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Interview: Martin Hancock - Mum's death broke my heart but it has taught me I can't waste any time; SPIDER'S SECRET PAIN AS HE BIDS STREET FAREWELL.

AS Coronation Street's Spider Nugent heads off for a new start in India, the actor who plays him has reached a crossroads in his own life.

Martin Hancock, who has starred as the lovable eco-warrior for nearly three years, is quitting the soap to pursue a career in movies.

Tonight his character - based on real-life anti-motorway protestor Swampy - will be seen leaving Weatherfield following a tearful showdown with girlfriend Toyah Battersby (Georgia Taylor).

For 27-year-old Martin, the decision to quit was tough - but definitely the right one. He feels his character had started to become "too normal".

When Spider arrived in Weatherfield, he stunned residents with his tough stand on vegetarianism and protests to save the Street's common, Red Rec.

More recently, however, Spider has transformed himself into a new man, found a permanent job as a clerk at the dole office and a live-in girlfriend.

"I thought long and hard about leaving," says Martin. "But Spider working in the dole office was not working out. The character started to meander. It is better to go.

"My intention wasn't to stay for three years, anyway! So I was quite chuffed to stay this long."

oWe are sitting in the offices of Martin's ex-employers Granada Television.

He has already smoked several cigarettes and is now sipping a can of Diet Coke.

While many actors like the trappings associated with a soap, such as attractive salaries and permanent work, Martin knows he is entering unchartered waters.

IT IS made all the more difficult because he is on his own. Two years ago, his mother Vi died suddenly after suffering two strokes.

"I was heartbroken - it was horrible," he says softly. "I think about her all the time. I was so close to her, she was my best friend."

His grief is heightened because he has no brothers or sisters to turn to for comfort and his other relatives live in New Zealand.

He says: "I am finding it very hard coming to terms with her death. People always say you never get over your parents' deaths and they are right.

"The pain gradually becomes less but the grief is always there. It pops up when you least expect it.

"The other week I was in London and walked into my local laundrette when I burst into tears - it was where me and my mum used to do the laundry when I was a kid.

"It was an unexpected moment and it whacks you on the head."

As an only child, he enjoyed a particularly close relationship with his mother in their family home in Fulham, London. Times were tough but his childhood was a happy one.

Like any schoolboy, however, he gave his mum hell on occasions. But he always knew his limits.

"My mum was my sound board for everything. Your parents are your reference point - even if you reject what they say which frequently, being a snotty-nosed, ungrateful kid, I did.

"Suddenly, though, that is not there and it is terrible. Anyone who has feuds with their parents, I would just say sort it out.

"The great thing with mum was that we were best mates. We had no unfinished business."

His mother's death, he adds, has taught him not to take life too seriously.

"I've no time for bother. There are more important things in life. I catch myself getting angry and I just say: 'Shut up'."

Yet it's easy to see how cut up he is about his mum. His face is pale, body tense and he regularly looks up towards the ceiling.

It's not long, though, before he reverts to his jovial self, recalling his mum's delight when he landed a job on her favourite TV show - Coronation Street, of course: "She was so proud of me when I got Corrers - she couldn't believe it." Martin, wafer-thin and wearing blue jeans, grey shirt and brown jacket, is a jokey, laid-back actor whose sense of humour is so infectious, it's hard not to laugh with him. His take on life is hilarious - albeit often eccentric.

He talks about his two-year-old dog Archibald at every available opportunity. "I have built an assault course for my dog in my apartment," he tells me proudly.

BUT it's this exuberance that has helped Martin keep going in the darker moments. His friends have also been a major support.

Apart from reading the odd book, I quickly discover Martin spends his spare time doing nothing other than going out with them. Travel? Gardening? No, comes the reply.

"When I have done my graft, I go out - getting life experience for my character! I am always out, getting up to mischief."

Is it true he once spent pounds 2,300 on a night out with friends? "Mmm... sort of. It was over several nights. My friends have been so good to me.

"Most of them are not in acting. If you start to hang around with too many actors, you start wearing corduroy jackets and granddad shirts. My mates are there any time for me. And I am a bit of Mancophile. I love the city." Nights on the town have taken on a new significance now Martin is single.

He split up with his girlfriend Gaynor Britt Royle last year after a six-month relationship. She blamed his long filming schedules.

Martin doesn't want to talk about it, insisting they are still good friends.

Does he find it difficult meeting people because of his soap fame? "It's six of one and half a dozen of another. I can understand why famous people date famous people. They understand the pressures.

"It is not that easy for partners, they are constantly being sidelined. Sometimes you can be out with a girl and guys will come up and say: 'She is only with you because you are in Coronation Street'.

SO I look them in the eye and say: 'Yes, I know'. That shuts them up. I know the state of my relationships and what they are. People are entitled to think what they want."

Martin laughs, embarrassed by his profound statement. It is not in his nature and I express my surprise.

In the autumn, Martin will shoot a low-budget movie with John McCormick called Daddy Fox.

There are also plenty of TV dramas lined up, including a one-off called First Signs Of Madness, and further theatre and movie projects.

And Martin will return to Coronation Street as Spider on special occasions.

"You haven't got much on, have you?" I quip. He gets my irony and we both laugh. He says: "I was really worried I would go from Corrie's dole office to the real-life dole queue. But I'm a happy bunny - everything is ticking along nicely."

Any ambitions? He looks at me and starts giggling. Clearly a daft question. The next night out is the most important thing on Martin's mind - at least for now.

What about settling down and starting a family to fill the void left by his mum's death? "Yes, I have always wanted to have children," he says before joking: "I have always thought of myself as a breeder.

"I wish I did have a brother or sister - so I'll just to have make my own family!"
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Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Smith, Christine
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 28, 2000
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