Coronation Street may be famed for its cobbles, but who would want to negotiate them in a glamorous pair of heels?
One new cast member unlikely to face that dilemma is Blackpool-born Nicola Thorp.
Nicola has this week been seen on screen, as her new character Nicola Rubenstein tries to support bad lad Seb on his release from prison.
And if Nicola’s face seems a little familiar, she came to national recognition last year when she was fired from a temping receptionist job at City accountancy firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers for wearing flat shoes and not high heels
Her 150,000-signature petition forced a debate in Parliament in a bid to make it illegal for companies to require women to wear high heels at work.
The 28-year-old from North Shore will tonight be revealed as the long-lost daughter of murderous builder Pat Phelan.
The story so far, as they say, is that Nicola’s been assigned to Seb and approaches Phelan to take him on as an apprentice as he needs a ‘good’ male role model.
But alarm bells start ringing for Nicola when she finds Phelan trying to delve into her past.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing the storyline play out,” Nicola said. “The audience knows what Pat Phelan is like but Nicola doesn’t.
“We might see a different side of him. She is a good person, a social worker, a strong woman coming into his life and I think he wants to get to know her.”
It turns out Nicola Rubenstein was born shortly after the love of Phelan’s life, a married woman, disappeared with her husband.
“She’ll be representing some light to his dark, but which way will it go?,” the actress added.
“Pat is just the worst character and he’s not had his comeuppance.
“As an audience we have been shouting at him but he is well overdue some punishment.
“But there is there possibly a human side coming?
“At the end of the day, these villains are really people in Coronation Street.
“No one is born bad, but we can find out why he is the way he is.”
Nicola’s been working on the Salford-based soap for the past two months, commuting between home in London and coming back to her parents’ home in North Shore when she’s filming.
And she’s already settling into life at one of the country’s most famous addresses.
Her audition for Nicola Rubenstein was the second time she’s tried out for Coronation Street, as she was in the running to become Kate Connor two years ago.
“I was so nervous the first time round,” the former Arnold School pupil said. “I was with Kym Marsh at the Rovers Return set.
“With everything that happened last year, I was thrown into the spotlight of the high heels campaign and I became more self assured and that will have paid off for the audition this time round.
“It’s a credit to the casting department. They have a relationship with people and it make you feel comfortable.
“When I read the script for Nicola with my best friend she just said ‘This is you’, and it’s bizarre she was called Nicola too.”
As a good Northern lass, although she’s lived in London for the past 10 years, getting a job on Coronation Street is a dream for Nicola.
“I was really excited the first day,” she said. “I’d met Connor McIntyre, who plays Phelan at the screen test.
“He was wonderful. I feel sorry for him playing Phelan, he’s the nicest man.
“But I felt so confident with this character, script and storyline, that I knew I was ready.
“My first scene was at the Grimshaws with Pat and Todd, and I’ve had scenes in the Rovers - which I loved.
“The first day was weird. You get given your security pass and told where the canteen is, like any other job.”
She had a job playing school pal Jenna Coleman’s mum
Nicola’s dreams of becoming an actress began aged 15 when she was a pupil at Arnold School, a couple of years behind another famous face; Doctor Who companion-turned-Victoria star Jenna Coleman.
And in a funny turn of fate, Nicola even ended up playing the mother of Jenna’s Doctor Who character Clara in a couple of episodes.
“Jenna texted me when I got the role and said ‘Hi mum’,” Nicola said.
Her first taste of acting came in a Grand Theatre youth company production of David Copperfield, and she is another product of the former youth theatre company In Yer Space, which was run by Arnold School drama teacher Colin Snell for present and former students at the South Shore school, including Robin Hood star Jonas Armstrong and Footballers’ Wives’ Tom Swire, as well as Jenna.
Despite her love of the stage, Nicola wasn’t tempted towards musical endeavours and recalls running out on a dress rehearsal for a Girl Guides’ production of Cats.
