Michelle Keegan: ‘It’s no one’s business when I’m having a child’

The Our Girl star talks to Ellie Harrison about the mistreatment of women in the media, why she’s proud to be northern and working class, and her new ‘bolshy’ role in Sky One comedy Brassic

Thursday 22 August 2019 12:30 BST
'My mum is really strong, so that’s driven that into me, and my grandma was the strongest woman I’ve known in my life'
'My mum is really strong, so that’s driven that into me, and my grandma was the strongest woman I’ve known in my life' (Rex)

Finish on my tits” is a brazen opening line for a character in a script, let alone an interview, and it’s exactly how we’re introduced to Michelle Keegan’s Erin in Sky One’s new comedy, Brassic.

“Oh yes! Hilarious!” grins Keegan when I read the line back to her, as she perches cat-like on the edge of a sofa in a central London hotel suite. She has just gobbled down biscuits for breakfast when we meet, and is experiencing a sugar rush, the effects of which make for an ebullient and charming interviewee.

Keegan, 32, cut her teeth playing Rovers Return barmaid Tina McIntyre in Coronation Street until 2014, and has since won the hearts of viewers as Sergeant Georgie Lane in the military drama Our Girl. And now, she’s back in a new role as a “bolshy” single mother in Brassic.

The comedy, created by Danny Brocklehurst and lead star Joe Gilgun, sits somewhere between The Inbetweeners and This Country on the comedy spectrum, and follows a hapless group of friends finding unconventional ways to “win at life” in suburban Lancashire.

It is a proudly working-class story that opens with a supremely well-observed, expletive-ridden monologue about the middle class by Gilgun’s character Vinnie: “F*** The Guardian, f*** three holidays a year and drinking red wine talking b*****ks at dinner parties. F*** quinoa. F*** scented candles,” and so on.

Keegan says she finds this speech “really powerful”, and explains how much she relates to the characters in the show, having grown up in Salford, the daughter of a school cook and a policeman: “I’m really proud of where I’m from,” she says.

Is she fed up of seeing negative depictions... “...of the Northern working class?” she finishes my sentence, nodding furiously. “Definitely, definitely.” In contrast, Keegan finds Brassic “refreshing” in that it shows a group of young people just “having a laugh”, which is much more reflective of her experience growing up than many downtrodden crime dramas set north of London.

The actor speaks fondly about her childhood. “My mum was my primary school cook which was handy because she used to give me extra portions,” she recalls with delight. “After school me and my brother used to go in the kitchen and wait for her there, and she used to give us a bit of cake and things.” And at weekends, the siblings hung out in the (presumably empty) police cells at the local station where her father worked as an inspector.

Keegan adds that because her mother is one of four sisters, her family is “quite female dominated” leaving her father truly “outnumbered”. “I come from really strong women,” she says. “My mum is really strong, so that’s driven that into me, and my grandma was the strongest woman I’ve known in my life.”

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It seems inevitable, then, that Keegan’s first TV job was Coronation Street, a show that launched the careers of so many exceptionally talented women: Sarah Lancashire, Suranne Jones, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Joanne Froggatt... the list goes on.

What is it about the soap that leads to such huge career success for women? “They build women up in that show amazingly, amazingly well,” says Keegan. “They like the strong women. You see that from the off, right from when it started 60 years ago. And now, too, they like bolshy, fiery, feisty women. So, I think that definitely helps when you leave a show like that. And luckily for me, I was given amazing storylines for six and half years.

“There were lots of female writers, but even the male writers champion women, it’s a really empowering show. What’s special with Corrie is that they have the comedy element, women are funny as well – they might do the emotional stuff, they might do the drama, but they’re really funny too.”

While Keegan’s time on Coronation Street opened a lot of doors in terms of career opportunities for the actor, who was 26 when she left the show, it also led to a tremendous amount of tabloid attention which she still experiences now. Rarely does a week go by when Keegan isn’t the subject of gossip stories about her marriage to reality star Mark Wright, baby rumours, or her figure – one recent typical headline reads: “Corrie babe Michelle Keegan flashes legs as sheer skirt flies up.”

Keegan as Erin and Anthony Welsh as Jake in ‘Brassic’ (Sky)
Keegan as Erin and Anthony Welsh as Jake in ‘Brassic’ (Sky) (Picture credit: Sky)

Keegan asserts that “women are more affected” by tabloid scrutiny than men. “It’s like, as soon as you get married, ‘When are you having a child?’” she says, exasperated. “My husband never gets asked that question.

“I think it’s really invasive, for a start, and I used to answer that question all the time, but then I think to myself, well, why do I need to answer that question? It’s no one’s business.

“And I think now, even now, I’m still learning how to deal with things like that. I used to blab and go on about it, whereas now I’m like, ‘I don’t want to answer questions like that, it’s personal.’”

She adds: “I do find it strange that my husband doesn’t get that question, or if he does it’s on behalf of me. It’s not like, ‘Do you want children?’ It’s, ‘Does Michelle want children?’ Just because I’m a woman. I do see the divide there and I do see it’s different, completely different. It’s quite frustrating.”

Keegan plays Sergeant Georgie Lane in the military drama 'Our Girl'
Keegan plays Sergeant Georgie Lane in the military drama 'Our Girl' (Picture credit: BBC)

In recent months, Keegan has made a conscious effort to make her private life “more private”, by sharing fewer updates on Instagram. “I think we lost it a little bit... I think we shared too much,” she says thoughtfully. “Whereas now if I want to share something I will do because that’s my choice.”

She concedes that sometimes it’s difficult to refrain from posting pictures on Instagram, because it’s how so many other people share their lives. “It is, because you’ve got a nice picture, you want to put it up, and then you’re like, ‘Do I want this to go out in the press? Do I want them to run it and make a story surrounding that picture?’ That’s what I have to think of all the time,” she sighs.

Keegan with her husband, ‘Towie’ star Mark Wright (Getty)
Keegan with her husband, ‘Towie’ star Mark Wright (Getty) (Picture credit: Getty)

Keegan explains that while she used to read all the stories written about her when she first came under the media spotlight, she doesn’t anymore. “I haven’t read them for a long time,” she says. “You have to take it with a pinch of salt. I certainly do, and if I just see a headline and I go, ‘that’s rubbish,’ I don’t even read the article.”

It’s hard to imagine Keegan’s lively spirit being dampened by anything, but the gossip pieces clearly take their toll. After spending the best part of an hour with her, I can’t help thinking that she’s strikingly similar to the women she’s played – a “bolshy, fiery, feisty” character, with many insightful things to say. The tabloid headlines have got her all wrong.

All episodes of the Sky original comedy Brassic are available to watch on Sky and on streaming service NOW TV

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