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I love playing a cheating bitch on TV but I'd never do anything like that to Jamie; EXCLUSIVE: CORRIE TEMPTRESS NIKKI AND HER REAL-LIFE LOVE.

Byline: RACHEL MURPHY

SHE is known to millions of Coronation Street fans as trouble-making teenage tearaway Candice Stowe.

For three years, actress Nikki Sanderson has breathed fire and passion into the precocious schoolgirl - seducing an older man, bedding her boyfriend's big brother and vying with her best mate for the attentions of a local tearaway.

At 18, Nikki has blossomed into a stunningly attractive young woman. And with her mischievous smile and brimming confidence it's easy to imagine she could give Candice a run for her money any day.

She recently fuelled her sexy image by ditching her Weatherfield school uniform and posing in lacy lingerie on the cover of lads' magazine Loaded.

Not surprisingly, showbiz gossips have speculated about her love life, but the reality is a far cry from any of Candice's dangerous liaisons.

Nikki has been dating clothes shop assistant manager Jamie Meakin, 23, for two years. They are totally devoted to each other and are talking of engagement.

"Some people expect me to be a man-eater like Candice, but I'm not like her at all," says Nikki as she snuggles up to Jamie on a sofa at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester.

"It's great playing such a bitch. I think it's a part of me that's locked away and I'd never, ever get out in real life.

"I loved it when Candice cheated on her boyfriend with his big brother. I'd never do that in a million years, and it's great to be able to behave so badly and not get into trouble for it."

Nikki met Jamie on a night out in Manchester not long after she had joined the Street. He had spotted her once before in Bury, Greater Manchester, where she lives with her mum Judy and younger brother James, 16. But he hesitated to chat her up in case she thought he only fancied her because she was on TV.

Luckily, when he saw her again in Manchester, Nikki noticed him and sent a friend over with her phone number.

"The first time I saw Jamie I thought: 'You're kinda fit'," giggles Nikki. "He is exactly my type. I fancied everything about him and he's absolutely beautiful.

"Both sets of our mates did a sort of 'My mate fancies your mate' thing and when we eventually got talking I also realised he was a nice, genuine lad.

"One thing I can't stand is stuck-up, phoney people. I knew he didn't just fancy me because I was on telly.

"Now we're best friends. We can talk about anything. He's really loving and caring and he shows me a lot of affection in public, which I love."

There's no doubt about that. When they posed for our photographs, Nikki and Jamie couldn't stop kissing and cuddling.

And when you ask Jamie why he fell for her, he eyes her from top to toe adoringly.

"I love her cute smile and she is totally gorgeous," he says. "Also she's got her feet firmly on the ground. Even if she made it in Hollywood she'd be exactly the same.

"She's very affectionate with everybody and she thinks of other people before herself."

THEY are almost inseparable. He bought her a diamond-studded Gucci watch for her 18th birthday and she leaves him little notes and teddy bears on his pillow when he's had a long day at work.

Even though they don't live together, they spend as much time as they can at each other's houses. One of Nikki's favourite treats is curling up in bed with Jamie and watching DVDs and eating sweets.

They rarely go on nights out without each other - which came in very handy recently when there was a story that Nikki was dating Footballers' Wives star Gary Lucy and had been seen getting "pretty close" at a club.

In fact Gary simply gave Nikki a peck on the cheek when he left with two mutual friends - Ryan Thomas, who plays Corrie's Jason Grimshaw, and Bruno Langley, who plays Candice's boyfriend Todd Grimshaw. Jamie was there, in any case.

He is a very laid-back character who is not fazed by Nikki's fame. This is the first time he has agreed to a photo-shoot with her. He has been described as a "mystery man" in the past, which he finds hilarious.

It's just as well he can laugh about it. As a Corrie babe's boyfriend, he has had to watch her kissing another man on screen and being mobbed by fans in the street - not to mention posing for Loaded.

He's also had to get used to rubbing shoulders with other cast members and attending celebrity parties.

He shrugs: "At first I found it very daunting when Nikki was asked for autographs whenever we were out, but now I just step back and let her take the limelight.

"When she was in Loaded I had mixed feelings. I remember thinking: 'This is not good - my friends are looking at my girlfriend in underwear.' The lads at work did take the mick a bit, but she's a beautiful girl and it boosted her profile, which is good for her career. I'd never hold her back.

"As for kissing her screen boyfriend Todd, when I next saw Bruno Langley I just said: 'Oy, you've been snoggin' my bird.' You have to have a laugh about it.

"The most memorable showbiz moment was going to the Soap Awards and being faced with hundreds of photographers with flashes going off everywhere and people shouting: 'Over here!' I thought: 'What am I doing in the middle of all this? I should be on the other side of the barrier shouting and screaming like everyone else.'"

The first time Nikki met Jamie's mum, Sue, he warned her not to mention Corrie, but she couldn't help blurting out: "Ooh, you look fat on the telly."

Now she is treated just like another member of his family - he has four younger brothers and two little sisters. Nikki and her mum and brother get on so well with them that they are all having Christmas dinner together.

"It's like we're a married couple already," laughs Nikki. "But we're not planning to get married yet. It's the most serious relationship either of us has had.

"We have spoken about marriage, but we don't even know what it's like to live together properly yet. We'll probably look for a house first and get engaged, but we both want to wait a while until we're really ready."

IT'S hard to believe that just a few years ago Nikki was still at school - and being bullied about her looks.

"A few lads used to call me 'pig' because my nose turns up a bit at the end," she explains.

"Acting was a way out. At drama school nobody cared what shape my nose was, and if I felt down I could be someone else for the day."

Ironically, it's that upturned nose that now helps create some of Candice's bitchiest expressions.

"I was only 15 when I joined Corrie and it was a really lucky break," says Nikki. "The only telly jobs I'd had were modelling clothes on Granada Tonight and a part in Children's Ward. My mum always said there was a part out there that was made for me, and she was right."

Nikki started at Corrie the same day as Tina O'Brien, who plays Candice's friend Sarah Platt. They hit it off instantly and have been best friends ever since. They go out dancing together and support each other at work.

Barbara Knox (Rita Sullivan) and William Roache (Ken Barlow) are among the senior cast members who have helped Nikki over the years. And she still feels privileged to work with them.

She says: "I owe my success to my mum. My parents split up when I was two and my mum did a fantastic job of bringing me and my brother up on her own.

"My dad's remarried and I've always been able to contact him whenever I wanted, but it's my mum who has been there day in and day out.

"She's taught me to keep my feet on the ground. You have to stay being yourself in this job, because at the end of the day it's a job, albeit a very good job, and you can lose it very easily.

"I'd love to go on and have a really glittering career, maybe doing films or singing and presenting. But what I've learned is that the most important thing about being successful is the power it gives you to be able to help other people.

"At the moment I've got a fantastic job and a fantastic boyfriend, and I'm not taking either for granted."

CAPTION(S):

GROUNDED: Nikki as teen tearaway Candice with co-star Bruno Langley, and, right, with real-life boyfriend Jamie; Picture: DAN GOLDSMITH
COPYRIGHT 2002 MGN LTD
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 11, 2002
Words:1474
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