Belfast Telegraph

From working behind the bar in his family's pub in Eglinton to the Rovers Return... meet the Northern Ireland actor who has ruffled feathers on Corrie's cobbles

Branwell Donaghey, who has enjoyed a starring role in the soap opera, tells Ivan Little about making his mother proud and his busy life in London with his wife and children

Branwell Donaghey as Jed in Coronation Street
Branwell Donaghey as Jed in Coronation Street
Branwell Donaghey as Jed in Coronation Street, squaring up to his love rival Robert Street
Branwell Donaghey with Kerri Quinn and Tristan Gemill in Coronation Street
Branwell Donaghey with Kerri Quinn and Tristan Gemill in Coronation Street
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

He's the convicted crook from Northern Ireland who's been punching and blackmailing his way through Coronation Street of late. But it isn't Jim McDonald. So it isn't.

No, the rogue with an Ulster accent who can turn on the charm as quickly as he can turn nasty is Jed Moss played by Branwell Donaghey from Eglinton near Londonderry.

And Branwell, who's 42, has been loving life on the cobbles.

While he has acted on the stages of the prestigious National Theatre in London and worked for some of the biggest directors in movies, Branwell knows there's nothing like a spell in Weatherfield to really catch the attention of the public... millions of fans who never miss an episode of the ITV series.

And Branwell likes the fact that his mum Betty back home has got a kick out of seeing her son in Corrie. He says: "It's really nice to do something that my mum has so much connection to. People have been stopping her in the street to talk about the Street.

"The popularity of Corrie back home is immense. Whenever I left to go to study at drama school in London everyone in Eglinton used to ask me if I thought I would ever get a job on Coronation Street. I would say that I lived in hope!"

The actor, who now lives in London with his wife and two children, was recruited by Corrie for the role of the estranged partner of Vicky Jefferies, played by Belfast actress Kerri Quinn.

"I got a call from my agent who asked me if I wanted to go up to Manchester to read for the part of Jed.

"I was immediately drawn to the character and when I was offered the role I thought 'happy days', because Corrie is such a massive part of TV culture and history," says Branwell, who compares his first day on set to a "whirlwind".

"You feel as if you know all the people you are meeting in the corridors, in make-up and on set but you don't know them personally, you've just grown up with them. It took some getting used to.

"Setting foot on the Street itself was surreal. I was thinking to myself 'this doesn't quite make sense'."

But Branwell says he couldn't have asked for a more welcoming response from the other actors on the soap, adding: "They were beginners on the Street themselves at one point and know what it's like to be a newcomer."

Branwell had never met Kerri Quinn before but in typical Northern Irish fashion they quickly discovered that they had a lot of mutual acquaintances.

"Kerri was great. She and the other actors that I worked with made me feel like one of the team. And I always think you work better if you are comfortable with the people around you. Some of our scenes were very intense and antagonistic because Jed was there to ruffle feathers."

Jed Moss, who made no secret of his chequered past as a burglar and a thief, had travelled from Northern Ireland to Weatherfield to try to rekindle his relationship with Vicky, who was pregnant by two-timing chef Robert (Tristan Gemmill).

He wanted her and their son Tyler (Will Barnett) to come back across the water to live with him.

But Jed and Robert were soon fighting, literally, for Vicky's affections and the Irishman blackmailed the chef before he turned the tables, threatening to bring in the police, and Jed scurried back to Ireland alone, fearful of what would happen if the long arm of the law caught up with him again.

Branwell says that the fast pace of working on Corrie was exciting.

"You have to hit the ground running," he adds. "I think it's the same for most long running serial dramas where you do your prep and make sure you know your lines because you have to be ready for your scenes. I loved the speed of it all.

"I enjoyed doing big scenes in their entirety and I think that comes from being a stage actor."

Branwell's contract with the Street is ending but he says he would love to see Jed coming back.

Fans of the soap have said on social media that they want him to return because there's so much scope for Jed to cause more Corrie chaos, especially as he has been able with his engaging smile to con other characters into thinking that he's a good guy.

