Coronation Street: actress Julie Hesmondhalgh quits

Julie Hesmondhalgh as Hayley Hesmondhalgh has been promised a dramatic exit at the end of this year

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Long-serving Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh is leaving the soap after 15 years playing Hayley Cropper.

The actress said she has had "the most wonderful time" playing the Street's first transgender character but wanted to pursue new projects.

"The decision to hang up Hayley's red anorak was a tough one," she said.

"But doing the play at the Royal Exchange last year made me realise that there's life in the old dog yet," joked the 42-year-old star.

Hesmondhalgh won glowing reviews for her role in Black Roses: The Killing Of Sophie Lancaster at the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester last year.

Based on a radio play, Black Roses is described as "an elegy" for Sophie Lancaster, a 20-year-old girl who was kicked to death by a group of teenagers in Lancashire in 2007. Hesmondhalgh played Sophie's mother.

'Changing attitudes'

Hesmondhalgh joined Coronation Street in 1998 and rapidly became one of the ITV show's most lovable - and quirky characters.

"Whatever happens next I'll always be proudest of lovely Mrs Cropper," said Hesmondhalgh .

"In particular what we achieved in changing attitudes to transgender, and in portraying possibly the most loving, faithful and steadfast couple in soap history," she added, referring to Hayley's happy marriage to cafe owner Roy.

"We'll be sorry to say farewell to Hayley - and to Julie," said Coronation Street's executive producer, Kieran Roberts, "but we're planning a screen exit worthy of one of Coronation Street's best-loved characters."

In 1999 and 2004, Hesmondhalgh shared a British soap award for best on-screen partnership with her fictional husband, played by actor David Nielson.

The actress, who is married to writer and actor Ian Kershaw, took time off in 2001 to give birth to her daughter Martha Mo, and had a year's break in 2007 to spend more time with her family. She will leave the show at the end of this year.

"I'll always be the show's biggest fan," said Hesmondhalgh , thanking the "special team" for a "life-changing" 15 years.

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