CHRISTMAS SOAPS; This Christmas is going to be a real cracker.
FOR the first time in eight years, Coronation Street star Suranne Jones won't be spending her festive season doing pantomime.
Things have gone so well for the 23-year-old actress from Oldham, who plays mouthy Karen MacDonald in the ITV soap, that this Christmas she is able to have a break from treading the boards.
Instead, she'll be snuggled up in her new house, just outside Manchester, with new boyfriend Jim, a bank worker from Sale in Cheshire.
She admits: "I have been doing this job professionally since I was 16 and that meant that every Christmas I was doing panto somewhere.
"I only really got Christmas Day and New Year's Day off. It was always really hard being away from my family, especially one year when I was stuck alone in a hotel in Belfast.
"This year, it's going to be very strange having all this time for myself. Not that I am complaining, though.
"I've just moved into my new house with my boyfriend Jim, who I love to bits, bless him, and I am so excited. I've already decided where to put the tree and everything - right next to the window so that everyone can see how lovely it is.
"We're going to spend the day at Jim's parents and then the evening with my mum and dad.
"We are a very family oriented lot and I can't wait for Christmas.
"Before that, I am spending a week somewhere hot with my mate Mikyla Dodd, who plays Chloe Bruce in Hollyoaks, her mum and my mum Jenny.
"Then it's back to work for a few days and then a fortnight off."
Life really couldn't be better for Suranne - whose real name is Sarah Anne - these days. Since she arrived on the Street in June last year, her character has gone from strength to strength.
Karen is a typical mouthy Northern woman that the Street is famous for and her flirty and catty ways have even seen her compared to the late, great Pat Phoenix's character, Elsie Tanner.
For Suranne, it's a dream come true to walk the cobbled streets every day for her job and she wants the very fact that she has remembered long after Karen has up and left Weatherfield.
SHE says: "Since Karen married Steve MacDonald, her character has grown and grown. Yes, she is nasty, but she's not heartless completely, which you will see in 2002.
"This Christmas, she does manage to completely insult Steve, by insulting his mother, Liz, who they have been visiting over the festive season, but they do get back together eventually.
"I love playing her and I absolutely love my job. If I do eventually leave the Street I want Karen to be remembered for years to come as a really strong Coronation Street woman."
Suranne has at least another 12 months to help her wish come true, having just been given an extension to her contract.
If next year is anything like this one, she'll be laughing.
She reveals: "Everything has happened for me this year. I got to sing at the Manchester Palace in a show in the summer, which was wonderful. To be on stage there, singing songs from great musicals was a dream come true.
"My character Karen has really taken off in the Street - and I have met a wonderful man, been on a great holiday with him and now moved in with him.
"I am so settled now, really centred, and really, really happy."
Riding high, having also just been on our screens performing credibly as Madonna in a Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes special, you could forgive Suranne for being affected by it all.
Well, is she 'eck as like -and reckons it has a lot to do with her family, not least her mum Jenny.
Suranne says: "Honestly, sometimes you would not believe my mother.
"In October we were both guesting on GMTV, as my mum was talking about the fact that she had breast cancer, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Week.
"She was pretty nervous about it and afterwards, as we were leaving the studio, she kept asking me if she had done alright, and did she sound okay, etc.
"Then she just screamed, pointed, and ran up to this bloke. It was Shane from Boyzone and my mother was completely starstruck.
"It was hysterical. All her nervousness and stress was gone and there she was grabbing his face, and shouting `It's you'. I was speechless and he - well, he didn't know what to do. I introduced myself and my mother and before we knew what was happening, my mum said `I've got to kiss you,' and planted a smacker on him.
He just said, `Hi, how you doing,' before I hurried her away."
SURANNE has lots of similar stories about her family, but she admits she is extremely close to them all.
She is also clearly her mum's biggest fan - despite Jenny's tendency to occasional boy-band hysteria.
Suranne admits: "She's outrageous my mother. She met Jimi Harkishin, who plays Dev in the Street, on my birthday in a trendy bar in Manchester, and jumped all over him.
"That time she was joined by my auntie Barbara and my Auntie Jean - together we call them the Three Degrees. She also keeps going up to Simon Gregson, who plays my screen hubby Steve, saying `my lovely son- in-law'.
"I keep trying to explain, that, no, Jim is my boyfriend and Steve's just my screen husband - but there are pictures in my mum's house of her, my dad Chris and Simon Gregson."
Despite her strong family backing, Suranne, unbelievably, was about to chuck it all in before Corrie came knocking on her door just in time.
A certain casting director at another soap was one of the things that put her off.
Suranne reveals: "I really had had enough last year. I worked in a bar and they had offered me the management position. I was ready to take it.
"From about aged 6-18 I was doing, really well, getting parts and then it just dried up.
"It was really disheartening and I was fed-up going to auditions and not getting anything.
"I was doing this Theatre In Education job as well and it was just going nowhere.
"We went round schools in the area and tried to motivate them into taking further education.
