THERE was a point, around this time last year, when Kym Marsh decided staying single was the key to a happier, less complicated future. After her previous relationship ended, she swore off men and vowed to have some time on her own.
“I’d kind of gone: ‘That’s me. I’m done,’” she says, holding her hands up in mock surrender. “I’d reached the point where I just wanted a break from this nonsense. I wanted to go home and spend some time with my kids.”
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But she didn’t bank on meeting dashing army major Scott Ratcliff last summer. The two of them were set up by Kym’s Corrie cast mate Antony Cotton, who knew Scott through his military charity work and introduced them. They hit it off instantly.
“We were messaging and then FaceTiming and spent two and a half hours talking every night, so we learned everything about each other,” says Kym. “There was nothing to do apart from talk, so after three weeks I was like: ‘I know who he is.’
“Normally when you meet someone, you might think aesthetically he’s fit. After a few dates, you might end up in bed together. Whatever. But when did you get to know the person down the line?
“So the way we met was really weird, but it was a wonderful way of getting to know someone. And, yeah, by the time we actually met in person, I’d fallen for him.”
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Kym and Glaswegian Scott, who had been away on a tour of duty, finally came face to face when she surprised him off the plane at Brize Norton three weeks after they first started talking. That meeting confirmed everything she already knew.
“Yeah, it’s love,” she says, simply. “He has a smile that has the ability to light up any room. He’s got a lovely aura about him. People want to be around him. And I love that he’s not got any idea how fit he is.”
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She pauses a beat and then deadpans: “When he finds out, he may leave me.”
The 11-year age difference (Scott is 31, Kym is 42) has predictably seen him dubbed her toy boy… Kym rolls her eyes.
“It’s actually quite insulting to him,” she says. “Because he’s a very intelligent, mature, articulate man who absolutely knows where he wants to be in life.”
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After two marriages (to Jack Ryder, 37, and Jamie Lomas, 44) and various relationships since that haven’t worked out, Kym says she’s being very protective of this one. And while she’s clearly smitten at the moment, she’s also – perhaps inevitably – developed a streak of cynicism when it comes to love.
“Oh, I’ve tried on a few T-shirts,” she laughs. “I’m a huge romantic but I’ve been unlucky in love. My mum and dad have been together since my mum was 18 and the problem with that is that me and my sister are always looking for my dad. And he doesn’t exist because, well, Dad’s Dad!
“I tell my mum she’s lucky she found him when she did because it doesn’t always happen to everyone, and what I’ve learned over time is that actually there is no fairy tale.
“Love’s hard. It’s hard work. No one tells you that.”
Not that she has regrets. “I don’t believe in them,” she says. “When you do things they’re absolutely right at that time for you and it can always teach you something about yourself. You can take away something from any mistake that you made in life, so it’s not been in vain.
“I have had two divorces and I know I sound like Ross from Friends, but it’s never deterred me from believing that there is someone out there for me.”
Sitting in an upmarket restaurant in Manchester and dressed in a black polo neck, skinny jeans and heels, Kym looks effortlessly glamorous, the trademark sweep of eyeliner applied to perfection. She is sparky and straightforward and sincere, and talks openly about her huge pride in her children – David, 24, and Emilie, 21, from her relationship with Dave Cunliffe, and Polly, eight, from her marriage to Jamie – as well as the grief of losing baby Archie a decade ago, just moments after he was born at 21 weeks and five days.
The next few months will herald a new start, not least because she will become a grandmother when Emilie gives birth to her first child, due any day.
And there’s also her forthcoming departure from Corrie after 13 emotionally fraught and award-winning years playing Michelle Connor. She’ll be on screen until the end of the year before starring as Jovie in the touring musical of Elf in December.
“I’d been toying with it for a little while, because as much as I love being there and learned so much, the actor side of me is getting itchy feet,” she says.
“I want to do something else. I want to play another character and test out what I can do. I’m by no means saying I will never go back, but I need to flex my acting muscles.”
Love is hard work. There's no such thing as a fairy tale
She says it was Michelle’s harrowing baby loss storyline two years ago that gave her the “appetite to move forward” and the impetus to leave. Art mirrored life in a script that Kym was extraordinarily brave to take on, given what happened in 2009 when Archie was born prematurely.
But it was a story she wanted to tell, and one she hoped would add weight to her campaign to change the law, which currently states that babies born before 24 weeks cannot be registered and issued with a birth certificate.
“That’s the great thing about soaps and particularly Corrie – having the ability to educate people about important subjects that affect people all over the world.”
The scenes where Michelle gave birth to baby Ruairi at 23 weeks were filmed in sequence on closed sets with a hand-picked crew over the course of three gruelling days. There was a counsellor available at all times to support Kym, which was the first time she’d ever spoken to a therapist.
“I didn’t have counselling with Archie,” she says. “I probably should have. It might have helped me move forward a bit quicker. But I talk to everybody, and that has been my therapy. I decided not to make it something I shouldn’t speak about. I get that people aren’t always comfortable listening to you talk about the death of your child, and there were some people who didn’t come to the funeral because it was so upsetting. I wasn’t upset with them for that decision, but for me the best thing I did was start talking.
“It’s not about getting over it, because you never get over it, but it’s about accepting what’s happened and being able to move forward.
“I have accepted it. It did happen to me. I’m one of the statistics, I’m one of those women. I’ll never, ever stop thinking about him. But I have accepted that I can’t change it.”
The recent 10th anniversary of Archie’s birth and death was celebrated, as it is every year, with a birthday party at Kym’s house, where they lit candles and released balloons.
