"I suppose foxy, feisty characters are now my speciality..."
Chatting to Catherine Tyldesley is a pleasure. She is down to earth, calm, generous, genuine, natural and charming. With Cath there is no pretence, no bullshit – she is so Salford.
Cath laughs when asked if she has Salford roots..."My family is rooted in Salford like a solid rock. My grandad on my mum's side, James, was a member of Salford Lads Club down in Ordsall; his best mate was Albert Finney. Grandad was a Salford Reds fanatic and was a bit of an all rounder sports wise and played football for Man United B team...
"...He was also a fantastic singer; people often told him he sounded like Billy Eckstine" she sighs; then continues "Apparently on stage grandad was a tremendous performer but he was very nervous beforehand. I think today they may have diagnosed him with dyslexia or something of that nature because he was so nervous in case he forgot his words or got them all mixed up."
Like many Salford children Cath was born in St. Mary's Hospital in Manchester. Her parents and both sets of grandparents were all Salford born and bred, in Weaste and in Walkden. When she was very young her family decided to emigrate to Tasmania, following in the footsteps of grandad James who had previously gone to live 'down under'. They did not stay long and were drawn back to Salford.
Has she ever researched a family tree? "No but my dad has. I'm sure he would love to talk to you about it. His great uncles were Ernest and John Tyldesley, who were obviously gifted and respected Lancashire County cricketers; there is a suite named after them in Old Trafford – the Tyldesley Suite." After pausing Cath then throws in, "Oh and Michael Vaughan the former England cricket captain is my second cousin."
Cath agrees that her family were a significant influence on her development..."Yes, yes of course. My grandparents passed on their values and their moral compass to me. My great grandma, Lillian, was one of fourteen children, typical of that generation of Salford families. She was really chuffed when she got her telegram from the Queen when she reached 100. She was an absolute trooper and believed in good old fashioned manners and principles, like helping out family and neighbours."
Cath also believes that where she grew up influenced her career..."There is a great sense of community in Walkden. I think a lot of that is fostered by its schools. I went to Christ The King Primary and St George's High School.
"St George's was so important to the community" she adds "We loved that school, and it is sadly missed. As well as the schools there are always community events in Parr Fold Park. I lived in Roe Green for a few years and again there is a very strong sense of community there."
Again Cath's family returned to our conversation as she proudly told us that "In Roe Green, actually on the Green, there is a brass plaque which commemorates our two great uncle Lancashire cricketers. Other members of the Tyldesley family built some of the houses in and around Roe Green...I suppose Salford is made up of a group of villages or small communities which have grown to become one city."
The topic of history obviously intrigues Cath, "I have acted in several period dramas and love doing the research into the time, the people and the history. Locally, I found out that on the A6 in Walkden there was an ironworks called the Eiffel Foundry – so much iron and steel was needed to build the Eiffel Tower in the 1880's that they came to Walkden to buy iron and steel and other materials to use in the construction."
Cath then begins to talk more about her career and whether her schools had helped steer her in the right direction. "Oh yes, Mrs Eckersley at Christ The King was very supportive and even at that early age encouraged me to be a performer. Then later at St George's, Mr Lavallee and then Mr Harte gave me the freedom and encouragement to put on performances.
"They were very supportive and encouraged all pupils to be creative and to aim high" she adds "Drama was not on the curriculum at St George's when I was there but the Head of English produced some sketch shows and mini plays during the year and, especially at Christmas, I always got involved."
"At Pendleton College I so enjoyed the drama course – fantastic tuition, great facilities and its own theatre named after Ben Kingsley, another Salford actor" she adds "It was there that I discovered I really enjoyed writing scripts and producing and directing shows.
"At that time I attended a theatre school in Little Hulton where I first met Karen Burns who tutored me for years. Karen was such an inspirational person – it was Karen who gave me the final push to become an actress. She is now the godmother to my son."
Cath's first acting break came with No Angels which was a brilliant nursing comedy drama produced by Channel 4... "It was whilst filming this that I first met Katherine Kelly who played Becky McDonald on Coronation Street. She has remained a truly great friend ever since – she is also a marvellous actress."
Her next TV role was in Lilies, a period drama set in Liverpool during World War I..."I lived in Liverpool for six months whilst filming Lilies – I absolutely loved living there and to be honest I was really disappointed to have to leave."
Cath moved on in a completely new direction starring in Scalliwaggers, a crazy BBC sketch based comedy programme. This series was side-splittingly funny in parts and some of its characters were as bizarre as those in the League of Gentlemen.
"I really loved doing Scalliwagers because it gave me the opportunity to show off my versatility as an actress – playing so many crazy and eccentric characters. I acted alongside Sally Lindsey, another Coronation Street stalwart."
When speaking about her role in the classic Shameless, Cath becomes very animated "Oh that was amazing! I loved that role. It was an episode where the principal character Frank had been committed to a mental institution...I played a patient in an almost catatonic state - off her face on medication. It was very challenging but David Threlfall is such a great actor. Like him, I love roles where I have to change my physicality and my voice"
Previously Cath had mentioned that she relished starring in period dramas, therefore she was delighted when cast in the film Florence Nightingale... "It was a fantastic experience because I just loved doing all the research.
"I suppose foxy, feisty characters are now my speciality" she adds "In my four month stint on Emmerdale I was spotted by producers from Coronation Street and happily six years later I am still on the Street!"
