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A couple of Heartbreakers; How their brief debuts in soaps has led to Kerrie Taylor and Kelly Wenham becoming household names in Where The Heart Is.

Byline: Richard Barber

It was a sensational start to Kerrie Taylor's television career. As soon as she appeared in Brookside, the Channel 4 switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree, forcing soap bosses to cut a controversial scene from the omnibus. But when they did that, gay activists protested outside the studios.

And all because of Kerrie's passionate onscreen clinch with soap's most famous lipstick lesbian, Beth Jordache.

There can't be many better ways of ensuring you get noticed in your TV debut than kissing Anna Friel, who played Beth, especially for a young girl fresh out of drama school in Manchester.

"I was sworn to secrecy," says Kerrie, 28, recalling the day she was cast as Beth's latest girlfriend, Viv. "But I did tell my mum and dad. They divorced when I was 12, so I had to talk to each of them in turn. I said the good news was that I'd landed my first job and it was in Brookside. Oh, and that my character was, um, bisexual and I'd be having an affair with another woman. They were terrific about it.

"And Anna was so easy to work with that there wasn't any embarrassment. We're both straight. We both had boyfriends. We liked each other. It was fine. We did suck Polos beforehand even though we only had to kiss on the lips. The worst problem was repairing our lipstick after each take."

When that particular episode was shown in January 1995, Kerrie, who now stars in Where The Heart Is, kept a low profile.

"I didn't go out for two weeks, although I was Beth's third girlfriend, so I didn't think there'd be that much fuss."

She couldn't have been more wrong. Channel 4's switchboard was jammed with calls from outraged viewers, prompting the programme makers to cut the offending kiss from the soap's omnibus edition.

"That caused even more problems," says Kerrie. "There was a lesbian demonstration outside Channel 4 by a group waving banners proclaiming Keep The Kiss."

So when she next joined Hollyoaks as goody-two-shoes Lucy Benson, Kerrie thought life would be calmer. But, tortured by the death of her brother in a car crash, for which she blamed herself, Lucy got hooked on anti- depressants and heroin.

"For 18 months, I'd go into work and play a heroin addict," says Kerrie, who was in the show for five years. "It was challenging, but it did get to me after a while."

After all that, you'd think playing Nurse Beth Enright in Where The Heart Is would present fewer emotional hurdles.

"But she's really mixed up," says Kerrie. "This is my second series and Beth's still coming to terms with her divorce. She's taken it so badly. As far as she's concerned, if all men could be wiped off the face of the planet she'd be perfectly content.

"Her difficult relationship with her father meant she found it hard to show affection to her husband and that forced him into an affair. She cannot give her heart with abandon."

Fortunately, Kerrie doesn't have that problem. "I've always found it easy to love freely," she says. "I don't give my heart away lightly, but when I love, I love completely."

Just ask her husband of eight months, Jason Farrell, a journalist with ITN whom she met at a party. Although with Kerrie currently filming in Huddersfield for six months and Jason working in London, theirs has so far been a weekend marriage.

"It's rather romantic," she says. "We value the time we do spend together. I get so excited at the prospect of a night in on the sofa with a video, a bottle of wine, and just Jason and me. I'm enjoying what my dad calls a `purple patch'."

Kelly Wenham's dream of being a supermodel was shattered when a teenager, but if it hadn't been she probably would never have found fame in Where The Heart Is.

A modelling assignment in Japan five years ago turned into a nightmare of loneliness and depression for Kelly. Away from her parents and under pressure to adopt the trendy waif-like look of the mid-1990s, she hated her time there and came home early to Manchester, resolved to become an actress instead.

"I'd pleaded with mum and dad to let me go," recalls Kelly, 19. "They finally agreed because we'd been told we'd be looked after out there, but we weren't. They gave us our own apartment and no supervision at all. It made me grow up very fast, but there were incredible pressures. We were expected to be dead thin and I did lose some weight. I could have come out of it messed up or with an eating disorder, so perhaps it was lucky that the Japanese economy was doing badly - it meant we didn't get that much work and I returned home after a month."

Back at school, Kelly had to endure the taunts of jealous schoolmates.

"They wanted to know, `Why hadn't I become a supermodel? Was it because I wasn't thin enough or pretty enough?' Some of them were so bitchy," she recalls.

Undeterred, she threw herself into a school production of Daisy Pulls It Off, playing the baddie Sybil, and set her heart on acting. After leaving drama college, she made a brief appearance in Hollyoaks, where bosses at Where The Heart Is spotted her and thought she was perfect to play rebellious teenager Jess Buckley.

"I'd done five episodes of Hollyoaks and they were keen for me to stay," says Kelly. "But when I was offered the role of Jess I decided to take it. I thought I'd be more noticeable because in Hollyoaks everyone's young and good-looking."

For the last three years, Kelly's been having a ball as Jess, the wild child of David (Phil Middlemiss) and step-daughter of Karen (Leslie Ash).

"I do love the character, but I sometimes think, `Get a grip, girl'," she says. "Jess is so volatile and moody. She had a pregnancy scare in the last series and she's always snogging someone new. She's got so much attitude, but I wouldn't do half the things she does. I think she'd be good fun on a Friday night out, but become too much after a bit.

"Having lost her virginity, Jess has got eyes for every boy in town. And yet I don't think she really knows what she wants. She needs to get head sorted out."

Kelly herself has just come out of a relationship with actor Joe Renton, 30, who starred in Warriors and Billy Elliot. They met when he appeared in an episode of Where The Heart Is and moved in together in a flat in North London.

"It was good to have a boyfriend who's an actor because he understands the pressures," says Kelly. "Then again, the relationship can be in trouble if you're both working all the time. Now I'm completely independent, but then I have to be.

"After work, Kerrie and I often work out. It keeps us out of mischief and it means that when your head touches the pillow, you're out like a light."

When filming on the current series ends this month, Kelly has plenty of plans to keep busy.

"I've got so many ambitions," she says. "I want to travel. And if Hollywood beckoned I'd be there like a shot. The sky's the limit."

l Where The Heart Is, Sunday, ITV1, 8pm.

CAPTION(S):

LESBIANS: (Top) Kerrie's controversial TV debut as Beth's girlfriend Viv in Brookside. (Above) In Where The Heart Is; EX FILE: (Top) Kelly's former boyfriend Joe Renton, who she met on Where The Heart Is. (Above) With co-star Steve Chaplin
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 25, 2002
Words:1280
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