Sophiya Haque: West End actress who also played Poppy Morales in 'Coronation Street'

 

The acting, singing and dancing talents of Sophiya Haque were flourishing on the West End stage and beckoned a promising, long-term future when she died of cancer, aged 41, just a month after falling ill. Her last role was as the worldly wise Eurasian dancer Sylvia Morgan in a new, acclaimed production of the Peter Nichols comedy Privates on Parade, which opened at the Noël Coward Theatre on 10 December.

Alongside Simon Russell Beale as the outrageously camp drag artist in a British Army song-and-dance unit in Malaya in 1948, Haque played the troupe's sole female, enduring racial prejudice while instructing the virginal Private Steven Flowers (Joseph Timms) in the art of love. During her short run in the play, she complained of severe backache and abdominal pain. After the production's Christmas break she was admitted to hospital and died in her sleep after having breathing problems. Doctors believed the cause to be cancer.

Haque appeared in Bollywood films in India before getting her biggest screen exposure in Britain, as Poppy Morales (2008-09) in Coronation Street. Poppy became a barmaid at the Rovers Return after meeting Liz McDonald (Beverley Callard) at a Brazilian Crunch exercise class. On being promoted to assistant manager, she ruffled feathers first by tipping off one of two-timing Dev Alahan's girlfriends and then by sacking long-serving barmaid Betty Williams (Betty Driver). When she refused a request by pub owner Steve McDonald (Simon Gregson) to reconsider, his girlfriend, Becky Granger (Katherine Kelly), dragged Poppy out of the Rovers by her hair and she was never seen again.

Haque was born the youngest of three sisters in Portsmouth and, following her parents' divorce, lived with her British schoolteacher mother, Thelma. She took classes at the city's Rainbow School of Dance from the age of two and a half and attended the Priory School before moving to London to live with her Bangladeshi restaurateur father, Amirul, and train at the Arts Educational Schools.

Her first performing success came as a singer with the three-piece group Akasa, who were signed by WEA Records UK in 1988. Although they never had a British hit, they toured India and Haque received further recognition in Asia after the renowned cinematographer Jack Cardiff directed the promotional video for the group's single "One Night in My Life". As a result, from 1992, based in Hong Kong, she was a video jockey on MTV Asia and Channel [V], quickly becoming a leading name on music television. Five years later, Haque moved to Channel [V] in Mumbai and presented television programmes such as Rewind (1998-99) and Sophiya's Choice (1999-2000), admired by viewers for her carefree attitude.

She also used her singing and dancing talents to break into Bollywood films alongside that industry's major stars, such as Sanjay Dutt. However, in 2002, after appearing in pictures such as Khoobsurat (1999) and Santosham (2002), Haque returned to Britain on being given her big break in the West End.

She played Miss New Mona as well as understudying, then taking over, the role of Rani, Goddess of Love, in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-produced, Bollywood-themed musical Bombay Dreams (Apollo Victoria Theatre), staying for its entire two-year run. This led to her becoming a judge on the Channel 4 reality TV contest Bollywood Star (2004).

Haque made two more films in India, the 1857 mutiny drama The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey (2005) and Hari Puttar: A Comedy of Terrors (2008), while consolidating her British stage and screen career. There was the role of the scheming Janoo Rani in a West End musical adaptation of The Far Pavilions (Shaftesbury Theatre, 2005) that closed after five months when the 7/7 London bombings resulted in audience figures plummeting. One critic predicted that she would become a "musical superstar".

However, Haque switched to television, landing several character roles before her 60-episode run in Coronation Street. Later, she played Senkhara, the spirit of a forgotten Egyptian ruler, throughout the second series (2012) of House of Anubis, on the children's channel Nickelodeon. She also had a small role in the action film Wanted (2008) alongside James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie.

The actress returned to the London stage as a ruthless entrepreneur in the musical Britain's Got Bhangra (Theatre Royal, Stratford East, 2010). Then last year she provided a visual feast for audiences in that theatre's joint production with Sadler's Wells of another musical, Wah! Wah! Girls, playing the Hindi dance club owner Soraya, who dazzles with her own performances in the sensual Mujra style. Haque is survived by her partner of six years, the musical director David White.

Anthony Hayward

Syeda Sophiya Haque, actress: born Portsmouth 14 June 1971; partner to David White; died London 17 January 2013.

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