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Sally Dynevor: ‘It’s about time people got to know who I am’

They’ve both survived cancer and raised families, but this Corrie veteran is nothing like her namesake character.

For more than 30 years, Sally Dynevor has been a constant fixture on the nation’s TV screens, raising a family with husband Kevin, sewing knickers in the factory and propping up the bar at the Rovers. As Sally Metcalfe (formerly Webster) on Coronation Street, her character has endured cheating, divorce, bigamy – and even prison. But it was a breast cancer storyline that would prove her biggest challenge, as the actress discovered she was suffering from the disease at the same time as her onscreen namesake. Here, in her Letter to My Younger Self, she describes how important it was for her to tackle the topic, and how she turned her own diagnosis into a positive.

This month, Dynevor is putting herself to a very different test as a contestant on Dancing on Ice. Having spent the last three decades on the cobbles, she’s trying out a smoother surface to test her inner strength and face up to the crippling fears that held her back in her youth.

I hated school and by the time I was 16 I was dying to get out. I was a real daydreamer. So I sat in school thinking about all the things I’d do when I left. I started doing drama classes on Saturday mornings when I was 13, and it became my passion. The moment I joined that class, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.  

Oh my god, I was so not a natural-born star. I was very timid and quiet. I really had to get my head around it. If you met the 16-year-old me you’d think, oh god, she is square. Really square. I had a parting down the middle of my hair, and I wore a pencil skirt and blouse on my first day of drama school. I just wish my younger self had been more experimental. I wish I could have expressed myself. I wish I’d been a punk, I wish I’d been a goth, like lots of the new people I met at drama school. But I wasn’t, I was the timid one in the corner. 

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I wouldn’t say I was particularly close to anyone in the family. I think I found my tribe when I went to drama school. My parents never knew anybody who was an actor. They were just a struggling working-class family doing various jobs. We didn’t know anyone who went into the arts. So for me to say to them, I’m going to drama school, that was kind of a shock for them. They were like, couldn’t you get a job in the factory up the road? You’d get 25 quid a week. Why don’t you do that? But of course I’d had my head turned by this time. And I’d met people who were very interesting, like David Johnson who ran it. He was this wonderful maverick who I just absolutely adored, he completely opened my eyes. So my parents didn’t completely understand but they were happy for me to do what I wanted. They’d come and see my shows when they could. I didn’t know if they ever thought anything would come of it, to be honest. But I think they were proud of me for doing something out of the ordinary. 

I love people and I love chatting, but the other side of me is quite shy. And that’s always been the case. I’m not a very confident person and that’s held me back a bit. I’ve been so lucky with Corrie and bringing up my children and my husband and… it’s just been such a wonderful time. I just wish that when I was younger, instead of fretting and worrying about what the future would hold, I’d just enjoyed it. I wish I’d had the inner strength I have now. I was just too frightened. That’s why I’m doing Dancing on Ice, because I decided I need to prove to myself that I’m OK, I’m doing OK. It’s about time people got to know who I am. And I’m not Sally. 

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I love my job. I’ve been on Coronation Street for 36 years, and I don’t regret a minute of it, I absolutely lucked out. I’ve grown up with everyone here. We’ve all had children and we’ve had deaths and marriages. Also, I’ve always had really good storylines. I always thought that if I was out in the big wide world, maybe I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I do here. 

1987, as Sally in Coronation Street with her character’s future husband Kevin Webster (Michael Le Vell) and Hilda Ogden (Jean Alexander)
Photo: ITV/Shutterstock

It was a massive moment when I got a role on Coronation Street. Even though I initially only had two episodes, I couldn’t believe I was doing it. When they said, yeah, you’ve got the part, I was like, oh my god, that’s brilliant! I was absolutely thrilled. I got a few more episodes then one day I was in the canteen with our producer John Temple, and he said, “Sally, I’m very happy to tell you, we’re giving you a year’s contract.” Well, I was so giddy I threw my sandwiches in the air! I don’t know exactly why they made my part so much bigger. People always talk about my first scene on Coronation Street, when Kevin splashed Sally driving past in his van. So maybe that had a bit of an impact. But as soon as I got that contract I thought, right that’s it, I’m going to leave London and move up north again. And the rest is history.  

I think Sally has been through most things now, but the most influential was the breast cancer storyline because it actually happened to me. I was thrilled to be getting that story before I knew I had cancer myself, because I just knew so many women who were getting breast cancer at that time. So for me that’s probably the best story I was ever given. It was such a shame I actually couldn’t fulfil it because I had to leave the show for a while.  

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I was very lucky during that time of having cancer, because my husband is really strong. And he would say, we’re going to make this into a positive time. After chemo, we’re going to go for walks, or we’re going to watch this box set. We’re going to enjoy the time that we have just relaxing and not worrying about anything. I suppose it was the first time that I really took my foot off the pedal and gave myself time to do nothing. Which is actually much more important than doing something. We do need time to find ourselves and come to terms with things in a slow way. I think that time was – even though it was a hard time, it was a positive time in the sense that I was home and I was surrounded by my family and I never wanted to look at the negatives. Because there was no point in me doing that. I have three children. It was always, right, I’m going to be fine. I’m going to get through it and everything will be back to normal. It’s just a blip in my life and I just have to deal with it. 

I’ve always been very positive with my children and said they can do whatever they want. They’ve got to dream, and do big things, and be happy. I think children just need to be told they’re loved and I’ve done that all through their lives, kept telling them how much we loved them. People say you shouldn’t be friends with your children as a parent. But I think you can do both. I want to be their best friend. I want them to call me and to know I’m not going to judge them. I’m going to be there for them.  

With daughter Phoebe in Manchester, 2012
Photo by Mcpix Ltd/Shutterstock

Thinking about who I’d want to have one last conversation with… Oh my gosh, even that question makes me want to cry. Because thinking about people who championed me when I was younger, there was a lady called Elsie Dillard. When I first left drama school, I did old-time music hall to get my Equity card. Elsie was from the East End of London but she’d moved to Seattle and she brought my theatre company over. She became a massive influence in my life. She was the kindest, most beautiful woman I’ve ever met in my life and she died last year. And I didn’t get a chance to say, you don’t know how much you influenced me and made me look at things differently. I’d just want to hug her and say thank you for being the person you are. She touched so many people, but I never got the chance to tell her how much she changed my life. 

If I could go back in my life for one day I’d go back to when my kids were really little. Just to see my two-year-olds laughing their heads off, and having them hold me and put their arms around me and just feeling so special because they loved me so much. There are moments I’ll never forget. We used to go to the Lake District lots when the kids were little. I remember we’d take a picnic and go up a mountain and sit on a picnic blanket, all five of us, looking out onto the view and I’d be thinking, wow, life doesn’t get any better than this. There’s another memory. I’d just found out I’d got breast cancer and Harriet was only little, five or six. She was looking at me while my hair was being shaved and she was telling me how beautiful I was and how much she loved me. And I just remember thinking, my god, this is a very special moment. 

Sally Dynevor is a contestant on Dancing on Ice, on ITV on Sundays at 6.30pm 

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