had a very tight budget and had to make tough choices. I was lucky enough to have my children’s father and a big family network to help and support me. But I know that isn't the case for so many people."
Why do you think now is the right time to bring back Waterloo Road?
"This show explores many things that are in the foreground of people's lives right now, whether it’s issues surrounding the cost-of-living crisis, the pandemic, racism or sexuality, there’s a lot in Waterloo Road that will resonate with those watching. Equally, when a show like this touches on baby loss or suicide, it's educating people without them realising it."
Did you enjoy school? Did you have a favourite teacher?
"I had a good time in primary school but, when I got to high school, I was bullied quite badly and didn't enjoy myself at all. My favourite teacher was Mr Arundel, he was amazing. He came to watch me in the first ever show I did, a musical, when I was 10. He was just brilliant."
You were 25 when you found fame on reality TV show Popstars, as one-fifth of pop group Hear’Say. What advice would you give someone starting out in showbusiness?
"My advice to anybody going into our industry is just to enjoy it for what it is, ignore what everyone else is doing, especially online comments from people that just want to bring you down. You're not going to please everybody all the time, and not everyone's gonna like you. That’s just life. I say this to my little girl, Polly, 11, all the time. As long as you’re having a good time that’s all that matters."
Speaking of good times, it looked like you had a ball on Strictly [Kym finished sixth with pro-partner Graziano Di Prima]…
"I really did! I enjoyed the glitz, the glamour and the sequins, I enjoyed learning a skill and I made a friend for life in Graziano. Strictly’s a wonderful thing and I’m so glad I did it."
Waterloo Road continues Tuesdays at 8 pm on BBC One.
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With over 20 years’ experience writing about TV and film, Vicky currently writes features for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week magazines plus news and watching guides for WhatToWatch.com, a job which involves chatting to a whole host of famous faces. Our Vicky LOVES light entertainment, with Strictly Come Dancing, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice UK among her fave shows. Basically, if it’s got a shiny floor, she’s all over it! When she’s not watching TV, you might find Vicky in therapy… retail therapy that is!
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