Jacqueline Leonard is something of a soap queen, after a high-profile EastEnders role as Lorraine Wicks in the 90s and frequent returns to Scotland’s River City as Lydia Murdoch.
But it’s clear that if one soap has her heart, it’s close-to-home Coronation Street, where the Northerner currently back on the cobbles as Linda Hancock, ruffling feathers ahead of Chesney and Gemma’s wedding.
“It’s a dream come true, this job, I’m absolutely thrilled to be back doing it again,” she smiles. “I just love the people there – there’s no egos, it’s a great crowd to work with. And it’s on my doorstep. I know that Northern, working-class world, it’s my upbringing.”
Linda was last seen in Weatherfield during Covid times, which Jacqueline, 57, admits was “a little bit strange, obviously we had to do all our own hair and make-up”. But now the social-distancing rules have been relaxed, she’s enjoying Linda getting close to flirty Dev and clashing with rival Bernie.
“She just wants the best for everybody, especially when her grandson is involved,” Jacqueline says fondly of her character. “That can come across as quite overpowering, but it’s a good conflict with Bernie, who feels very threatened by her. I love the way those two play off each other.
“It’s always nice to have a bit of the bad girl, that banter with Bernie is really enjoyable. Jane [Hazlegrove] is amazing to work with, she’s so funny.”
Although Jacqueline says she’s enjoyed all of her screen roles, she has opened up about leaving EastEnders in 1997 after finding it difficult to watch younger co-stars including Danniella Westbrook and Paul Nicholls, who played her son Joe, struggle with a lack of support over their addictions.
“I loved the job, I had amazing storylines, but I did feel that when Paul left, it was time for me to go because I knew that he was having difficult times there. Once he left I didn’t really know where my storyline was going to go.”
Both Paul and Danniella faced media attention over their addictions, and Jacqueline recalls the BBC soap’s huge popularity at the time was difficult for most of the cast to deal with.
“It’s really hard to thrust a child at that age right into that limelight because I know how I struggled with
it myself,” she shares. “You’d go to get a cup of coffee and you’d be followed down the street, you’d be screamed at.
“Sometimes it was lovely but you were constantly being watched, and when you’re so young that can be very difficult.”
Episode viewing figures at the time are unheard of now, but giving an idea of the cast’s level of fame, Jacqueline says, “The Christmas episode I was in had 25 million viewers. You just don’t get that any more because there’s so much choice now.
“Back then, maybe they weren’t aware that they needed that duty of care, but thankfully it has changed.”
She adds, “Fortunately, I’ve seen a lot of kids come and go through soaps now and I do think it’s a lot better. Young people do face different things now with their other tormentor, social media, but certainly the industry is great at looking after kids now.”
In fact, Jacqueline is still recognised for her Albert Square starring role, which she puts down in part to Paul’s 90s superstardom.
“I get quite a lot of recognition from mums now who were in love with Paul at the time,” she says.
As far as a longer-term contract at Corrie goes, Jacqueline admits she would snap it up.
“Never say never in soapland!” she says on the possibility of Linda sticking around. “If Corrie said, ‘Would you like to stay?’ that would be amazing. You run every gamut of emotion – one week you’re smiling and happy with the neighbours and the next week you’re throwing a wobbler!”
And it sounds as though Jacqueline’s fans would welcome her into the regular cast with open arms, too.
“I’ve had such lovely social media messages and fan mail. I’m in a good place with all of that,” she says.
“I feel so grateful people are enjoying it and letting me know.”
Coronation Street airs on ITV1 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8pm.
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