From the Manchester Evening News – 26 August 2015
The woman that inspired Coronation Street’s Hayley Cropper has spoken publicly about being transgender for the first time.
Annie Wallace was brought in to the show as a research assistant to Julie Hesmondhalgh – who played Hayley for 16 years – until she left the soap in January 2014. It was Hayley’s on screen death last year that was the catalyst for Wallace’s own coming out as transgender.
Wallace, who was working in computer repairs at the time, was approached by producers of the ITV show after she wrote to Radio Times and to Hesmondhalgh as a fan of Hayley, to help with the authenticity of the character.
The 50-year-old from Aberdeen, who joined the show in April 1998, was speaking on a panel at a Manchester Pride’s Superbia event – Transcript – which also included scriptwriter Damon Rochefort, Bruno Langley and Cucumber actress Bethany Black.
Wallace, who reflected that Hayley was ‘like a sister to her’, said: “It is still difficult for me to speak about it and at first trans activists were against Hayley.
“I spent two and a half hours with researchers having all of my hopes and dreams and fears put on cassette tapes.
“It was transcribed and given to all the writers at the time as their bible. I started looking at draft scripts. I wasn’t telling Julie how to play a character, this was just about detail and putting full-stops and crossing ts.”
Hesmondhalgh says Wallace was ‘absolutely essential’ for her portrayal of Hayley, especially with the huge secrecy surrounding the first introduction of a transgender character on the Cobbles.
The Accrington-born actress said: “When I was researching Hayley I couldn’t ask anyone in the transgender community because it was so top secret.
“I was able to do a bit of reading but this was 1997.
“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 has so many of Annie’s characteristics – like her love of rock music. I owe Annie so much.”
Hesmondhalgh also revealed that Hayley was originally only supposed to be a comedy character, alongside Roy, but it was the popularity of the couple with the public, that took everyone, including the soap’s writers, by surprise.
Reflecting on the couple, the 45-year-old said: “Corrie had a transgender character before it had a gay one.
“We played it for real and not for laughs. The most amazing thing happened when the public got behind it.
“There was a quick re-write and it turned into a real love story.
“What happened was telly magic and there was real chemistry between Hayley and Roy and me and David (Neilson) always got on so well.
“That was the beginning of social and political change, when a little woman in Accrington ASDA says “Nevermind that” to me when I’d said Hayley and Roy couldn’t get married because of the law. Hayley did that, she helped people change their prejudices. ”
Hesmondhalgh and Wallace are planning to write a two-woman show together about what Hayley has meant to both of us, which they hope to run at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
And Wallace, who is now an actress in her own right, has a big TV project in the pipeline.
Hesmondhalgh added: “We’ve spoken a lot about working together and how Hayley has changed both of our lives.
Annie has come from this shy computer fitter in Scotland to moving to Manchester and followed her dreams and now she’s just landed herself a massive role in something I can’t talk too much about but watch this space.
“I think this is a perfect end to the story. If I’ve passed Annie the baton, she’s run off into the distance with it and I fear this could end up as a solo show!”