Of course, the downside of having a high profile role in a soap can sometimes be the unwanted attention of over-zealous members of the public.

But Branwell says: "I haven't been recognised that much and no one has shouted at me to leave Robert alone, I'm glad to say."

Before joining the Corrie cast, Branwell had worked on a number of British TV shows like Casualty, Holby City and Doctors.

He's also had a couple of appearances as a UVF hard man in Peaky Blinders and he was in The Night Manager and Our Girl.

One of his most intensive jobs was on Titanic: Blood And Steel, a 12-part TV costume drama about the construction of the ill-fated ship in Belfast.

He played Harland & Wolff riveter and union representative Michael McCann, but the series had more success in the USA and Canada than it did in the UK, something that disappointed Branwell.

He says: "It aired on Netflix, which meant that people in Britain were able to watch it but it didn't get a major network run over here.

"I just wish more people could have seen it. It was a fantastic experience making it in Serbia and Dublin with actors like Ian McElhinney and Liam Cunningham."

Branwell did have a more substantial UK audience for another TV role, as Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeping legend Harry Gregg.

The drama, Surviving Disaster, about the Munich air tragedy, told the story of the Old Trafford club's last fateful journey home from a European Cup game in 1958.

Twenty-three people died but Gregg was the hero of Munich, rescuing a number of survivors from the wreckage.

"I never actually came face to face with Harry. But what he did, going back into the plane to save so many people, was well documented," says Branwell, who has worked with acclaimed directors Ridley Scott and Kevin MacDonald on movies Prometheus and Black Sea.

The cast for the former included Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba, while Jude Law was the big name star of the latter.

In theatre Branwell has also acted with the likes of Ian McKellen and Gillian Anderson.

Twenty-five years ago Branwell cut his teeth with the Ulster Youth Theatre, playing the title role in a production of Cyrano de Bergerac directed by David Grant.

Among his contemporaries on stage in 1994 were Enniskillen's Ciaran McMenamin and Dundonald's David Ireland, who has gone on to become one of the UK's most respected playwrights.

"I have been lucky to work on great projects with great people, and I feel very blessed with that," says Branwell, who is still a frequent flyer back home to visit his family and friends in Eglinton, where his parents owned the now-closed Donaghey's of the Hill pub, which, like the Rovers Return in Corrie, was a focal point of the village.

"Closing the pub was a heartbreaking decision for my parents, who had been there since 1969," he says.

Sadly, Branwell's father Lawrence died three years ago and it devastated him.

"I was going back and forward to and from London to see him. And I really reconnected with home, which I miss terribly.

"I used to work with my folks behind the bar, which was an integral part of my life."

Now Branwell's life is a very varied affair. As well as acting he also works sometimes behind the scenes as a technician in West End theatres.

But he is also an in-demand personal trainer and fitness coach in Surrey and just outside London.

"I coach group exercise and I do one-to-ones. I also design exercise and nutrition programmes. Fitness has always been a major part of my adult life and the thing about being an actor is that you have to have a lot of strings to your bow.

"When you're busy in acting jobs you think: 'What could be better than this?' But it's not always like that. And even when it's all running great there's no guarantee that it will continue to be like that.

"Things can change overnight. Sometimes I have found myself questioning what I do but I am glad that I have always stuck at acting. It's what I love."

From time to time Branwell helps his wife Lorraine Chappell with acting workshops in a theatre club near their home for youngsters between the ages of five and 12.

Branwell met Lorraine, who also runs a ladies' choir, when they were both performing in the National Theatre in South Pacific in 2001.

The couple have two young children, Braden and Lyra.

Looking after them and juggling all their other interests leave Branwell and Lorraine little spare time on their hands, and he says: "There's never a dull moment, never a quiet moment but I wouldn't have it any other way. I would prefer to have too much on than too little."

Branwell has a series of acting roles in the pipeline but he can't reveal what they are just yet.

He says: "They're in their early stages at the moment but watch this space."

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