Although she’s far from the longest-running character on beloved soap Coronation Street, Jane Danson has had her work cut out playing ‘gobby’ Leanne Battersby for nearly thirty years
She barely looks old enough, but Jane Danson has spent the best part of three decades on the Coronation Street cobbles playing colourful Leanne Battersby.
From drug addiction, prostitution, insurance fraud and abortion to countless affairs, three weddings and two divorces, Leanne has given Jane’s acting muscles a thorough workout.
“Leanne is gobby and strong and been through a lot which has made her resilient. She has fire in her belly which has made her fun to play,” says Jane, 45. “I never imagined what Corrie would bring and I have had some great storylines in those 26 years.”
But Jane still has a long way to go to catch up with show stalwarts Bill Roache, 91, who’s played Ken Barlow since the first ever episode in 1960, and Barbara Knox, who plays Rita Tanner. Barbara, who joined in 1962 and is the world’s longest serving female TV soap star, celebrated her 90th birthday last year.
“It’s just incredible that they are both still working, isn’t it?” says Jane. “And they both look so young. Bill practically runs down the corridors at work! I grew up with them both as a viewer and actor and always feel safe with them around. They are so supportive, you can talk to them about anything.”
Jane was just 18 when she first set foot on the cobbles when the infamous Battersbys joined in 1997. Nothing could have prepared her for the spotlight when Leanne, her step sister Toyah, step mum Janice and feckless dad Les hit the street as a working class “family from hell”.
“The Street was in a very different place back then, with a small cast and long-established characters, then this rough family came in behaving terribly and everyone hated them,” she recalls. “People wrote to me all the time saying: ‘We hate you. Leave our street!’ I was just a girl from Bury who’d done a few bits of acting so as an 18 year old that was a big shock.”
“One day I was out at my local shops when an old woman hit me with her handbag and told me to ‘turn that bloody music down’ because Leanne had been shaking the cobbles with her big boom box! I became too scared to leave the house and had to be careful where I went out. I’m not gobby like Leanne but back then, for many viewers, Coronation Street was a real place. Nowadays with social media like Instagram, people get to see us as actual people and not just the characters, but the attention is still pretty intense.”
The mum of two now tries to use the attention fame brings in a positive way. She spoke to us at The Rockwell Community Centre on a council estate in Bradford, West Yorks, where she had presenting a National Lottery Award to Katie Mahon, 2023 winner of the Arts, Culture and Film category.
Mum Katie, 27, founded the Bloomin’ Buds Theatre Company at the centre after facing the stigma of being working class within the arts community, and it has now become a thriving arts and cultural community hub.
Growing up in Bury, Gtr Manchester, Jane describes her background as similarly working class – her dad was a bricklayer, her mum worked in a nursing home. “Money was tight growing up,” she says. “My parents couldn’t afford to send me to drama school in London and just finding the petrol to drive me to an audition was a big deal. It is definitely harder for working class kids.”
Jane was 10 when she enrolled in the Oldham Theatre Workshop, whose alumni includes Suranne Jones and Sarah Lancashire. She made her TV debut aged 11 in Alan Bleasdale’s gritty drama GBH before landing a role in kids’ drama Children’s Ward.
A part in ITV period drama The Grand led to her being spotted by Corrie producers and she was cast as Leanne, a role for which she has been nominated for countless awards.
It was at her very first British Soap Awards in 1999 that she met her husband, then Brookside star Robert Beck, who is currently back in rival soap Emmerdale as villain Harry. It was the stuff of fairytales as she’d had crush on Rob since she was 15 and had a poster of him on her bedroom wall.
Jane says: “It was from a soap magazine and Rob’s posing leaning against a brick wall. I didn’t just blurt this out on our first date but I eventually plucked up the courage to tell him, which we had a laugh about. And obviously it all worked out!” And she confesses she has kept the poster: “I’ve put it in a special memory box!” The couple married seven years later and share two boys, Harry, 17 and 14 year old Sam, and a labrador.
Leanne has also grown into a sensible mum, running the Viaduct Bistro with husband Nick. Her toughest storyline, came during the pandemic, when Oliver, Leanne’s three-year-old son from a one night stand with Steve McDonald, was dying from genetic mitochondrial disease. In vain, the pair started a legal battle to stop the hospital turning off his life-support machine. Such a sensitive story which affects real people comes with huge responsibility, says Jane.
“I’m proud we managed to tell a powerful story against all the odds,” she says. “Parents with seriously ill children would stop me in the street and tell me their story. That’s another thing that comes with the job, and aren’t always qualified for, but we helped raise awareness of this terrible disease.”
Away from the cobbles, Jane has taken part in reality show, Dancing On Ice, but could she ever see herself roughing it in the Australian jungle on I’m A Celebrity like her co-stars Simon Gregson and Sue Cleaver?
“Not for all the tea in China!” she grimaces. “I’d be terrible at everything. I hate heights, spiders, camping and I couldn’t eat the bugs. Hats off to them both but Simon is absolutely fearless.”
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