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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Coronation Street: The life and death of Hayley Cropper


When Julie Hesmondhalgh, Coronation Street’s much loved Hayley Cropper, announced last year that she was leaving the soap after 15 years on the cobbles, it seemed there was only one way her character could plausibly leave – at the hands of an incurable disease. There was never any thought that she would actively choose to leave her beloved husband Roy (David Neilson), yet that is exactly what she did. The right to die storyline has caused a huge stir in recent weeks, making front pages of national newspapers and generally become a national talking point.

Hayley’s entry into the show in 1998 was not that different; the first transgender character ever to appear in the soap, LGBT groups were unhappy that Hesmondhalgh, and not a transgendered actor, had been cast in the role yet the chemistry between Hayley and Roy was instant and viewers immediately took them into their hearts.  Roy travelled to Amsterdam to win Hayley’s heart and their subsequent blessing (and later wedding) is credited with helping change attitudes towards the LBGT community. Whilst unable to have children of their own (although they came close when Tracy Barlow offered her daughter to them in exchange for cash) Hayley and Roy fostered Fizz and became parental figures to Becky, creating their own unconventional family model and endearing themselves to the public. Viewers have always rooted for Hayley and Roy, an unlikely couple they succeeded against the odds and have been a huge part of the Coronation Street landscape over the past decade. They felt part of the furniture and like an old friend we have come to expect them to always be there, so it was a shock when Hesmondhalgh announced her departure from the show last year.

Hayley’s pancreatic cancer storyline has been beautifully written and researched and portrayed remarkably by Julie Hesmondhalgh and David Neilson. Pancreatic cancer is not a subject widely embedded in the public consciousness whilst it also suffers from a lack of funding (accounting for only one percent of cancer research funding in the UK) so the team at Coronation Street should be applauded for highlighting it and raising awareness in such a realistic and sensitive manner. The euthanasia storyline was a brave decision to tackle with such a well loved character as Hayley and whilst the soap should be commended for bringing it into wider public debate, there was perhaps a desire that Hayley would have reversed her decision and died a more peaceful death. Perhaps that is part of human nature, wanting loved ones to end their life as pain free and as peaceful as possible, but for such a gentle character the contrast of such a bold death seemed to jar, but perhaps that was the point and only served to remind us of how brutal cancer and death can be.


It will be interesting to see how Roy copes with Hayley’s death in the coming weeks and how other characters react to her decision to take her own life. Viewers have responded positively to the storyline, understanding of Hayley’s choice whilst also being sympathetic to Roy, and although controversial it has allowed the debate on euthanasia to once again be discussed by the wider public which can only be a positive thing. Coronation Street will miss Hayley and viewers will miss the brilliant partnership between Julie Hesmondhalgh and David Neilson, they have always delivered every scene with such genuine affection and warmth and remain one of Coronation Street’s most beloved couples.

Contributed by Rachael Miller 

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