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The soaps' lost children; HOW YOUNG STARS COPED WHEN AXE FELL ON FAME.

Byline: MARK CHRISTIE, Additional reporting: BEN GELBLUM AND TRACIE BUNCE

THEY were the children who had it all - fame, fortune and a lifestyle which was the envy of all their classmates.

Plucked from obscurity to star in the country's leading soaps, these schoolkids rapidly became household names. But for some, a return to obscurity was just as swift as their characters were axed or real life simply moved on.

MARK CHRISTIE tracked down the former child stars to discover how they've coped with life after soap.

GEMMA BISSIX

1993 to 1998: Claire Tyler in EastEnders

2001: Working part-time at Marks & Spencer

GEMMA, 17, played Claire Tyler, the stepdaughter of Nigel Bates, in EastEnders. She lives with her mum and younger brother in Thames Ditton, Surrey.

I WAS nine when I started on EastEnders. I did drama classes after school and my mum took me to an audition. There were about 50 others.

I read through the script and by the time I was home they had phoned my dad to tell him I had the role.

I was only supposed to be in it for three episodes, but it turned into five years.

Friends would ask me about Nigel (played by Paul Bradley) loads, and the crueller kids sang the EastEnders theme tune at me.

My parents split up when I was 11. My mum was pregnant and had to stop chaperoning me on the set. I had to be adult and get on with work. You grow up fast on EastEnders. I was nearly 15 by the time I left the show, and had just got a boyfriend.

After EastEnders, I took a year out of acting to do my GCSEs. Now I work part-time at Marks & Spencer's and I've been in pantomimes.

Recently I played Cinderella alongside Keith Chegwin, which was great.

I've got no worries about being typecast, as I left while I was still growing up.

People occasionally recognise me, and blurt out: "Claire?" but I look very different now. I'm taller, I've lost a stone and a half and have blonde hair. Most viewers would not recognise me.

But I'd like to assure them that they definitely haven't seen the last of me.

DAWN ACTON

1989 to 1995: Tracy Barlow in Coronation St.

2001: Part-time DJ

NOW 23, Dawn was 11 when she was plucked from a theatre workshop in Oldham to play Deirdre and Ken's sullen daughter Tracy in Coronation Street. She still lives in Manchester and juggles studies and work with being mum to Thomas, three.

ONE of the strangest things about being a child star was having lots of money at the age of 11. Mum and dad were sensible about money and it was put in savings accounts or trusts for me. I wasn't allowed to flaunt it and I had to ask if I wanted something like trainers.

After three years on the soap, I got fed up wearing dowdy clothes and looking like a little girl and begged them to let me wear makeup and tight clothes. At 14 I entered the tarty Tracy stage - which was pretty embarrassing looking back.

About seven years ago, my appearances became rare. Casting director James Bain told me my contract was not being renewed because the story lines involving Tracy Barlow had dried up.

I was 17 but I wasn't devastated. There were no tantrums, like the ones Tracy was famous for. James said I should try other things in the acting world. I did - but it didn't work out.

Around the time I left, my mum started a sandwich shop and I helped out. Customers were often surprised to see Tracy Barlow.

I also worked in a pub, where I met my boyfriend Steve Wilson, who was playing there with his band. Steve is also a DJ, and he got me into DJing too.

My character often used to storm upstairs to her bedroom and play tapes whenever Ken and Deirdre had a row.

I now have a night at the Fab Cafe club in Manchester called Tracy's Bedroom Tapes, where I play 70s, 80s and 90s pop.

I also do two days a week as a support worker helping adults with learning difficulties, and people with autism.

I've gone back to college and I'm doing an A-level in psychology and with my active three-year-old son Thomas to look after, there's no time for auditions.

I've got less money than before, but I enjoy life more.

CHRIS DORMER

1970 to 1972: Peter Barlow in Coronation Street.

2001: Estate agent in Canada

CHRIS, 36, played Ken's son Peter when he was five. He left the show when his parents moved to Canada where he now lives with his wife and daughter.

I DIDN'T come from an acting family, but my parents were keen on the idea when I was offered the part.

I really enjoyed the Street. I remember Pat Phoenix and Julie Goodyear kissing and tickling me because they thought I was cute.

Most of the actors were nice, but some weren't. Violet Carson, who played Ena Sharples, was very grumpy. She didn't like children and really scared me.

I was in Coronation Street for two years and when I was seven they wrote me and my screen sister Susan Barlow out of the show.

The reason was that my real parents wanted the family to move to Canada to start a new life.

The scriptwriters decided to kill off Ken Barlow's wife, Valerie, and she was electrocuted. The children were shipped off to their grandparents in Scotland.

After leaving Coronation Street, I did some acting work in Canada and filmed some TV adverts.

