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Shobna Gulati - why Oldham is special to me

PUBLISHED: 08:42 09 February 2015 | UPDATED: 16:56 24 October 2015

Shobna Gulati credit Rachel Joseph

Shobna Gulati credit Rachel Joseph

Rachel Joseph

Shobna Gulati talks to us about her Oldham roots, her childhood and her next transformation onto the musical stage. Emma Mayoh reports

Shobna at a charity event with her mum, Asha Shobna at a charity event with her mum, Asha

Everything started in Oldham for Shobna Gulati. While many people have a fondness for the place they grew up, there are probably few more devoted than the 48-year-old actress. For the former Coronation Street star has retained her unswerving passion, love and utter devotion for home town.

‘For a long time in my life, I didn’t know anything but Oldham,’ said Shobna. ‘It’s where I grew up. It is a very special place to me. I love the brutality of the countryside, the moors. It’s my favourite place in the whole world. I will go there to gather my thoughts and my senses.

‘The urban landscape is fantastic too. Some people love looking at green rolling hills, as do I. But the moors teamed with the backdrop of the mills is beautiful. I love the people, too. I think that is what has made it the place it is.’

Her misty-eyed descriptions and memories are unsurprising. She enjoyed a wonderful childhood there. Her dad, Kulbhushn, who died when Shobna was 19, was originally from India but moved to Glasgow and then Oldham in 1959 where he settled with wife, Asha. Here they brought up their family including Shobna, her two sisters Sushma and Hema and brother, Raj. Her dad became a valued member of the community as the local GP.

With Victoria Wood and the team in Dinnerladies With Victoria Wood and the team in Dinnerladies

She said: ‘Everyone called him Joe. That’s another thing I love about people in Oldham. They didn’t know how to pronounce my dad’s name so they made it into something they could say. There was no malice in it. It was just the way it was. I love that.

‘My dad was always really keen for us to be connected with the community we were living in. He said our traditions would still continue within our four walls but outside of them we must make every effort to join in.’

They certainly did that. Shobna’s parents were in the local Rotary Club as well as several other organisations. Her dad also played at Lancashire Cricket Club for the county’s second team. Shobna went with her dad to matches at Oldham Football Club – as well as to the glitzier heights of Old Trafford. Shobna also helped establish Peshkar Productions, and intercultural theatre and multimedia art company in Oldham. It is still running today.

The actress’ links to Oldham and Lancashire go back even further. One of her grandfathers, although living in India, was a textile engineer and worked with Platt Brothers in Oldham. Her grandparents on her mother’s side lived in Southport – her mum was born there but only lived in the resort until she was one. They decided to move back to India as the Second World War broke out.

Shobna said: ‘My grandfather was an engineer and he made the machines at Platt’s go faster. It was a big deal for them. He was the one who brought that technology here.

‘Oldham forms part of my fabric. It is a part of me. I feel a part of its history.

‘People can have a certain view of me because I don’t fit into the norm. But there was a British Empire and I am a child of that empire. I also have four generations of my family who have been in Lancashire.’

It was trips to places like Manchester’s Royal Exchange and the Oldham Coliseum with her theatre-loving mum that first enticed her into acting. Today, she is a household name in the entertainment industry.

Shobna is best known for her role as Sunita in Coronation Street which she played on two separate occasions until the character was killed off two years ago. Her breakout moment came when she landed the role of Anita in Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies. But she has appeared in a plethora of television and theatre productions as well as presenting on popular daytime television show, Loose Women.

But acting is not the only string to her bow. She can speak several languages including Hindi, Punjabi, Persian language Farsi, German and French - when she heard a French family struggling to find their way on the London Underground she surprised herself by breaking out into fluent speech. She also used to live in Paris where she worked as a couture model, she’s danced on a Boy George video and appeared as Diana Ross on Celebrity Stars in their Eyes. More seriously, she is also an active campaigner for women’s rights and came out in support of the search for murdered Warrington teenager Shafilea Ahmed.

Back on the stage this month Shobna, whose son Akshay is now trying to get into the acting business, will make the transformation from Corrie to cougar at the Liverpool Empire Theatre. She is playing Tanya, a rich three-time divorcee with an eye for younger men, in iconic musical Mamma Mia. Producers loved her – despite a dramatic audition when a fire started just outside the window. It is the first musical she has appeared in and it is the production she has wanted to do since she finished playing Sunita.

‘The press have had me down as a bit of a cougar for a while just because I had a boyfriend that was younger than me,’ she said. ‘Tanya is definitely one and I’m looking forward to being like that. It’s such a fun part and she is very glamorous.

‘It’s a big step away from what I’m known for. She is very different from Sunita. I probably fall half way between the two characters. I’m really excited. But also slightly terrified. I have said I can do it so I had better be able to bloody do it! I’m absolutely off my head with worry. I’m worried about what people are going to say. But I also can’t wait to just get on and do it. It’s amazing.’

Mamma Mia is at Liverpool Empire Theatre from February 20th to March 14th. For more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/liverpool

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