Transgender soap star Annie Wallace’s pride and joy over Scottish Bafta nomination

annie-in-parkFrom the Sunday Mail – 30th October 2016

SOAP star Annie Wallace can’t hide her delight about her Scottish Bafta nomination.

She is incredibly proud and more than a little emotional to be competing for the Best TV Actress gong along with Ashley Jensen and Caitriona Balfe.

The 51-year-old, from Aberdeen, who plays headmistress Sally St Claire in Hollyoaks, is the first transgender star to be nominated for a Scottish Bafta.

Annie admits the honour is extra special after years of rejection from society as a transgender woman.

She said: “It is most unexpected and has hit me for six. To know that people are watching and appreciating your work is an incredible feeling. To be given the nod from my homeland makes me very proud.”

Annie landed the role last year – just a few weeks after coming out as trans – and became the first trans actor to be cast in a soap.

She said: “Up until last year I was playing non-trans roles but when I turned 50, I decided to apply for an acting workshop at Hollyoaks, organised by campaign group All About Trans.

“I saw a lot of changes going on in the world and realised trans actors were being embraced instead of rejected, so I came out, auditioned and got the role of Sally St Claire.

“It’s the best decision I have ever made. I love the character and so, it seems, do the viewers as people keep coming up to me in the street and telling me.

“Hollyoaks has always been forward-thinking and having my character accepted in the soap shows that trans people are just like everybody else and should be accepted in society.

“Yes, my transgender is a part of me but it doesn’t define me. Everybody has the right to be themselves.

“Fortunately attitudes are changing thanks to programmes such as Hollyoaks, which tackle LGBT issues head on.”

Annie, who transitioned when she was 24, is the real-life inspiration for Coronation Street’s Hayley Cropper. She now lives in Manchester but has vivid memories of the difficulties she faced growing up in Scotland.

She said: “I was on holiday and playing with some little girls in a playground at Butlins in Ayr when I was five and knew I was different and identified myself with being female.

“I spoke to my mum once about it when I was eight but got such a bad reaction that I didn’t speak to anyone again until I was 24. I learned quickly it wasn’t a subject people wanted to understand.

“Primary school was OK but my time at secondary school was horrific. There is plenty of help for teenagers nowadays who are struggling with gender issues but not back in the 70s.

“After I left school, I moved away from home and started treatment. I couldn’t face my mum and dad but my sister was really supportive and I had some great friends.

“Back then, treatment like that was very rare. I remember a doctor asking if I minded medical students coming in to watch. I said, ‘No’. I understood why he asked as everyone has to learn but the experience was traumatic enough without more onlookers.

“The treatment lasted two years and took its toll on me both physically and mentally. I’m so glad there is more public and peer support for people who are transitioning now. Back then, it was a case of the doctors just making it up as they went along.”

Although her mum got used to the idea of her being Annie, her dad refused to see her for 15 years.

She added: “My mum was shocked but came round fairly quickly but my dad didn’t. He would say hello when I phoned home but would make himself scarce if I visited the house. I didn’t see him for 15 years. He was a proper Doric man who only saw things in black and white.

“In 2006, he had a health scare and discovered his own mortality. He invited me for Christmas and treated me the same as he had always done.

“He died in 2014 and never got to see my success as an actress. I am forever grateful we had our reconciliation as I don’t know how I would have coped psychologically if I hadn’t.”

Annie always wanted to act but as her family had no money for drama school fees, she went into computer science, specialising in audio visual, which allowed her to work in the arts.

In 2008, she was working in computer repairs when she was approached by the producers of Coronation Street to see if she would help with the authenticity of Julie Hesmondhalgh’s transgender character Hayley.

Annie, who won Celebrity of the Year at this year’s National Diversity Awards, said: “They got in touch with me after I wrote to the Radio Times praising the soap for tackling the issue.

“I joined the show in April 2008 as Julie’s voluntary adviser, sharing my feelings and experiences so she could make Hayley as realistic as possible.

“We got on really well and it was Julie’s character’s death last year that was the final push I needed to come out as a transgender actor.”

Former Corrie actress Julie has always cited Annie as her inspiration for Hayley.

She said recently: “Annie helped me to believe that I was on the right track. Even if I wasn’t representing every trans person in the country, I was representing her.

What she did with the writers and the researching was absolutely vital.

“So much of Hayley was based on Annie. They share the same birthday and she has many of Annie’s characteristics – such as her love of rock music. I owe Annie so much.”

She said: “I was gobsmacked when I heard MSP Ross Thomson had raised a motion in parliament congratulating me on my nomination. It has got huge cross-party support. What an honour.

“I’m looking forward to coming to Scotland for the Baftas next weekend and can’t wait to meet the other nominees. To be up against Ashley is a real honour.

“I’m not fussing too much about what I’m wearing. I’m not a girly girl so it will a trouser suit, glitzy top and jacket.

“The last 12 months have been an exciting rollercoaster and the Baftas will be a lovely climax. This has to be one of the best years of my life.”