Debra Stephenson: From Bad Girl to Peter Pan
PUBLISHED: 13:06 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:12 20 February 2013
She's walked the streets of 'Corrie', played a prison bully, danced like Michael Jackson and is about to fly through the air. Jeremy Miles meets Poole's talented new resident
Debra Stephenson: From Bad Girl to Peter Pan
Shes walked the streets of Corrie, played a prison bully, danced like Michael Jackson and is about to fly through the air. Jeremy Miles meets Pooles talented new resident
Soap actress, impressionist and sometime stand-up comedian Debra Stephenson appears to be dressed as a pile of leaves. Shes just been lying across a couple of chairs pretending to fly. Now as we walk out into the street, I look around nervously fearing that local council workers might try to sweep her up. Its a funny old business, the world of entertainment.
In fact, Debra probably best known as Frankie Baldwin in Coronation Street is in the middle of a photo-shoot for this years pantomime at Lighthouse in Poole. Shes playing Peter Pan hence the costume, though she stresses this is not the actual outfit shell be wearing during the production. That one, which is designed by Ken Powell who graduated from Bournemouth Arts University last year, will be revealed when the panto opens for a month on 10 December.
Theres much excitement about the show, which is Lighthouses first-ever home-produced pantomime. The multi-talented actress is joined by CBBC presenter Michael Absalom as Captain Hooks sidekick, Smee, and former Emmerdale star Gary Turner plays the evil Hook.
For Debra, however, theres another very good reason to be pleased. It means shell be able to spend Christmas at home. Together with husband James and children Max (8) and Zoe Louise (3), the 38-year-old, whose other starring roles have included psycho Shell Dockley in the prison drama Bad Girls and the highly popular The Impressions Show with Jon Culshaw, decided to move to Poole last year.
After years in Manchester and London, she says they love the natural beauty of Dorset. The sea, the fresh air, the trees its a much better place to bring the children up, she tells me. Theyve clearly been busy making the most of their new environment. Places like Swanage and the Purbecks are so beautiful, we have so much to explore, says Debra with real enthusiasm. It feels like weve come on our holidays but instead of it just being for a week or two, its forever.
Landing a panto job on her doorstep was a big bonus. It happened, she says, by a chapter of happy accidents. I went to Lighthouse to see a show by Brendan Cole from Strictly and was introduced to their chief executive, Elspeth MacBain. We got chatting and clicked immediately. Wed both recently moved from London and we had kids of a similar age. I also really liked what she was doing at Lighthouse. Elspeth has great ideas and really good taste. Basically I asked her if she was doing panto this year.
The question came at exactly the right time. Elspeth and in-house executive producer Robin Cave were searching for a high-profile star for their home-grown show. In Debra they had the offer of a talented actress with a wealth of TV exposure and she was local.
During a career that took off when she graduated from stage school in 1996, Debra has appeared in everything from drama and documentary to comedy, current affairs and reality TV. She had originally paid her dues as a teenager, entering talent contests as a singing impressionist and doing turns on the notoriously tough Working Mens Club circuit. It was invaluable experience that undoubtedly helped when she landed her biggest break Coronation Street straight out of college. She describes working on Corrie as a surreal experience. Having grown up watching it, you know that street, you recognise those cobbles and those little houses. Suddenly finding yourself walking into that world is very odd. Its like walking into a book.
Her departure from Weatherfield came three months after a flurry of tabloid headlines claimed that she was having an affair with Bradley Walsh who played her on-screen husband, Danny. They both adamantly denied there was any truth in the rumour but admitted they had grown very close.
Ironically, Debra will revisit Coronation Street, and the subject of affairs, during the latest series of The Impressions Show in which she and Jon Culshaw imagine that, at some point in the deep, distant past, Corries Ken Barlow and EastEnders Pat Butcher might have been an item. Its a lovely little sketch, a sort of cross-pollination of soaps, she laughs. For Debra working with Culshaw is a dream. Hes absolutely brilliant. Other characters Ill be exploring in the latest series include Lady GaGa and Katie Price.
Debras career trajectory continues to rise despite leaving both Coronation Street and Bad Girls. They were big TV series but it was time to move on, she tells me. Its important to remember that fundamentally you become an actor because you want to play different roles, do different things and keep things interesting. Its about finding what makes you happy. The job is almost incidental.
The same, she says, applies to moving to Dorset. I dont build my life around my career, I build my career around my life and right now Dorset is the ideal place to be.
Peter Pan is at Lighthouse, Poole from 10 December until 9 January 2011. For tickets, visit lighthousepoole.co.uk or call 0844 406 8666.