HOW WE MET: KAY MELLOR AND JUDE KELLY

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The writer and actress Kay Mellor (far right), 45, was born in Leeds and studied drama at Bretton Hall. After working on 'Coronation Street' and 'Brookside', her TV breakthrough was the 1995 prostitution drama 'Band of Gold'. In May, she received Bafta's Dennis Potter award. She and her husband, Anthony, have two daughters and a granddaughter. The director Jude Kelly, OBE, 44, grew up in Liverpool and studied at Bristol University. She ran Battersea Arts Centre before being appointed artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 1988, which she has established as one of Britain's most important arts venues. She is married to writer/director Michael Birch, and they have two children

KAY MELLOR: Just before Jude took over as artistic director in 1988, I submitted a script to the Playhouse called In All Innocence, about a woman who'd been sexually abused by her father. Jude called me in for a meeting and I was amazed by this dynamic little blonde.

In All Innocence was great, she said, but was too filmic. She commissioned me to make it more suitable for the stage. It was my first big stage commission after years of writing and acting in pubs and clubs. I was bowled over.

I felt I'd met a kindred spirit. It was clear Jude was as passionate about drama as I was and, like me, she was very pro women's stories. Once Innocence had opened, Jude asked: "What's in your head now?" I told her this very vague idea about "a woman climbing into her loft". Her eyes sparkled and she said: "I'm commissioning that." As the idea took shape, Jude showed how clever she is at making you think very precisely about what you're doing as a writer. The loft idea became A Passionate Woman, inspired by my mother's extra-marital affair. It ran at the Playhouse and then for a year in the West End.

I think Jude and I are similar in a lot of ways. We're from working-class backgrounds, we were both a little bit wild as teenagers (I got pregnant and married at 16). I can identify with everything Jude tells me about her life and I'm sure she can identify with everything I tell her.

We have the same political beliefs and both support Labour. She's more active than me politically; the way she can stand up in front of any audience, and speak so eloquently, unscripted, takes my breath away. That's a skill I don't have. I could see her being wooed into politics full-time, but it would be a great loss for the arts and, ultimately, I don't think it would make her happy.

Jude has always been confident; but as she has become more successful she's become more open. When I first met her, no one knew the real Jude Kelly; now she lets more of her vulnerability as a human being through, certainly with me.

We both know what it's like to juggle family and career (although her kids are young and mine are grown-up, which is bizarre as we are of an age); recently we both spoke at a seminar about working mothers. Jude once told me: "I've only got a certain number of years left to work at this intensity and then I'll have to slow down." That's a really good way to look at life: go hell for leather for as long as you can. Not surprisingly, Jude sometimes looks very tired, but she has an amazing ability to bounce back.

She excites me because she has no boundaries. I believe she could do anything, go anywhere: operas, plays, film, running the country. It's really exciting for a woman to see that drive in another woman. She gave me a great opportunity 10 years ago and I'd love to give her the chance to direct something for TV.

We have always talked about working together and finally managed it with Queen, a one-woman play I've written about a fictional soap-opera actress: I'm acting and Jude's directing. I hadn't been on stage for years and when we premiered the play in February, at a one-person play festival in Tokyo, Kay Mellor the writer disappeared and Kay Mellor the actress took over.

I got a bit tetchy and when Jude made a change that irritated me I kind of went for her, saying: "Listen, Jude, it's me out there on the stage, not you!" It wasn't a bust-up, just creative tension, and we ended up screaming with laughter afterwards. I've never really fallen out with her.

A few weeks ago, I became enormously nervous about doing Queen at the Playhouse this month. I rang Jude in Chichester, where she was rehearsing, and said: "I don't think I can manage it - just me on a stage for an hour and a half!" She said she was sorry she couldn't be there to help and reassured me completely. With another director I'd have hidden those nerves. I couldn't have told anybody but Jude that I was having a really big wobble.

JUDE KELLY: When I first met Kay my impression was pretty much the same as I have now: here was someone very single-minded, but at the same time genuinely open, and hungry for knowledge. Her openness might come across as naivety if you didn't know her well, but it's not that at all. It's her way of getting as much information as quickly as possible from whoever she is talking to.

The success of A Passionate Woman coincided with a time of huge frustration for Kay, when she was trying to get Band of Gold produced and no one was biting. Then, when Band of Gold became a hit, I noticed her changing. She was earning a lot more money, for starters, but winning the battle to get the series made had toughened her up. She became more up-front and decisive in everything she did. I've witnessed an incredible increase in her confidence over the last 10 years but that's never coincided with her becoming hard or arrogant.

She's the only person I know who's as busy as me all the time. I might not hear from her for weeks but I'd never take offence or think "Why hasn't she rung?", because I know how it feels. We have huge sympathy for the state of each other's lives - husbands, children, work - and talk about the best way to prevent everything from flying into chaos.

Kay knows my work very well and is very straight in her opinions. But she's also diplomatic - she's not interested in that blunt, Northern "Call a spade a spade" business. If she likes something I've directed, that's very pleasing. If she wants to make a critical point, though, she'll say something like "What did you mean by X?", as if it's her ignorance that's the problem. That's a brilliant method of making you feel secure and yet open to question. Lots of people give their views from an Olympian height; not Kay.

I accept her judgement, which is another element of trust in the relationship, and I know I've failed, at least in part, if Kay hasn't understood my intentions in a particular production. That's good, because unless you're the Pope you want to hear about your fallibility from your friends.

Being friends as well as professional colleagues is really easy: I trust her, she trusts me and we have a lot of laughs. Our friendship meant that when rehearsals for Queen started there was no need to negotiate a relationship, as I might do when working with someone for first time. I can be more direct with Kay than with other writers or actors: there's no need to edge around an issue to protect her feelings. Working on the show has made me realise how much Kay trusts me, because you don't take on something as demanding as this - 90 very emotional minutes on stage on your own - unless you think the director can guide you through.

Neither of us had been to Japan before so we had quite a frontier-like mentality out there. When we were in Tokyo, we were on the street trying to get a taxi and one of the production team asked: "How do you get a cab here?" Kay and I, at the same moment, instinctively lifted our skirts, stuck out a leg and thumbed for a lift. Nobody else got the joke, which harks back to our both having hitch-hiked a lot as teenagers. Tokyo made us closer, and made me more aware of her intelligence and the tremendous speed at which she works. It also confirmed that she doesn't make space for ego; I really like that, and hope I'm the same in my work.

Neither of us has a clear career game- plan; it's more a sense of stretching our potential and trying not to be parochial about the kind of projects we take on. Kay doesn't sit around thinking "God, I really want to go to Hollywood", and I don't sit around thinking "God, I want to run the National Theatre". Such things may happen, though, because we're both very driven.

'Queen', written by and starring Kay Mellor, is at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (0113 213 7700), to 17 June.

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