There was hardly a dry eye in the country when Coronation Street’s Hayley Cropper passed away back in January 2014 with her husband Roy by her side, after drinking a lethal cocktail of drugs.
The devastating storyline came after Hayley was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, and raised debates about the right to die in the UK.
But it wasn’t the only hard-hitting storyline actress Julia Hesmondhalgh found herself part of during her 16-year stint on the cobbles, as her character also had to deal with rampant transphobia when she outed herself as a transgender woman to her future husband Roy.
Since quitting her role on the show in 2014, Julie has herself gotten involved in trans activism.
Years since her death, she's still remembered by her husband Roy, who speaks of her while in hospital. But what has actress Julia been up to since her exit? Daily Star takes a look.
While filming BBC One crime drama The Pact, Julie was haunted by a spate of on-set accidents which left her with "bruises on her face".
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Anna actress Laura Fraser said that there was hardly any opportunity for on-set pranks, as Julie just kept getting hurt.
She explained: "There was a lot of unintentional pranks by Julie because she was extremely accident-prone.
"She kept literally running into iron bars and coming in with bruises on her face. I think we were all too traumatised for any pranks."
Show creator Pete McTighe added: "I think what kept me amused was Julie's constant string of accidents, she would show up on set every day with a new accident that had happened, it was bizarre."
Many might not be aware, but Julie actually has a rather famous husband – and he’s even been involved in Coronation Street.
Julie met her now-hubby Ian Kershaw on the ITV set in 1998 when she first joined as Hayley Cropper.
Over the years, Ian has held various small roles on the soap, and was playing Malcolm Bradford at the time. He has also played Duncan Stott and Mick Crompton.
Julie admitted the pair moved in together the following week, telling Notebook magazine: "I moved in with him on the following Wednesday and I was pregnant within six weeks.
"We went on a road trip across America and I did a pregnancy test on Santa Barbara pier."
The pair now live together in Tameside and share two daughters.
Ian is also a scriptwriter, and has penned scripts for Coronation Street, EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City.
A proud Labour supporter, Julie took her character Hayley’s position as a trans woman to heart, and is now involved with various charities in the fight for trans rights.
She is a patron of Trans Media Watch, and has spoken out about the importance of letting trans actors play trans characters.
Speaking to The Guardian, Julie admitted she wouldn’t take the role of Hayley if offered it today as a cisgender woman, explaining: "I definitely wouldn’t take [the role]. I left Corrie because it was time for me to go personally, but it was also time for Hayley – a trans woman played by a cis woman – to go too."
The star added: "There was a really great trans rights group, Press for Change, who were really, really p***ed off – and I totally understood why.
"I met them and said: ‘I hear you, but honestly I think the pressure on a trans actor – who definitely would have had a certain amount of vulnerability anyway – would have been unbearable.’ The way the press was then, they’d have been eaten alive."
Though Julie admitted her character started as a "bit of a joke" she hoped to break down prejudice by making viewers fall in love with Hayley, adding: "If you want to fight prejudice, you put somebody likeable in the living room and people can see beyond what makes them different to what makes them the same."
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Julie had a slight U-turn in her career, as she became a volunteer at a Covid-19 vaccination centre.
She volunteered as a vaccine runner in Tameside, and admitted she’d donated a "pathetic" seven hours of her time while praising NHS workers who are working "in all weather, all the time".
Posting a video from the vaccine hub in 2021, she gushed: "It’s been an absolutely brilliant day. I mean obviously there are people here, NHS workers, who are here in all weathers, all the time.
"Pouring rain, freezing cold, and here I am just like getting all the glory for doing my pathetic seven hours.
"I really wanted just to add my support and just to help out a little bit and feel like I’m doing something in these really really challenging times."
The star added: "Let’s try and kick this pandemic up the backside so that we can all have a safer, happier 2022."
Though Julie admitted she knew the door would close on a potential soap return once she made the decision to quit, she has teased a special cameo appearance in the past.
Last year, she spoke to Inside Soap about how much she misses her character Hayley – and how she had “begged” the director for a spot as an extra.
The star said: "I miss Hayley, the comfort of putting those clothes and wig on and becoming her. I went for a visit a couple of years ago, and Alan Halsall [who plays Tyrone Dobbs] was filming a scene in Roy's Rolls.
"We begged the director to let me be an extra in the scene, dressed as myself, and sweep across the cafe as the shot began, with the back of my head to the camera so my nose didn't give me away!
"We thought it'd be funny if Tyrone did a tiny double take. But the director daren't do it as it was too much of a risk. It would have been an iconic moment!"
Secret quiz show link
Since leaving Corrie, Julie has found fame on a whole host of TV dramas including Happy Valley and Broadchurch.
But one role might have left fans scratching their heads more than others, as they wondered if it was really Julie stepping up to the plate.
She actually provides the voiceover for The Weakest Link, hosted by Anne Robinson’s replacement Romesh Ranganathan – and the news has left fans shaken to the core.
Taking to Twitter to share the news, one fan wrote: "Am enjoying the reboot of The Weakest Link being hosted by Romesh Ranganathan and a voiceover from Julie Hesmondhalgh – possibly the two longest surnames in showbiz."
"I’m loath to admit I’m watching the revamp of The Weakest Link but is that Julie Hesmondhalgh doing the voiceover?" someone else wondered.
As another fan posted: "Whoever decided Julie Hesmondhalgh should be the Voice Of The Stats on the new #WeakestLink… pay rise."
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