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Goodbye Coronation St; EXCLUSIVE RICHARD FLEESHMAN EXCLUSIVE WHY STREET HUNK'S LEAVING WEATHERFIELD FOR WEST END.

Byline: By Beth Neil

AS the Street's Craig Harris he has gone goth, lost his virginity and been made homeless -all in the last 12 months. No wonder London holds no fear for Richard Fleeshman.

The 17-year-old Corrie heart-throb, who films his final scenes this week, is leaving his Manchester home for the capital to boost his singing career.

And he has already lined up a starring role in a West End show.

It means he will be forced to live apart from his 23-year-old girlfriend Roxanne Pallett -better known as scheming vets receptionist Jo Stiles in Emmerdale. But he is confident their relationship will survive.

"The distance isn't going to affect us," shrugs Richard. "We're both actors so we understand we have to go where the work is. It's just one of those things.

"It's going fantastic - really, really well. The age difference has never bothered us. She's just my girlfriend and age doesn't come into it. We started out as best friends and things went from there. It's all fine.

"We know each other's parents - she gets on with my mum and dad and I love her mum Monica."

Since winning ITV1's singing contest Soapstar Superstar in January - where he met Roxanne and revealed his distinctive vocal talents - Richard's profile has soared.

It has prompted him to branch out and try other things, which is why he is quitting Coronation Street.

But after four-and-a-half years of playing troubled teenager Craig, he's leaving behind a lot of good friends.

"I'm going to miss everyone," he says. "But I think it's the right time to go.

"I'm very close to my new family, the Websters. Sally Whit-taker, who plays Sally, is lovely. Then there's Helen Flanagan [Rosie] and Mike le Vell [Kevin] who I love dearly. And little Brooke who's come in to play Sophie is brilliant. I adore her. I've been lucky. I'm only going to leave with good memories.

CRAIG'S not leaving in a box - I've always said I'd love to go back at some point."

Don't expect to see any photos of Richard's leaving do making the papers. The modest soap hunk is not planning a big bash.

"Leaving dos are scary - what if no one turns up?" he says. "I'd rather just slip out quietly.

"I'm not into big parties. I'm going to sound so boring but I'd rather stay in with a takeaway and watch a good movie."

Craig leaves in October when he and the Websters go to Paris. Once there, he tries to persuade his teenage lover Rosie to run away with him to Berlin. Richard won't reveal exactly what happens next, but it's safe to say it's going to be a tearjerker.

His exit scenes were filmed in Paris amid tight security to make sure the storyline didn't leak out.

"They got the French police to get rid of the paparazzi when we were filming," he says. "That's how top secret it is. It was exhausting work and there were a lot of tears.

"There wasn't any time to see the sights but I'd been to Paris a couple of months before with Rox and we did the tourist thing then."

During his time on the Street, Richard has had some heavy storylines to contend with, not least the Killer Katy plot which left Craig's father and sister dead and his mum in jail.

But it is the tentative teen romance with Rosie Webster which has really captured the public's imagination.

"I didn't have an issue with losing my virginity on screen," laughs Richard. "Me and Helen just had a laugh with it.

"We were asked if we'd feel more comfortable if there were just a couple of cameramen in the room. But we didn't really care!

We just put each other at ease. We've worked together for so long it wasn't a big deal."

Fortunately, neither he nor Roxanne are paranoid about each other's sex scenes.

"We don't get jealous at all," he says. "It's just acting.

"My parents have been together for 30 years and I bet they've lost count of the amount of times they've had to sit in a theatre and watch the other one kissing someone else. It's part of the job."

His mum Sue Jenkins is better known as Brookside's Jackie Corkhill, and his dad David Fleeshman is an accomplished actor of stage and screen.

David has played four different Corrie characters between 1976 and 2005.

And Sue was Rovers barmaid Gloria Todd for three years. In fact, Richard's first appearance on the Street was as Sue's real-life baby-bump in 1988.

"I've only ever seen the odd clip of my mum in Corrie when she was pregnant with me," he laughs. "It's very funny."

His 19-year-old sister Emily is doing Theatre Studies at university and has already appeared in Shameless and The Royal, while his other sister Rosie, 13, is also showing signs of wanting to act. "Mum and dad always said: 'Don't do it!' But I think they've realised now it's in the genes and they couldn't be more supportive," grins Richard.

"They made sure we all got our education. That was the one thing that was drummed into us. I'm really grateful for that.

WE HAD such a normal childhood. Mum never missed a sports day. She'd be filming Brookside and would drive from Liverpool to Manchester just for an hour so she wouldn't miss it. My parents are always there for us."

No doubt they will have front row seats when their talented son takes to the stage playing the lead in the Sherman Brothers' Second World War-based musical, Over Here! It is due to open at the end of November at an as-yet-unconfirmed London theatre.

"This was a bolt out of the blue and I knew I wanted to do it," says Richard, who was tipped to carve out a pop career.

"It's a real challenge and is only going to improve me as a performer, singer and actor. It's really exciting. I've always wanted to push myself.

"The music is fantastic - Glenn Miller, swing, very 40s and really nostalgic.

"I didn't want to jump straight into a recording contract. I take music very seriously and I didn't want to do anything rash. This is the most fickle business in the world.

"People with longevity like Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan I have so much respect for. I love all kinds of music - if you looked on my iPod you'd think it belonged to 12 different people."

It means moving away from home, but Richard is taking it all in his stride. "Maybe foolishly, I'm not too nervous about moving to London," he says. "Although I bet I'm on the phone to my mum after five minutes asking her how to put the washer on.

"I'll probably miss home a little bit because I've always lived in Manchester, so it'll be a bit strange.

"I think my mum will struggle more than me now I'm flying the nest. She's really happy for me, though."

So will he be taking any mementos when he leaves Weatherfield?

"I wanted to take that great long leather coat they made Craig wear for so long," he grins.

"It would've been a good souvenir. But apparently that's gone to charity. Probably just as well..."

I would love to go back some day.. Craig is not leaving in a box

beth.neil@mirror.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

POPPING OFF: Richard wants to use his talented singing voice' Picture: TONY WARD/SCOPE' Bumps, babes and ballads...' YOUNG LOVE: With girlfriend Roxanne' GOTHS: Craig with Rosie (Helen Flanagan)' SINGING FOR JOY: On Soapstar Superstar' First scene in Corrie was as his mum's 'bump'!' OH BOY! A pregnant Sue Jenkins as Gloria
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 31, 2006
Words:1293
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