For more than 30 years Michael Le Vell enjoyed a stalwart role on the world’s longest running soap opera. Yet he never chose to test himself far beyond the confines of the famous cobbled set, all too aware that the security and wealth afforded by playing mechanic Kevin Webster could vanish overnight.
“For me Coronation Street is number one. The only way out of Weatherfield is down,” he remarked. It was a chance encounter with the soap’s producer whilst at the Granada Studios to audition for another show which gave the then teenage plasterer his big break. Within a few weeks he went from local tradesman to drinking champagne with Street legends such as Johnny Baldwin and Lynne Perrie.
Throughout his trial Le Vell, real name Michael Turner, sought to persuade the jury that he was an ordinary working class bloke made good. It was the same story he told in countless interviews during his heyday in the role which was to bring him what he conceded was a “charmed life”.
One of six children born into an Oldham two-up-two down, Le Vell lost both parents in his teenage years to cancer. Success in a school production of Kes and experience at the Oldham Theatre Workshop – a local drama school which was also to produce Anna Friel, Lisa Riley, Sarah Lancashire– persuaded Le Vell that he had a future as an actor.
Yet for much of the 1980s, the moustachioed figure of Kevin Webster was little more than a blameless toiler. By the late 90s – although well established in the eyes of the viewers – he conceded his part often required little more than walking into the Rovers and ordering a pint.
He feared that he was about to be axed. "For years, I was just padding,” he was later to recall. “I went up to our then boss David Liddiment and said 'You could save thousands of pounds a year if you write me out, because I don't do anything'.”
But a more tempestuous change in the plot line to involve the Webster family in a series of infidelities appeared to lend greater interest to his role.
Le Vell’s personal life was becoming one of greater turmoil and drama too. His niece scooped £10m on the National Lottery and in 2011 – shortly after his arrest on child sex charges - he split from his wife of 25 years Janette Beverley, who had also been in Coronation Street.
It emerged during the course of his trial that the actor had been conducting a series of affairs and one night stands including when Ms Beverley was undergoing treatment for cancer.
Le Vell, who had always been a heavy and habitual drinker – a legacy of his working class upbringing, he claimed - was by now consuming up to eight pints a night at his local pub.
Two attempts to give up the booze failed and his behaviour was increasingly erratic. Although he claimed never to have suffered black outs he did concede that at one point he stumbled – blamelessly - into his alleged victim’s bed whilst drunk.
He confided to one friend that he harboured “little dark secrets” and that the inner workings of his mind were beyond the belief of normal people. He said he had done “something unforgiveable” – a reference, he claimed to his infidelity not child abuse.
Le Vell was initially arrested in September 2011 at his luxury home in Hale, Greater Manchester.
The charges were dropped the following January but proceedings were later renewed following a review of evidence by Alison Levitt, QC, principal legal adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions in February 2013.
He has not appeared on the soap during the trial in which his weakness for alcohol and women and psychological failings played large. He is now due to meet the show’s makers to discuss his future.
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