“I was in costume and had to dance around the stage, and I just left; I didn’t want to do it,” she said. “I remember the smell of the hairspray.” Instead, Nicola’s interests had been in sports. At one time, both Nicola and her dad held the women’s and men’s 100m hurdles record at Stanley Park 30 years apart.
Now, she relaxes by putting pen to paper, whether that’s with her equal rights campaigning or comedy scripts, as good way of ‘getting things out of my head’.
Parents run a rock factory and gran is Corrie superfan!
Nicola’s parents Jan and Jeoff run Stanton’s Rock Factory in the town centre and her gran is a Corrie superfan.
Nicola says her parents were ‘very emotional’ and cried when she told she got the job - ‘a Northern actor’s rite of passage’.
“They have been there with me through the thick and thin with acting and being in your 20s - every parent is concerned for their millennial child, not just if they’re acting,” the former Claremont Primary School pupil said.
“My grandma Edith Thorp has watched every episode since it started, the show has a beloved place in our family’s heart.”
Carrying on a strong tradition of resort actresses on Street
Blackpool has a strong history of links to the Street.
Among the current cast, there’s also Peter Gunn, who plays Brian Packham, and Lucy Fallon playing Bethany Platt.
And while Nicola’s an experienced actress, she can take inspiration from her Corrie colleague Lucy’s success since joining the soap.
Since her arrival in Weatherfield two years ago to make her acting debut, Lucy has gone through a series of hard-hitting storylines including the current child sexual exploitation plot.
“It has been incredible to see Lucy’s stories,” Nicola said. “I’m looking forward to what’s to come for me.
“Coronation Street is very important when it comes to storylines. Look at Lucy’s current one. Coronation Street delves into really hard issues and the characters are constant influences on our lives.
“It’s such an honour [to be part of that]. I hope people respond to Nicola in the way I hope they will.
“I’m really proud to be another member of the Blackpool cast of Corrie.”
Nicola’s lived in London since heading there to attend drama school aged 18, but is staying back home with her parents when she’s called for filming on Coronation Street.
And she’s happy to be back breathing the seaside air.
“I love the town,” she admits. “The people are the friendliest in the country, my friends from other places can’t believe how nice everybody is.
“It can get a bad reputation as a place. I laugh at people and say ‘If you want a cheap night out for fun, come on up’. You’ve got the Pleasure Beach, Funny Girls, Ma Kellys and you can’t get better.”
‘They picked on the wrong receptionist’
Nicola has previously told how the Coronation Street wardrobe team did broach the issue of her character wearing high heels on the Street. But so far she’s been seen in flats.
“I kept my heels campaigning a secret when I started, I didn’t want anybody to know about the shoe thing,” she said. “People were actually very supportive when it did come out. “Coronation Street is real trail blazer for having strong women on TV, so that’s great.” Although the My Heels, My Choice campaign and Nicola’s petition won the right to a Parliamentary debate, which took place in March, the fight for equality is far from over - as a change in the law, to ban companies telling women to wear high heels - was subsequently rejected by the Government.
But she’s certainly not dropping the cause.
“They picked the wrong receptionist,” she pledged.
From North Shore to Regents Canal
When she’s not lapping up the home comforts in North Shore, in between filming, Nicola’s back in London living on her recently-purchased and decorated traditional canal barge on Regents Canal.
“I have always wanted a barge,” se explained.
“I love being close to the water, I think it was my way of having a bit of Blackpool close to me in London.
“It’s quite difficult being single in your 20s, trying to get property, but this was my way round it and making a home.
“I’ve only been in it a month, but it’s good timing really as I had a good distraction in decorating it while all the chaos of getting the Coronation Street job was going on
“It was my little quiet space to come and focus. It’s not very glamourous but it is lovely.
“It takes three weeks to travel from London to Manchester by canal, so it’s possible I could move her up. I have to move her every fortnight, but it’s a lovely break to spend a couple of hours moving her along.”