What would she be doing if not an actress? "Well I guess I would somehow make a living singing and gigging wherever I could. But I adore Coronation Street; it is such an institution, created by the late Tony Warren from just down the road from me in Swinton. So many of the front of camera and backstage crew are Salford born and bred. Funnily enough my mum and Alan Helsall's (Tyrone) mum were best mates, working in the same shop in Walkden."
"My character, Eva, is a wonderful character…feisty, dizzy, and ditsy, she really has the bunny boiler gene, and she has been cheated on so many times! She is used to using her sexuality to get what she wants. I have heard her described as 'a tart with a heart'. She is very caring and her more vulnerable side is coming out recently, I suppose she lives in her own bubble. I love that she wears clothes I would never wear – says whatever she wants - not like me - and has some serious backbone."
When asked who she is based on, Cath laughs out loud "Do you really expect me to answer that one? Well…maybe a couple of people…but largely she is a much younger me. I do call on my younger self for aspects of Eva's character…perhaps she was wrapped in cotton wool… she was a princess!"
Coronation Street is a national treasure and as a result Cath is recognized wherever she goes, "Most people are lovely…lots of selfies…I don't mind at all…I am a fan of Coronation Street myself and have watched it all my life…a Manchester institution like Man United, so it's an absolute honour to interact with people. I can still go out with my old St George's school mates and other friends and have a good night out!"
The public's attitude to actors can fluctuate between admiration and adulation to apathy and antagonism. Cath continues, "Well certainly my parents did not think acting was 'a proper job' until I invited them onto the set of Lilies…then they could not believe the pressure and the intensity…so many people on set….working 14 hours a day…deadlines and so many demands. They say 'If you do a job you love then you never work a day in your life' and that's true. I wake up every day thinking `Wow this is amazing'.
"My parents are proud of me but they find the attention I get weird" she adds "When I was pregnant a couple of years ago we were in Ronnie Scott's club in London. The paparazzi were outside and insistent on taking photographs…my poor dad got very upset as I was pregnant and they were pressing in on us – that incident opened his eyes to how it can be…he became very protective."
When asked if she had seen the interview with Chris Eccleston in the Salford Star, Cath states that she and Chris are patrons of The Christie Hospital and they recently presented awards at the Lowry Theatre... "These awards were for doctors who were researching and finding cures for cancer, it was such an honour. Now that is a proper job."
In the Salford Star interview Chris Eccleston had described acting as "fannying about"...Cath laughs, "Well I get what Chris is saying – it is a bizarre job when you analyse it."
The mention of The Lowry then steers our conversation to Cath's singing career; she launched her first album at The Lowry theatre last November..."Well I am proud of the album and it is going well, singing has got to slot in around Coronation Street – always acting first and foremost.
"Still, the album was a big tick on my bucket list" she decides "I promised my grandad I would produce an album when he bought me my first PA system. To perform in my home town, in The Lowry, was a real thrill. Grandad would have approved of the venue and I dedicated the performance to his memory. I had a great deal of support on the night, especially from Shayne Ward and Joe Webb. Joe is a well known pianist in jazz circles – I can't believe it when people say they have not heard of him - seek him out, he is awesome...the most amazing pianist."
The conversation then returns to Salford. "I am proud to live in Salford. I am not really political, although I did march on the streets to support my old school St George's when it was threatened with closure. I am lucky to have a voice on social media to help local charity and promote what is important.
"When I look at Salford, it is a city which is constantly flourishing" she adds "Things are changing so fast. It is important though to get the balance right and I hope places like Salford Lads Club will be there forever. It is really important to hang onto built heritage. Salford people are so talented and creative. The talent Salford people bring to Media City in front of and behind the camera is something to be proud of.
"Salford has produced many famous dramatists and actors...Walter Greenwood, Shelagh Delaney, Albert Finney, Ben Kingsley, Robert Powell, Chris Eccleston...when I was in Holby City with Robert Powell my Mum was so thrilled, because he had played Jesus.
"I have taken advice from Chris Eccleston and follow his career closely" she explains "He went to the Central School of Drama in London. Central thought I was too young when I auditioned there so I went to the Birmingham School of Acting. I am such a homebird…..I know I will have to travel for work…but this is home."
As a young actress Cath has many years on screen and stage ahead of her..."I would love to work with Kate Winslet, Sheridan Smith, Maxine Peake, Suranne Jones and Chris Eccleston" she decides "Maybe Chris could turn up as Eva's Dad! Also I would love to work with the great directors and producers like Mike Leigh, Paul Abbott and Jim Cartwright.
"I told you earlier that I love period dramas….maybe play a young Princess Margaret. Playing Lady Macbeth would be on my bucket list. I auditioned for the Royal Shakespeare Company and chose to do a speech by Goneril in King Lear..."
Cath folds with laughter then continues "My gran used to say 'Go on Cath do that speech from Gonorrhea'."
Whatever Cath does in the future her feet and heart are firmly planted in Salford...
*As Cath was leaving, she asked who I was interviewing next. I told her I wanted to interview three other St George's pupils; Joanne, a Salford entrepreneur; or David the quiet Salford lad married to an acting superstar, son-in-law of a rock superstar and best friend to a global superstar…or maybe a young goalkeeper currently near the top of the Championship…
Words and photos by Pete Fisher