"We used to stand on stage and do Bring It All Back by S Club 7 singing, `Don't stop, never give up, hold your head high and reach the top, we're all doing an NVQ and working in a job'.
"Honestly, the kids used to just sit and stare at you, speechless. Then, on the comments sheets, nine times out of 10 would be written, `the one with the dark hair had big boobs'."
As well as job dissatisfaction, Suranne was facing the harsh reality of acting - personal rejection.
She says: "My agent put me up for this audition and before it the casting director, who shall remain nameless, said: `Suranne, well, she's a bit fat and a bit nothing, really'.
"My agent told me what she said and I was devastated - but I went to the audition, killed her with kindness and I ended up getting another audition for a big part in a big soap."
That was for Charity Dingle in Emmerdale. Emma Atkins eventually beat Suranne to the role - but Lady Luck smiled on Suranne and she won the role of Karen not long after.
She says: "I tell you, being in Coronation Street is a lot better than working in a bar.
"Or singing for Theatre In Education."
THERE isn't much Christmas spirit in Walford this year when Lisa Shaw's baby Louise is taken seriously ill. It's touch and go as to whether the child will survive at all, leaving a distraught Lisa feeling very guilty about Phil not knowing he's the daddy. But, as she dithers over whether to tell him or not, nice boy Mark is psyching himself up to propose, not realising how complicated this makes things. There is even less Christmas cheer over in the Slater household, especially when Trevor rapes Little Mo, above. EastEnders may be the country's most popular soap, but boy are they gloomy.
SCOTS singer Marti Pellow, left, plays Santa in the Yorkshire Dales soap but, during Kathy's farewell, he has an acting role that he should have no problem with - he plays himself. Elsewhere, there's more confusion and heartache for Carlos and Ashley as they make desperate efforts to find out who is the father of Bernice's baby girl. And, trying to find some cheer, Mark struggles to enjoy Christmas with his court case looming in the New Year. Lastly, Emmerdale's Scrooge Pollard has a miserable Christmas, when it's spoiled by a bad back - although he is rescued by an unlikely Samaritan.
HOME & AWAY
CHANNEL 5 celebrates its first Christmas with Home & Away, but there's hardly any party hats around, just a lot more doom and gloom. Gypsy has a disastrous 18th birthday and ends up pathetically singing happy birthday to herself. Ailsa dies and Fisher delivers the eulogy at her funeral, Mitch sings and Shauna talks about how glad she was to have a chance to get to know her mother - then breaks down. Nick walks out of the funeral - it's bringing back too many painful memories of his father's death. Alf, pictured above, Shauna, Duncan and Mitch then head off to scatter Ailsa's ashes at sea. And a happy Christmas to you all.
SO you think the dark clouds are over? Oh no, another soap and more tears. Crossroads is gripped by Patrick's funeral. There is a huge family fall-out, with Nicola raging at Kate, left, who is having an affair with chef Billy Taylor. On December 20 viewers do get a brief glimpse of tinsel and happiness -a Christmas fancy dress party, but a lurking visitor Adam Chance, played by Tony Adams, returns as Christmas past. He is on remand for the death of Jill Chance - and everyone wants to know why he's been let out. The New Year's Eve episode brings recommendations for drastic measures for Crossroads.
AT least in Brookside there's a bit of mistletoe raunchiness to go with the doom. Katie and sister Sammy decide to set a trap, with Sammy trying to seduce Max, left, as revenge against Jacqui. Tim falls into the river when a lorry crashes and Emily is frantic with worry - is her young husband dead?
Meanwhile, Christy gives the gang the stock from Bev's Bar to stop them coming after him again and Jimmy decides to stop taking the tablets.
THIS Christmas there's a house decorating competition with a local councillor judging it, but Matt fuses all the lights in the area and the locals end up singing carols with candles. On Christmas Day Vince is supposed to cook dinner, but forgets to turn the oven on and the flatmates all go to the pub for their festive grub. Elsewhere, Jim Webb proposes marriage to Cat, left, and she accepts - little knowing he hasn't told Nikki about this nice little festive present.
NIGHT AND DAY
MORE festive gloom and doom as Sam (the footballer who is looking after his brother and sister) visits his parents' grave.
We go back in time to a year ago, just before their fatal accident in a car crash.
It's Christmas Eve and Sam comes home to visit his parents Jack and Abi as they await the imminent arrival of their new baby.
Sam is delighted when his old friend Dennis drops by and he takes the opportunity to brag about how great it is living away from home - despite the fact it's only been a month.
Abi is surprised by his boastful
attitude - but a little suspicious of it as well.
Jane is restless, but nobody knows why. She usually loves Christmas, but not this year for some reason.
The Aussie soap is off air for the two weeks over the festive period. The soap will return to our screens on Monday, January 7, 2002.
JUST as you think it can't get any worse in a soap - war breaks out at the Cunninghams. Les gets drunk, Helen has a temper tantrum - and tension abounds during the festivities. As a nice present, Finn receives divorce papers from Victoria - and Mrs Morgan catches Mandy, right, in a compromising position.