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When Coronation Street celebrates 60 years on our screens this December, there will be one person in the cast who will be marking the same milestone. Bill Roache has played Ken Barlow since the soap’s very first episode back in 1960, making him not only the series’ only original remaining actor, but a Guinness World Records holder as the longest-serving TV soap star.
To celebrate his remarkable anniversary year, OK! caught up with the 88 year old living legend at his beautiful home near Manchester.
While Bill has lived alone since his wife Sarah died in 2009, two of his adult children, Verity, 39, and Will, 34, have been staying with him for the past five months during the coronavirus pandemic.
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“It’s been wonderful having the house full again,” smiles Bill – who is also dad to New York-based actor Linus Roache, 56. “Every night, we’ve had a movie club and watched all the old classics, like Cleopatra and My Fair Lady. I’m a big Will Ferrell fan, too, so we watch a lot of his films as well.”
While we wouldn’t have pegged Bill as an Anchorman obsessive, Verity tells us her dad is playful and young at heart.
“He is incredibly youthful,” she reveals. “My father has always been very relaxed and chilled out. I can’t put into words how amazing he is. He’s like my best friend and we have so much fun.”
Here, Bill reflects on his highlights from the past six decades, shares his thoughts on ageing and reveals why he won’t be retiring anytime soon…
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Congratulations on 60 years in Coronation Street. How does it feel?
It’s wonderful. It makes me feel quite emotional because it’s not just a job or a TV show, it’s my life. I am very privileged to have been in it for so long and I always appreciate that. Television is a different animal now than it was when we started out with just a few channels. I don’t think any programme will survive to see 60 years again, certainly not a drama, so this is a big milestone for both myself and the show.
Have you ever felt frustrated by playing the same character?
No, because it’s not like being in a play and playing the same part every night. It’s the same character, but they change over the years, just as you do in your own life. I am very fond of Ken, I regard myself as his caretaker, but he is a different type of being to me. I am very sporty and I play golf, which Ken doesn’t do, but I like him and that’s all that is needed.
Have you ever thought about leaving the show over the years?
There was a time in my forties when I did think about it. But I’ve always loved Coronation Street and I remember a director saying that, every now and then, you’ll get a scene in Corrie that is as good as any film, and that’s absolutely right. So I get tremendous job satisfaction and therefore I never seriously considered leaving.
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Do you see yourself retiring in the future?
Well, while I can do it and they want me, I will be there. Retirement is not on the radar at all, I have no plans for that. I don’t even like to think about how they’d write Ken out if I did leave, because hopefully that is never going to happen.
Which of Ken’s storylines are you most proud of?
Well, the big one was the whole Ken, Mike, Deirdre love triangle back in the 80s. It was amazing actually because that story really gripped the nation. I remember Manchester United were playing one night and it flashed up on the screen at half time, “Ken stays with Deirdre.” Everyone was talking about it and we won awards. It really put soap on the map.
It was five years this year since the death of Anne Kirkbride, who played your on-screen wife Deirdre. What are your favourite memories of working with her?
When you were in her presence, laughter was never far away. She was very bright and loving and if there was anything wrong, she would rally round and want to help you. She was just a very beautiful person and a superb actress with brilliant comic timing. I still think of her so much and when I go on set, all the photos of her are still there so her presence is very much felt.
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You turn 90 in a couple of years. How do you feel about that?
A few years ago I decided I was going to get younger every birthday and I am going to carry on doing that. I am Benjamin Button! I don’t think about age too much. I think it is largely a belief system. You don’t have to deteriorate with the years. It is mainly what you are doing to yourself, so I just enjoy life and I live in the here and now.
Are you aware of your own mortality though?
Yes, very much so. It is something that is going to happen, but what I know is that you carry on. It is just a change of environment, no more than that.
So you believe in an after life?
I don’t believe, I know. I know that you carry on after so-called ‘death’ in another dimension. It’s at a different vibrational level – we are all souls and our souls carry on at that different level. You can call it heaven, you can call it whatever you like.
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Do you think this understanding is what has kept you looking so young?
I think a lot of it is that I don’t accept the ageing business. But there are also certain basic things I follow, like making sure I get enough sleep, water, vegetables and exercise. I also try and keep stress at bay by meditating. I have a conservatory, which is my peaceful space and that’s where I often go to meditate – although I have been meditating for 40 years now, so I can do it without even having to think about it. I don’t drink alcohol either. I don’t like getting hangovers, although I did my bit in the 60s!
You’ve been single for a long time now, would you like to share your life with a lady again?
I would never say no, but I am very happy as I am. I am certainly not searching for anything, but who knows? I don’t think I would want to get married again because I love my independence. I love setting my own agenda and getting up in the morning knowing I can do whatever it is I want to do. I definitely wouldn’t go on a dating app or anything like that!
Do you still have any ambitions you want to achieve?
I have been writing a novel during lockdown, which I am very much enjoying. I have about 40,000 words so far. I don’t want to give away too much about it, but it’s an adventure story, although some of it is on the psychic level. We’ll see what happens with it.
Speaking of life in lockdown, were you nervous about catching coronavirus, given your age?
No, I don’t think about it. I don’t watch live television, I don’t listen to the news and I don’t read the papers. I like to focus on positive things, so I’ve just been enjoying my time at home and having two of my kids with me. Verity even taught me how to iron a shirt during lockdown, which I haven’t been able to do since my army days! I’ve still been getting out and about, too, I’ve not been staying inside all the time. I love to go for long walks and to the garden centre.
When you’re out, do you constantly get asked to pose for selfies?
Yes, but it’s lovely. It never annoys me. If I was playing a villain and getting abuse, it might annoy me, but Ken is a very well-meaning bloke and people have a lot of affection for me. They remember me from their childhood and I am still here now. In an ever-changing world, anything that stays constant is a comfort.
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