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We're odds-on favourites; Karen weds to win bet from Corrie girls.

Byline: BILLY SLOAN

IN 40 years of Coronation Street we've seen blushing brides, teenage brides and even jilted brides.

But Street star Suranne Jones is the first one who has ever walked down the aisle in Weatherfield... for a bet!

The sexy actress, who plays factory girl Karen Phillips, gets hitched to bad boy Steve McDonald later this month.

But it's all a scam so that Karen can win a week's wages from pal Janice Battersby, and her mates in Mike Baldwin's knicker factory.

Last week, Suranne and actor Simon Gregson - who plays Steve - filmed the wedding scenes at Salford register office in Manchester.

The pair's comic capers are guaranteed to provide a bit of light relief down Weatherfield way - in the wake of the Toyah Battersby rape and Alma Halliwell's shock cancer diagnosis.

In an exclusive interview, Suranne told me: "Steve is definitely the man for Karen - and vice versa. They have similar personalities. That's why she ditched her previous boyfriend, Steve's best mate Vik. He wasn't racy enough and doesn't have the edge Steve has.

"Karen is delighted to be stepping out with the Street's bad boy because, in many ways, she sees herself as being a bit of a bad girl."

Stunner Suranne is delighted her flighty character is getting her teeth into a juicy Street storyline. The 22-year-old actress made her Corrie debut three years ago, but as a different character.

She said: "I got a very small role as a girl called Mandy Phillips who was motor mechanic Chris Collins' girlfriend.

"I was only in the show for one episode and thought: 'That's it.' But the casting lady must have spotted something and asked me to come back to play Karen, who is more of a rough, Northern slapper.

"When I first played Mandy I was only on the set for one day. There wasn't even time to get nervous. So to come back and get a second chance to be part of the biggest institution on British television was amazing.

"I was hired for three months. That led to six months. And nearly three years later I'm still here so it's been absolutely brilliant."

Suranne had to pinch herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming when she first stood on the famous Weatherfield cobbles.

"One day, I slipped away from everyone and walked down the empty set," said Suranne. "I took a moment to stand and look at The Rovers, the Underworld factory and Dev's corner shop and I suddenly thought: 'Oh my God! I'm a character in Coronation Street.' It was hard to take it all in.

"A few days later, I did a scene with Rita - actress Barbara Knox - in The Kabin and was shaking like a leaf. When Barbara was saying her lines the only thought running through my head was: 'Rita is giving me 40p change in The Kabin. This is surreal.'

"I said: 'Thanks luv.' And it hit me when I walked out the shop until that moment I had only ever seen the place on my TV screen."

Earlier this year, brassy Karen had a steamy fling with Street Cars' taxi boss Vikram Desai, played by Chris Bisson.

But they split after fed-up Vik discovered she had been flirting with flatmate Steve behind his back.

However, down-to-earth Suranne is nothing like her mouthy on-screen persona.

She told me: "Karen has such a sharp tongue it could cut through solid steel. That's what makes her such a great character to play because she's got a real mouth on her.

"The fact that she's also a bit of a maneater is great too. I get to do all sorts of flirty things and be a real temptress with Chris and Simon. I would never have had the confidence to do that in real life."

And Suranne loves spicing up her scenes with her leading men.

"You have to move with the times, so it's good to hit it up a little knowing it will get a reaction from the viewers," she said.

"It's the kind of behaviour they would expect from a girl like Karen, so you're not asking her to do anything out of character.

"But it is nerve-wracking if you're doing a snogging scene with Chris one minute and a love scene with Simon the next with 12 members of the crew looking on."

What was even more of a trial was when Suranne had to film her first scenes as a machinist in the Underworld factory - she had to learn how to operate a sewing machine so her close-up shots would look authentic.

And Suranne readily admits if she had to rely on making underwear to earn a living, she would starve to death.

She said: "I used to sew when I was a little girl. My grandma bought me a sewing machine and taught me. But when we filmed the scenes in the factory I found it very difficult to deliver my lines and stitch underwear at the same time.

"If I'd had to do it for real, I think I would have run up a Batman cape instead of a pair of skimpy knickers.

"I can operate a machine a little,but not to the standard required to get a pair of panties passed by a real factory supervisor."

On screen, Karen often wears dowdy nylon overalls but away from the set, she is stunningly beautiful.

And the actress, who is in big demand for magazine swimwear photo shoots , is comfortable with her sexy image.

"I wouldn't want it to take away from the fact I can act," said Suranne. "I don't want to be known as just a shapely body and a pretty face, because that doesn't last.

"When I'm 50, I don't think many magazines will want pictures of me in a bikini."

The actress was brought up in Oldham and still lives at home with her parents.

"Even when I was in touring productions, I still turned up at my mum and dad's on a Sunday with my washing," she joked.

Suranne has been singing and dancing since she was a child and harboured lifelong ambitions to be on stage.

She made her acting debut aged 16 in a UK touring production of the racy comic drama, Rita, Sue And Bob Too and has also starred in hit musicals such as Little Shop Of Horrors and A Slice Of Saturday Night.

Another claim to fame is she once starred in a highly-successful TV commercial for Maltesers.

"We must have gone through 20 bags of Maltesers during the shoot," said Suranne. "It got so bad I ended up eating fake plastic ones so I wouldn't throw up."

One of Suranne's specialities is regional dialects , and she has her Scots accent off pat. She said: "I seem to be able to pick up some accents easily and find a Scots one easy to do. I'm able to brush up on my technique when rehearsing with Jacqueline Pirie , who plays Linda Baldwin.

"What many Corrie viewers don't realise is Jacqueline speaks in her broad, native Scots accent before the cameras start to roll."

Suranne has become one of the most instantly-recognisable faces on British television, but her unusual name is still something of a puzzle.

However, she revealed that it comes from her great grandmother.

The actress said: "She was called Sarah Anne, but everyone knew her as Suranne.

"Sarah Anne is my real name, too, but when I applied to join Equity I decided to adopt her name as a little tribute to my great-gran - and it also means I sound a little bit more exotic."

If Suranne is enjoying her success so is the large Jones clan which is still scattered around the Oldham area.

She said: "We had a big family meal the other day and it was great to see all my aunties together.

"They're so pleased about my success in Coronation Street because they have been coming to see me in plays since I was a little girl. They get all excited because their little Suranne is in the show.

"And so do I. Every morning I walk on to the Corrie set, have a laugh and enjoy what I'm doing."
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Showbiz
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 13, 2001
Words:1371
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