Jennie McAlpine - I'm A Celebrity and Corrie star on her passion for afternoon tea
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 January 2018
Just back from the jungle, Jennie McAlpine on missing her family and serving tea fit for a queen. Mairead Mahon reports
When a tearful Jennie McAlpine broke down on I’m a Celebrity she explained how much she was missing her partner, Chris Farr, and their three-year-old son, Albert.
There’s a good chance that Jennie, who plays Fiz Brown in Coronation Street, was also missing a good old Lancashire brew. One of her other passions is tea, so much so that she and Chris opened Annie’s, an upmarket tearoom and restaurant just off St Ann’s Square in the iconic Royal Exchange building in Manchester.
‘We must have walked by the shop hundreds of times but the idea of opening Annie’s didn’t occur to us until what must have been our 450th time,’ says Jennie.
‘To be fair, it was in a bit of a state, almost derelict, so it did take some imagination to see what it could be. We did have one great advantage – Chris is a professional restaurant manager and, let’s not forget, I too have experience. I did once work as a Saturday girl at a tea shop in my home town of Bury!’ So it’s no surprise to see Bury black pudding on the menu.
Five years later, the tearooms – named partly because of the location and it also happens to be an old-fashioned Lancashire name that Jennie likes – has become a force on the Manchester food scene, offering traditional afternoon teas, lunches and evening meals. Bang on cue, to coincide with Annie’s fifth anniversary, it recently won a Best Afternoon Tea award. It’s something that could get Jennie the Royal seal of approval as it is based on the Buckingham Palace garden party afternoon tea.
‘I went to Buckingham Palace with my dad Tom, who was awarded an OBE for his services to mental health. There were definitely no wraps or anything like that! It was finger sandwiches with traditional fillings and gorgeous cakes, so if it’s good enough for The Queen, then it’s good enough for me. Besides, it was similar to the afternoon teas that my nana would serve,’ she says.
As a mum, 33-year-old Jennie is also keen to make sure that Annie’s is family friendly. ‘In the daytime especially, it really is a place for all generations. I’m proud of the Best Afternoon Tea award but I’m also really proud, as a mother who breast fed, that we were the first eating establishment in Manchester to be awarded the Breast Feeding Friendly Mark. Next stop is a Toddler Friendly Mark. I know what it’s like to get disapproving glances because a toddler won’t sit still.’
In the evenings, the restaurant has a slightly different atmosphere, with regular entertainment such as live music, although Jennie is yet to use it to launch her career as a comedy stand-up.
‘I began as a comedian...well, that’s not strictly true. I actually began as a fairy with Bury Parish Players but comedy was something that my dad encouraged. His dad had encouraged him and now I encourage Albert, who can tell a pretty good joke about a man who goes to the doctor thinking that he is a pair of curtains. No prizes for guessing the punchline! When I was 13, I was the runner up for Young Comedian of the Year and that was a really proud moment, so who knows, I might do a comedy gig one day,’ says Jennie.
But it is for playing Fiz that Jennie is most famous. ‘I was studying for my A-levels, as well working at Boots part-time when I was offered the role of Fiz. It was originally only meant to be for four episodes, so I expected to go back. Seventeen years later, I’m still happily playing Fiz and I never actually got around to handing in my notice at Boots. I suppose, technically, I never left,’ she jokes.
‘When Fiz first arrived, she was a troubled teen and my dad, who founded a mental health charity, Mood Swings, really helped me get under the character’s skin. In fact, teenage mental health is still something I’m interested in and I’m involved with Mood Swings and have cut the ribbon for the new Adolescent Mental Health unit at Manchester Children’s Hospital.’
Sadly, Jennie’s dad Tom McAlpine died last year. ‘It was very sudden and so it was a terrible shock but he was proud of my achievements and he certainly kept my feet on the ground and was famous for telling mums, whose babies hadn’t any hair, that I was totally bald until I was three at which point all these red curls appeared like, as he flatteringly put it, an exploding mattress,’ laughs Jennie.
Her famous Pre-Raphaelite hair makes her instantly recognisable and she is used to people coming into Annie’s and asking for a photograph.
‘I’m always happy to oblige but regular customers are used to seeing me or other Coronation Street actors having a bite to eat or, in my case, a cup of tea. I love tea, we have twenty varieties and I’ve tried them all and yes, they’re all loose leaf. Would Her Majesty or my nana have it any other way?’