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This week Hollyoaks turns 25, and as the show is filmed right here in Liverpool, we thought we would celebrate by giving the cast the reigns to our Insta Story for the day. Head to @TheGuideLpool now and see what Sarah Jayne Dunn (Mandy Richardson) is up to as she prepares for a day on set.
Despite a temporary shutdown on production and now Covid restrictions on the Hollyoaks set, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed … Diane O’Connor is still caught up in one of the soap’s most shocking storylines.
“I think I’ve spent the last two years with my face screwed up, crying 12 hours a day,” laughs Liverpool actress Alex Fletcher, who’s played Diane for the past decade. “Sometimes I come home and think, thank God I’m not her.
“I’m hoping that next year she might get a lighter one. I just want her to go on a nice holiday, she deserves one doesn’t she?”
There’s not much chance of getting away from it all yet, with Diane caught in the middle of a toxic love triangle involving husband Tony (Nick Pickard) and his dad, sinister doctor Edward (Joe McGann).
Scenes between the three have had fans gripped, although 44-year-old Alex admits she’s glad the sexier ones are in the past.
“It got a bit saucy but we’ve done the lovey dovey bit, we’re over that now,” she says. “It’s never easy kissing somebody that you barely know and I do get embarrassed, I find those scenes really hard, because you’re in somebody’s space and it’s really personal so I’m glad all that shenanigans is out of the way!”
Like most TV series, Hollyoaks stopped filming in March, which for Alex meant spending more time at home in Liverpool with husband Neil, their teenage daughter Yasmin and four-year-old son Hanson.
“I was shattered before so I was ready for a break and Joe Wicks kept me going through lockdown, I think he’s brilliant.” she says.
“I used to throw myself into home schooling with Hanson for a couple of hours a day, some days better than others, but Neil was brilliant at it and hats off to the teachers. I think we’ve genuinely got a whole new appreciation for what they do.”
When restrictions eased in July, storylines were rejigged and the cast were allowed back on set in Childwall again, although things are a bit different still.
“We had six weeks off screen which gave us time to catch up and get ahead again, and a lot of my story got brought forward so I was getting scripts thrown at me left, right and centre but they were great.
“Now we’re ready to celebrate the 25th birthday with all these new episodes.”
Distancing on set has become like second nature already, she adds, “and at the moment Diane and Tony aren’t on great terms so they’re definitely OK with a bit of a distance.
“But they’re trying to protect the cast and crew as much as they can so we’re in zones now. That means we don’t move out of that zone in a day or work with another director, and we’ll shoot more scenes in order, so it’s not as hectic as it used to be which I’ve actually found quite nice.”
Alex joined Hollyoaks 10 years ago after a 13-year stint on Brookside as Jacqui Dixon.
Born and brought up in Liverpool, she still can’t quite believe her luck at having an acting career right on her doorstep.
“I just feel really grateful for my time here, especially in this current climate, to have a job and be around creative people and be given such amazing scripts.
“After Brookie I’d been off screen for about four years and I had lost a bit of confidence. It took me so long to get that back but I’ve not looked back since.
“I do have to pinch myself sometimes because I know how lucky I am. I work hard, but I do really appreciate what I’ve got and I get to do the school run and there’s not many actresses who can say that.”
As Hollyoaks heads into its next 25 years, after winning Best Soap at the British Soap Awards last year, Alex believes there are exciting times ahead.
“The show is thriving and it’s all good,” she says. “We’re still Britain’s best soap so we must be doing something right. We’ve taken years to get that respect so it’s nice to get the recognition.
“It’s bright and colourful, fast-paced and high drama and it’s never shy to tackle big issues and shine light on things that people might not want to really talk about.
“My favourite storyline was the self-harm one with Lauren McQueen. They were the first awards that I’d won and I was so proud of that. I was a bit nervous of that story, having a teenage daughter myself, but you can either not talk about these things or you can highlight them and hope it makes a difference.
“That storyline was heartbreaking and Lauren was just amazing. She’s just a breath of fresh air and I miss her so much, but watch this space with her because she’s fab.”
Lauren is one of many talented young cast members who Alex has worked alongside so, as a Scouser still living in the city, does she give them tips on places to go when they arrive?
“Oh no, I’m a bit of a homebird,” she laughs. “I don’t go out anymore because I’m old and boring.”
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