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'There's a reference to going to bed or having a drink in plenty of my scenes'

Claire King tells Susan Griffin about her new role that's set to shake up Coronation Street

Coronation Street's Liz McDonald is currently minus her best gal pal, after Deidre decided she needed a break from the cobbles - but she won't be without a partner in crime for much longer, as Erica, a mate from Spain, is set to pay a visit.

"Liz and Erica could be a tour de force," reveals Claire King, who is joining the soap as the flamboyant friend.

"Erica's a tough person, straight-talking, but she's got a good sense of humour, so she's not like the other one in the Dales," adds the actress, referring to Emmerdale's conniving Kim Tate, who she played for 10 years until 1999.

"I don't think people really understand how long it's been since I left Emmerdale. The good thing about it is, I've been there and know the (soap) system to a certain extent, although this is more full on."

There are rumours she'll be returning later on, but initially, Erica is only set to appear for a couple of weeks. Still, she's sure to make an impact, not least where Nick Tilsley, played by Ben Price, is concerned, as she embarks on a passionate fling with the younger man.

The 51-year-old is already being called a cougar. "Arrgh, great!" she purrs with a throaty laugh, the result of decades of smoking, though the actress recently gave up.

"In every scene, there's a reference to going to bed or having a drink. I think there are only two scenes where I don't have a glass in my hand."

Following head injuries sustained in a car crash, Nick's had a tough time, and King believes Erica's arrival marks a fresh start for the Bistro owner.

"I think it's good for him because it brings him out of his shell - and his suits, actually," she adds, laughing.

"They just get talking, and he sees she's not a clingy person and doesn't think, 'This could be trouble'. He just thinks, 'Wow, she's got a great attitude to life and I want some of that'."

There isn't, as King expected, a showdown with Nick's ex, Leanne. "We actually get on quite well, I think she's pleased to see him not be so mopey."

There is tension with Nick's over-protective mum Gail, however. "You can imagine she's not impressed. She thinks Erica's brash and a bit of an old soak, really - and she's probably not far off. But Erica doesn't care what she says to her, like, 'Oh yeah, I gave Nick his Christmas present last night' - wink, wink!"

King confesses she isn't as confident with men as her Corrie alter ego. "I wouldn't be now. I'd hate to go on a date, it would be the worst nightmare. I was lucky I met my boyfriend in the local pub and knew him before, so that was fine."

It was the same with her ex-husband, actor Peter Amory, who played her step-son Chris Tate in Emmerdale.

"We didn't like each other at first. Then got to know one another and got married. With friends, you can have the best relationship, because you've so much in common and have been through more."

The Yorkshire-born actress does share some characteristics with Erica, though.

"We have the same sense of humour, maybe sometimes a little too wicked, which can upset people if they're over-sensitive," says King, who ran off with a punk band as a youngster.

"I'm so glad punk came along, because I think that really moulded me. It's probably why I like leather jackets and my music on really loud, so when my boyfriend gets in the car he goes, 'Oh my God, the oldest rocker in town'."

And like Erica, she wants to simply savour life.

"What's the alternative, doom and gloom when things start dropping off or wrinkling?" she says, shrugging.

In fact, at the time of our interview, she's due to attend two funerals, and admits that losing people has affected her outlook on life.

"You think, 'Right, let's get out there, live life and help others'. I'm a carer sometimes for my dad, because he's really not well. You start thinking, 'I'm going to look after myself, look after my family and do more for my nearest and dearest'."

The Corrie role allows King to be closer to her parents, and came about after the producer Stuart Blackburn came to see her in the production of Fetish Knights ("which was quite funny but not for children") at Manchester's The Lowry.

"We were talking about things and whether there was the possibility, and I said, 'Well, I don't think I'll go back to Emmerdale, I think too much water's passed under the bridge now for that character, but I would consider Corrie'."

She hopes it might mark the end of the 'Emmerdale actress' tag. "It's been that for ages," she reveals. "I've been whacked over the head and poked in the face and told, 'Don't be horrible to [Kim's husband] Frank!' And then I had one chap who asked me for my hair colour, where I shopped, my favourite nail colour, the make-up I used, because he was transgender and wanted to look like Kim."

People also refer to her as Karen, after her six-year stint in prison drama Bad Girls.

"And I'll get Strictly fans who say, 'You were great, you laughed your way through', and I think, 'I had to, I was with Brendan (Cole)!' No, he was all right really."

King took part in the popular dancing series in 2006, finishing in sixth place. She's enjoyed taking on more comedic roles over the last five years, but admits: "A lot of people don't know that, because it's either been shoved on E4 or it's been on stage, so a limited audience."

One thing she certainly doesn't mind, is being associated with playing strong women.

"I suppose it's the way I look as well," she reasons.

"I'm not 5ft 2in and size 4, I'm broad-shouldered and strong-looking, but that's fine, you're playing to your strengths."

  • Coronation Street continues on UTV on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Claire arrives on the cobbles on Monday

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