'Motherhood on set is a doddle in comparison to reality'
Corrie star Jennie McAlpine's played troubled Fiz Stape for 14 years and off-screen she enjoys a busy but contented life
It was in 2010, during the live 50th anniversary episode, that Coronation Street fans saw Jennie McAlpine, in her role as Fiona 'Fiz' Stape, give birth prematurely to a daughter, Hope.
Fast-forward a few years, and the actress has taken on actual motherhood, giving birth to baby Albert, with her partner of 10 years, Chris Farr, four months ago - admitting the real thing "isn't as easy, but is so much fun!".
"Put it this way, simulating birth on-screen wasn't any sort of practise for the real thing although thankfully my son's delivery was quite straightforward!" jokes the 30-year-old, who first appeared on the cobbles in 2001.
"Motherhood on set is just a doddle in comparison to reality - you can't give them back when you're tired - but I'm enjoying every minute of it. I can honestly say it's the happiest period of my life.
"There are strict rules about the babies during filming and they're handed to us for only a few minutes and only when they're well-fed, placid and happy. By contrast it's fair to say that Albert doesn't always feel that way! But I'm getting the hang of looking after him and feel so lucky because he's an incredibly chilled baby who's fitted so well into our lives."
Recently, there's been a crop of new babies among the Weatherfield cast. Paula Lane, who plays Kylie Platt, gave birth to a son, Arthur in January, and Catherine Tyldesley who plays barmaid Eva Price gave birth a few weeks ago to her son, Alfie.
"Luckily I got in first and told the producers about my pending arrival, then it was Paula, and by the time Cath went in, the producer was probably tearing his hair out," McAlpine laughs.
"I don't know what I did to cause the baby boom but it's been nice to be able to support each other. Albert's met Arthur and we're arranging to meet Alfie soon. It will be great to get all the little guys together and it certainly means no shortage of playmates in the future."
In the soap, Fiz who with her daughter, Hope is living with mechanic Tyrone (Alan Halsall) and his daughter Ruby, has been temporarily written out under the guise of going to help her mother Cilla Battersby-Brown, who's suffering from osteoporosis.
"They've been wonderful on the series about being relaxed about my return and said work out what's best for you. That's great as before you become a mum you don't really know how it's all going to go and what time you'll need," says redhead McAlpine, who promises she will definitely return before a planned 'dramatic climax' live episode in September to mark ITV's 60th anniversary.
"I do miss Corrie because as a Northern lass I'm so attached to the show and, of course, it's been a massive part of my life for 14 years. I've been a fan since I was a kid growing up in Manchester and to be in it is a dream come true for me and it's great that they still want me and I have a great role.
"I love it now whenever I hear Tyrone mention Fiz because I think, 'Oh, good he's not forgotten me.' I've already introduced Albert to the series as I put my feet up in the evenings and watch it while I'm feeding him. Recently I took him on set to meet everybody - the cast are like a second family to me."
It was through cast member, actor Antony Cotton who plays barman and factory worker Sean Tully, that McAlpine met restaurant manager Farr in 2005. Two years ago the pair opened a restaurant and tearooms, Annie's in Manchester, a few minutes from their city centre home.
"Antony kept saying he had a friend I should meet and one day he called me up one day and said, 'I'm here with your future husband. Do you want me to put him on the phone?'. It was weird that he was so convinced that Chris was so right for me, and even more bizarre that he actually was," she says.
"People do ask if we'll get married but at the moment we're so busy there are no plans for that. We get on so well and things are great as they, and it's brilliant running the business together. Now Albert's come along we share the care and have him with us all the time. He's at the centre of our lives. Chris will have Albert under one arm while he serves a customer and then I'll take over."
It's been a relatively smooth path to contentment; one which hasn't been shared by her Corrie character, whose roller-coaster life has been filled with trauma.
McAlpine was only 17 when she was originally hired for just five episodes to play the role, having already played Michelle Morley in Yorkshire drama series, Emmerdale from 1999 to 2001. But her comic timing - she'd begun her career as a stand-up comedian aged 13 - and interpretation of the part - drawing on what she'd learnt from her father's charity work with troubled youngsters - so impressed the series' producers she was offered a long-term contract.
She's had her fair share of big story lines including helping serial killer John Stape (Graeme Hawley) bury the bodies of his three victims, and was eventually imprisoned. There was a Free Fiz Stape campaign on Facebook and she was eventually released after Stape admitted she was innocent while he was dying in hospital. Two years ago she went on the run with Tyrone after helping him abduct his baby, Ruby, and on another occasion she nearly died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
"I'm very fond of Fiz because I think she's a good person who didn't have a good start in life and she tries to get things right even though it doesn't always work out for her," she says.
"She was a terrible teenager when she was fostered by Roy and Hayley Cropper and set their cafe on fire. It was when her mum, Cilla was brought on to the show that you could see her being naughty and acting up was because of her difficult upbringing.
"It's been great working with Graeme and now with Alan, who teases me that I mustn't mention Graeme's name because 'we're together now'. Work schedules meant I actually spent more time with him than with Chris during my pregnancy!"
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