But it was tough making a living and I decided that I enjoyed making money more than acting so I became an estate agent - and I love it.

I have a great life in Canada. We live just outside Toronto. I'm married to Mikki and we have a six-month-old girl called Morgan.

Coronation Street is huge in Canada and I'm an avid fan. People here are fascinated when they find out I used to be in Corrie and some even ask for my autograph.

CHRISSY FINCH

1977 to 1984: Tracy Barlow in Coronation St.

2001: Drama teacher in Guildford, Surrey

NOW 24, Chrissy Finch appeared in the Street as Deirdre Barlow's baby Tracy when she was just 15 days old.

MY first memories of Coronation Street are riding down the corridors of Granada on my tricycle.

I used to share a dressing room with Anne Kirkbride, who played my screen mum, Deirdre Barlow.

She didn't have any kids of her own but we got along famously. We've lost touch now, as we've both got separate lives.

My first acting memories are of a story when I was locked in the bathroom for the whole episode.

Alf Roberts had to come and rescue me by getting the key from me through the window.

Being a minor I was only allowed to work for three or four hours a week but it was all part of normal life for me.

Because I was a kid, everyone was really friendly to me. Julie Goodyear, who played Bet Gilroy, was really lovely and a very down-to-earth person. The biggest plot I was involved in was when Deirdre had an affair with Mike Baldwin.

There was a lot of shouting going on and Ken was screaming at her: "Get out of the house!"

I just thought: what's going on, why are they shouting?

When I was seven, my parents decided to move to Guernsey and I didn't really know I was leaving the soap until I was on the boat.

At school in Guernsey I soon got rid of my Manchester accent because I was teased about it big time.

When I left school, I did a theatre studies degree. I'm now head of drama at St Peter's Catholic Comprehensive School in Guildford.

The kids often say "you were on Coronation Street, Miss," and find it exciting that I once appeared on TV.

But no one who watched me then would recognise me these days.

I do like acting, but now I prefer taking a back-seat role such as teaching and directing.

ALEXIA DEMETRIOU

1993 to 1996: Janine Butcher in EastEnders.

2001: Marketing executive

ALEXIA moved to Albert Square aged 11. Now 19, she lives in New Malden, Surrey, with her mother Helen Bradley, 50, and brother Adam, 14.

BEFORE EastEnders I had only ever acted in a school play, so I was quite nervous when I auditioned.

Janine was an interesting character because she was manipulative and not everyone liked her.

At first it was intimidating playing the daughter of Frank and Pat Butcher. They were amazing characters and I was suddenly in one of the most famous TV families ever.

I was in the show with Sean Maguire - he was quite a heart-throb to young girls, so everyone was always asking me about him.

Janine always had troubles at school and at the same time I was getting a lot of attention too for being in EastEnders, which was not always positive.

Other children someone would always shout "Janine" in a Frank Butcher voice. It was funny at first, but the novelty very quickly wore off. What I found really strange as a child, was when people would ask me for my autograph. I couldn't believe it because I was only a kid.

I'd worry about whether my signature was neat enough.

But because I enjoyed doing EastEnders, it was all like a big adventure for me and I never thought of it as a job.

When I left, I was concentrating on my GCSEs, so I didn't feel rejected when that period of my life ended.

I went to Coombe Girls' School in New Malden, Surrey, and school was getting more intense, making it harder to do EastEnders at the same time.

I didn't want to stay in acting. Towards the end of college I decided I wanted to get into marketing and I've just started my first full-time job.

I think being in the soap has given me a lot of confidence to speak publicly and to talk to people older than myself and without feeling at all intimidated.

JOE GILGUN

1992 to 1997: Jamie Armstrong in Coronation St.

2001: Performing arts student

JOE, 17, was eight when he was cast in Coronation Street. He lives with mum Judith and his two sisters in Chorley, Lancs.

BEING dyslexic, I couldn't read or write, so I played the class clown.

My parents decided to put my acting to good use and I started lessons and began auditioning. Pam Bailey, who was casting director, was really good about my dyslexia and I got the part of Jamie.

I was 13 when I left after my screen mum, played by Tracy Brabin, moved away. At the time I wasn't bothered, because it is something you take for granted as a kid. I'd had money and fame from such an early age, so I didn't care.

It has only hit me now I'm finding it hard to get another role. I sometimes think, what I wouldn't give to be back there.

I haven't been able to get much acting work. I was asked to present Wish You Were Here. I thought we'd be going to the Caribbean, but we ended up in Germany.

I've just finished playing Winther in The Grimleys and I've done everything from collecting glasses in a bar to working on a farm.

CAPTION(S):

STREETWISE: Dawn has no regrets; CORRIE KID: Joe Gilgun; MEMORIES: Chrissy with Anne
COPYRIGHT 2001 MGN LTD
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 2, 2001
Words:1939
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