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Interview: Nikki Sanderson - I'm on Corrie but mum still makes me wash up; Coronation Street's Candice may spend most of her time chasing after men (of any age). But Nikki Sanderson, the girl who plays her, is just as likely to be found tidying her room. By Colin Wills.

Byline: Colin Wills

She's the wildest wild child ever to wiggle her way down Coronation Street. Candice Stowe is a mouthy, man-hungry little minx. Even the actress who plays her isn't about to write her a glowing character reference.

"What words would I use to describe Candice?" says Nikki Sanderson, leaning back in her chair. "How about cowbag? Or pain in the bum?"

Nikki is one of the bright new stars injected into the Street to give it a modern feel - more Burger King than Betty's hotpot. Few have had a more immediate impact than her character Candice. A disrespectful, incorrigible two-timer who has already had an affair with a much older man and egged her best friend into a meeting with an internet pervert, on the face of it Candice is a nasty piece of work, redeemed only by her boundless energy and appetite for life.

Nikki, 17, is as fascinated by her as the rest of us, mainly because she has no idea whereabouts in her own personality she springs from.

"My mother would kill me if I behaved like Candice," she says. "I'd never be allowed back in the house again. I owe my mum everything, so I'd never dream of doing anything to offend her."

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Nikki could have turned out to be another Candice had it not been for the influence of her mother Judy. Nikki is the product of a broken home - Judy and her dad, Paul, split up when Nikki was two. Some psychologists will tell you that not having a male figure around can lead to problems, but Nikki found it quite the reverse. "Mum and I were probably closer because dad wasn't there. First of all there was just the two of us, because my little brother James was still in mum's tummy. And because I didn't have a dad mum would talk to me and sing to me all the time. We were never out of each other's sight. "I had the best childhood ever."

Nikki still lives at home in Bury, Greater Manchester. It is a remarkable family unit. There's Nikki and James, now 15, and Judy and Nikki's grandmother.

"Poor James," Nikki laughs. "Surrounded by all those female hormones. No wonder he wants to escape by going out with his mates all the time."

With Nikki's grandmother being the oldest woman in the household, the relationship between Nikki and her mother began to change over the years. "I don't look on her now so much as a mum as a best friend. We have a really special bond. A lot of my friends say how difficult they find it to speak to their mums. I've never felt like that. I can talk to her about anything."

Never was this relationship more valuable than when Nikki joined Coronation Street two years ago and instant fame hit her like a tornado. It is unnerving for anyone, but for all the new Street kids - Nikki was 15 and still at school - it was a bewildering experience.

"The other actors were wonderful. It was like being welcomed into a family. But outside it was a different story. You don't expect people to recognise you, but they do. They rush up and go, `Ooh, ooh, it's you, it's you.' I was the same person with the same friends, but to them I was something else."

Most of the encounters are pleasant, but there is a dark side - for some people, truth and fiction are indivisible.

"I get shouted at in the street. Things like, `slag' and `bitch'. A couple of times I've been threatened with getting beaten up. They never carry it through though. It did hurt at first. I was only 15. I used to think, `What makes them do that?' But you get used to it. It goes with the territory. If you take it to heart, you're not right for this business."

In Judy, her mum, she has discovered a fierce champion. "Mum's stuck up for me a few times. We were out in town together one day and some girls started bad-mouthing me. The usual stuff, `Candice is a tart, Candice is anybody's'. Mum marched up to them and said, `So you actually know my daughter then?' They were totally at a loss for words. Then my mum went on, `Well, if you are going to talk about her, call her Nikki because that's her real name, and anyway she's not like that at all'. Good old mum."

Judy is obviously proud of what Nikki has achieved, although there have been some squirmy moments, not least the occasion of Candice's first Street kiss with her boyfriend Todd, played by Bruno Langley. Mum and daughter watched it together.

"I remember sitting there and as the clock ticked round I was thinking, `Oh no, it'll be on any minute now'. I mean, Mum's caught me snogging before, but not in front of millions. We watched it through our fingers, and when it was over we turned to each other and said, `Well that's it, we will never be able to go out in public ever again'. It was quite embarrassing. And of course there's also the terrible thought that you might not be a good kisser."

One person who finds it especially difficult to watch Nikki kissing is her boyfriend Jamie. They've been together for four months, having met by chance while out with groups of friends. "He knows kissing comes with the job, but I'm not sure he likes it very much. There's a bit of him that thinks, `Oh no, someone's snogging my bird on telly'. He prefers not to watch."

Just as with her family, Jamie is another person in Nikki's life who helps keep her shackled to reality. "He's a normal lad with a normal job - he works in a shop - and he doesn't treat me any differently because of what I do. He's 22 and absolutely gorgeous, with a terrific personality. We're friends as well. I'm so glad we met."

In love, as in so many other things, Nikki and Candice are poles apart. "I'm not blood-hungry for males like she is. I'm happy with my boyfriend and just my boyfriend."

This simple commitment comes as a complete contrast to Candice's "hunt 'em down, gobble 'em up" philosophy. From almost the minute she joined the show, Nikki found herself at the centre of some extremely adult storylines. Perhaps the most controversial was Candice's near affair with Vikram Desai (Chris Bisson) who runs the taxi firm. Candice was supposed to be 14, Vikram 10 years older. It was a situation which could have easily produced public outrage. "Vikram thought Candice was 18 because she was working in a hair salon," Nikki says. "We were going to kiss each other, but the producers thought better of it. They didn't want to send out the wrong message. Eventually, when it came to it, Candice turned her head away because she knew it wasn't right."

Another potentially explosive storyline was when Candice's best friend, Sarah Louise (Tina O'Brien) was targeted by a paedophile over the internet. Candice persuaded Sarah Louise to set up a meeting before eventually helping save her. Nikki was counselled by the Street's makers before shooting.

"I was told about these people, how cunning they are and what evil they do. I thought it was a good topic because it would have made both parents and children realise that men like that are out there." Nonetheless, such storylines can be harrowing and made Nikki all the more thankful that she had a loving home to go back to.

"We show each other affection all the time. We're always giving each other hugs. Even my brother likes being hugged, but as soon as his mates come in, he's off. I'm quite emotional. I hate seeing people upset. Candice is much harder. I think she's only ever cried twice in the two years I've been playing her."

Once again it is Nikki's mum who provides the main bridge between the starry world and the real one. Nikki came along relatively late, when Judy was 31. Before that she too had been infected by the showbiz bug, as an amateur singer and dancer. "Mum knows about this business and that's been a huge help to me. She keeps me grounded. She still makes me clean my room and Hoover and stuff. People are amazed when I tell them that. They think that because you're in this job, you must have people who do that sort of thing for you. Sometimes I come home and I'm full of what has gone on at the studio. I'll go on and on about it. After a while, Mum will say, `You've told us all that once, now go and do the washing up'. She only means it in fun, but there is a serious side to it. She knows how important it is for me to have a place where I can be Nikki, the person I always was.

"`Never let it go to your head', she says, `because if you climb the ladder too high, you've got further to fall'."

It's good advice, though it's my betting Nikki will never need to make use of it. She's too natural, too sensible, to come a cropper. However, she's also in the happy position that if she ever did tumble there will always be someone there to catch her.


DOES MY BREATH SMELL? Nikki puckers up for her first screen kiss
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 2, 2001
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