It’s never plain sailing in Soapland, and Michelle Hardwick, who’s played vet Vanessa Woodfield on Emmerdale for the past seven years, is stuck into a typical larger-than-life storyline.
Her character has just lost her dad Frank in a huge explosion at the sweet factory, and it’s been heavy going to watch, but Michelle is thrilled to have a gritty script to sink her teeth into.
‘Because I have to look stressed and sad, I’m only 10 minutes in the make-up chair,’ she laughs.
‘But it’s been 12-hour days and then having to go home and learn lines for 10 scenes,’ she yawns.
‘But I still fit in my trash telly time. I’m good at unwinding.’
Dressed in jeans and a polka-dot top, Michelle’s not being brought down by any dramatic subject matter.
Her beaming smile and excitable energy lights up the room, and as she perches her 5’3 frame cross-legged on a chair, she seems extra giddy during our meeting on set.
‘I’ve just handed out my wedding invites you see,’ she says with a whisper.
‘There’s no magazine deal, we’ll just pick up a few witnesses wherever we are and it will just be me and her.
‘But the invites are for the party. I can’t wait!’
‘Her’ is Michelle’s partner of two years, Kate Brooks, who just so happens to be her ‘boss’, as producer on Emmerdale.
It’s Michelle’s second time up the aisle, but this time, she’s determined to do it as low-key as possible.
‘I’ve learned from my last marriage that the day just has to be about Kate and I.
‘We only have a few months to go and we haven’t even got our outfits sorted and that’s because it doesn’t matter.
‘That’s the biggest lesson I learned.
‘We’ll get married abroad, hit a few bars and probably have chicken and chips for our wedding breakfast.
‘Then a big party for our family when we get back to England.
‘That’s all I can tell you! It will be ace.’
It might not be horse-drawn carriages and castles, but Michelle certainly pulled out all the stops for her romantic proposal.
She hired out a cinema screen, took an unsuspecting Kate to see a movie and then stood on stage in front of the screen and popped the question with their little dog Fred in tow, wearing a jumper that said, ‘Mummy, please say yes’.
Is this level of romance an everyday occurrence for the pair?
‘No! I knew I had to go all out for this one because she’s so romantic, so I had to step up,’ she smiles.
‘It worked, though, didn’t it? Kate says I did dead good.’
In her broad Yorkshire accent, someone else who’s also doing ‘dead good’ is Michelle’s on-screen wife Emma Atkins, who plays Charity.
The portrayal of the same-sex relationship has won them countless awards, with many fans from the LGBT community reaching out to thank Michelle personally.
‘It never stops and I always try and reply to everyone,’ she explains.
‘And I get a lot of messages from viewers who aren’t gay saying, “What you’re showing is normal and it’s great it isn’t hidden away.”
‘It isn’t like Charity and Vanessa are rammed down peoples throats all the time, but it’s lovely the characters are still together.
‘And Emma and I get on so well.’
Living a quiet life outside of Leeds in the countryside, (‘It’s garden centres and cups of tea for me and Kate, very exciting!’), the couple do seem to have a lot of fun together, even hailing private karaoke parties as the ideal date night.
‘It’s really daft but we love nothing more than getting YouTube on, drinking and having our own sing-along party on a Saturday.
‘We see the dog thinking, “Oh no, not again,” as we have the music full blast,’ she laughs.
‘We’re quite dull though in the week.
‘It’s,“Who’s making tea tonight?” and it’s usually Kate.
‘She says I can’t even make toast right, which offends me, but at least I keep our kitchen nice and clean by never going in it,’ she smiles.
‘But no one bothers me.
‘If I pop to the local shop I might get, “Oh are you that vet on Emmerdale?”, but I’ve been lucky I’ve never experienced any negativity in the public eye.
‘I’ve seen it happen and it can be so hurtful.’
Despite her light-hearted manner, Michelle gets visibly upset and frustrated when she touches upon the rise in recent homophobic attacks in the UK, something she’s desperate to speak out about.
‘I feel like we’re going backwards in society with our attitudes,’ she says sadly.
‘Sometimes if Kate and I see a group of young lads we instinctively let go of each other’s hands because we’re scared they’ll turn on us.
‘We live with that fear every day.
‘So people who say, “Gay Pride? Why isn’t there a Straight Pride?”
‘I’ll tell you why, because you don’t need it.
‘Because luckily for you, you’re able to be affectionate with your partner in public and you won’t be abused for it.
‘It’s absolutely vile what goes on.’
Michelle beams however when she talks about her family.
They’ve been hugely supportive of her sexuality, and one of Michelle’s favourite things to do is to pop in to see her mum and dad, or travel to Liverpool to spend time with her soon-to-be in-laws.
‘I’m so lucky to have such amazing parents,’ she gushes.
‘I didn’t come out until my late 20s, I told my dad and he just told everyone else for me and was fantastic.
‘My grandma, who passed recently at 93, was my best friend and I’m thankful every single day that she knew and met Kate.
‘She loved her.
‘Her face lit up when she saw her more than when she saw me. I was fuming!’
But Michelle gets on like a house on fire with her partner’s ‘huge’ family.
‘There’s so many of them and I love the Scouse accent, but when they go for it and they’re talking fast it might as well be a different language,’ she laughs.
‘I can’t make head nor tail of it!’
Wholesome family gatherings aside, Michelle gets excited when we ask her about the glitz and glamour of the job.
A fan of a nice frock, she loves hitting the red carpet.
‘I love getting ready and having my hair and make-up done,’ she says with an excited squeal.
‘I always have my fake tan on and I make sure I eat to line the stomach – that’s crucial.
‘We’re all quite good boozers, but Gaynor Faye takes the crown.
‘She’s the first one up and last one off the dance floor.
‘We get dead giddy when we go to any awards do, it’s rare for us.
‘I think people think we get freebies and we’re all millionaires living this lavish lifestyle – that’s not the case.’
Relaxed and happy, Michelle looks beautiful and fresh without a spot of make-up on.
She insists she’s never had any cosmetic help.
‘Well, I am 43, but the answer is no because Kate said she’d leave me, if I ever did!’ she says with a loud cackle.
‘So I can promise I’ve had no work done.
‘I still think I’m 20 anyway. But ask me in 10 years.
‘We need Kate to have it done first, then I’d get away with it,’ she smirks.
As she finishes up her coffee she realises she has a three-hour window before she’s due back on set.
‘I’m going to go home and sit in the garden,’ she smiles.
‘Learn my lines and chuck some chicken stir-fry from a packet in a pan.
‘The rock ’n’ roll lifestyle of a soapstar, hey?’
As a colleague overhears and lovingly tells her to never change, Michelle responds with a smile and says, ‘I never would. I bore myself being such a square!
‘But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love who I am.’
And we couldn’t agree with her more.
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