I’ll never, ever stop thinking about him. But I have accepted that I can’t change it
Kym’s parents planted a pear tree in their garden in Archie’s name. He is very much still part of the family, and Kym has kept his ashes.
“I can’t part with them,” she says. “I don’t know what he would have liked. I don’t know what kind of little boy he would have been or which football team he would have supported or where he’d have liked to go. All I know is he should have come home with me, so that’s where he is.”
Two years after the tragedy, Kym gave birth to Polly following a difficult pregnancy that saw her on bed rest for three months after her cervix started to open at 17 weeks. A stitch was put into her womb to try to secure it for as long as possible, but Polly was born seven weeks early, weighing little over 4lb and fighting for life.
“They said that’s almost certainly what happened with Arch. So somewhere between Emilie and Archie, I lost the ability to have children.
“Polly knows she’s special, I say that to her all the time. She knows Archie was her big brother and that he’s one of the angels. She was a gift from him – that’s very much how we see it. She’s a feisty little thing. You know when Polly’s entered a room. She’s brave.”
Thankfully, beauty therapist Emilie has “sailed through” her pregnancy (“she’s a magnificent woman!”) and Kym will be at the birth alongside Emilie’s partner Mikey Hoszowskyj.
It was Kym who a frightened Emilie turned to first when her period was late, and it was Kym who accompanied her to Superdrug to buy the pregnancy test and stayed with her in the bathroom while she took it.
“There’s nothing in our family that’s taboo,” says Kym. “They can tell me anything and everything – I’m not a judgemental woman.
“When she did the test, she was shaking so much she nearly shook herself off the toilet. And then she handed to me and it immediately went: ‘Ping!’ She burst into tears, then she started laughing and then burst into tears again and I just looked at her belly and said: ‘Hello!’
“I said: ‘Honey, you’re not the first woman or the last,’ and to be fair I was 18 when I had David. I hadn’t planned it, but that’s life and it’s how you react to things that counts.”
Being a young mum didn’t stop Kym achieving her dreams, thanks to an abundance of determination and the unwavering support of her parents, who moved south from their home in Wigan when she won a place in reality TV pop group Hear’Say in 2001.
“Look, it’s not ideal, is it? You’re 18 and there’s a lot to do in life at 18.
"I don’t regret having my children young, but at the same time I wouldn’t go out and say: ‘Have kids at 18.’ It’s hard work and it means you can’t take holidays to Ibiza and do all those silly things because you are responsible.
“But it made me who I am. I firmly believe that I’m a better human being for having had my children when I did, and I think Ems is gonna be a fantastic mother.
“It’s going to be emotional because it’s my first grandchild, and watching my baby have a baby is going to be difficult to compute. But I just know she’s going to be wonderful. She’s as tough as old boots, our Emilie. Honestly, even as a kid she’d smack her head into a metal railing and just carry on. She’s a warrior.”
A bit like her mum, then. Quite apart from what Kym has battled and survived in her personal life, it takes considerable fight to last nearly 20 years in the entertainment industry, ever since Popstars first aired and launched a generation of talent shows.
“It’s funny because actually people forget I was in that show. I think the key for me has been continuous reinvention. One-fifth of Hear’say to solo artist to being in the West End to being an actress, to presenting… it’s given me 19 years so far.
“I think some people think it’s just going to fall into their lap, but you’ve got to work so hard.”
One of the most unforgettable and excruciating moments from that series came when judge “Nasty” Nigel Lythgoe warned a tearful Kym on camera: “You need to lose weight. The goose has gotten fat.” As a result of that exchange she battled body insecurity for several years.
“It did affect me. Of course it did. I’d already had a little bit of an eating disorder when I was younger. He saw a weakness and picked on it.”
I used to hate my stretch marks, now I love them
An unapologetic Nigel gave an interview last year in which he claimed his comments “made her an absolute mint”. Kim snorts at this.
“What he fails to tell anybody is the dressing down I gave him afterwards, which never aired. I told him what I thought about him and said: ‘Are you gonna actually show that on television? You humiliated me!’
“And he said they were only trying to make a TV show. I told him I didn’t give a s**t about his TV show. The next day he came round and apologised in the middle of the night. He obviously wasn’t sorry enough for them to take it out of the show, though. They knew it was going to make headlines.”
Box set you watched?
Peaky Blinders. I binge-watched it.
Book you read?
The Girl On The Train, but that was a long time ago.
Movie you watched?
Deadpool 2. I haven’t been to the cinema in forever.
Time you cried?
When my friend Scott passed away. I keep having a little cry every now and again.
Time you lost your temper?
Last night with Polly. She wanted to play on my phone, I said no and she kicked off.
Time you were drunk?
At David’s 24th birthday party. I like a glass of red, but unfortunately it likes my hips!
These days Kym says she’s in the best shape of her life and boasts a six-pack of steel thanks to a regular training regime.
“I’m definitely in better nick than I was when I was in Popstars, but that’s not because of what Nigel said. Despite him taking credit!
“I’m never going to look at myself and go: ‘Perfect!’ There’s always room for improvement, but I’m happy with who I am. I used to hate my stretch marks, but I actually love them now. They’re my tiger stripes.”
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What advice would she give to the girl starting out?
“I wouldn’t,” she says, instantly. “I’ve had experiences that haven’t always been the best, but everything I’ve been through has given me an extra bone in my back.”
She points out that her dad had a cardiac arrest at 49 and was effectively dead for four minutes. Now 74, he’s since had a bypass and another heart attack.
“But he’s still slut-dropping at four o’clock in the morning!” she whoops. “He’s growing old disgracefully and that’s what I intend to do. Life is for living.”
- Elf will tour the country December 7-29, 2019. For tickets, visit Buddytheelf.co.uk
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