Inside Happy Valley star Sarah Lancashire's turbulent life – ‘loveless’ first marriage to affair with boss & depression | The Sun

IT’S been 27 years since Sarah Lancashire played ditzy barmaid Raquel Watts in Corrie.

And now Hollywood is knocking on the door as fans of her tough Yorkshire copper character Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley brand her Britain’s answer to Meryl Streep.

Across the pond her portrayal of Julia Child, the chef who brought French cooking to the masses, was widely praised, and the eponymous HBO Max series has been commissioned for a second run.

Sarah is reportedly so popular in the US she is recognised in the streets of Massachusetts where Julia was filmed.

But the path to becoming one of Britain’s best loved and acclaimed actors has not been easy.

Sarah’s first 10-year marriage to Gary Hargreaves, with whom she shares two sons, was a "loveless" affair, and she has admitted she only tied the knot because she was pregnant.


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She fell for her second husband, former BBC One controller Peter Salmon, while he was still married and he reportedly left his wife and three sons in 2000 to be with her.

The 58-year-old has also battled depression on and off since her teens, saying: “I have my good and my bad patches, my fantastic and my debilitating patches.”

With a clutch of Baftas under her belt, Sarah has the world at her feet, but remains charmingly unassuming.  

She shuns red carpet events and parties to live a quiet, private life in a £3million house in Twickenham, south west London, with Peter and their blended family.

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Sarah looked naturally beautiful when she wed second husband Peter Salmon in August 2001Credit: PA:Press Association
Sarah was barely recognisable as Julia ChildCredit: HBO MAX

The mum-of-three is seemingly naturally shy and, incredibly, had always envisioned a career behind the camera – not in front of it.

Sarah, one of four siblings, had a grounded upbringing in Oldham where her dad Geoffrey Lancashire wrote for Coronation Street and her mum Hilda worked as his personal assistant.

She went to Oldham Hulme Grammar School from 1976 to 1981 and won a spot at the coveted Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 1986.

She won two roles in plays with the Manchester Library Company – The Beauty Game and Pacific Overtures – but later said she found the experience terrifying because she "wore a bathing costume in some of the scenes and got heckled".

Sarah went on to work as a drama tutor at Salford University for five years.

She would later say she never won acting gigs because she was “useless at auditions” when she was younger.

But then she landed a small role in Coronation Street as Wendy Farmer, a potential lodger for Jack Duckworth in 1987. It would change her life forever.

Producers were impressed.  Four years later she was cast as loveable Rovers barmaid Raquel Wolstenhulme – initially on a three month contract.

But, as the Street’s supermarket boss Curly Watts fell in love with Raquel, so did viewers. 

£90K a year

Raquel's ditzy manner may not have been that far removed from Sarah’s childhood persona.

She once said:  "My three brothers were all quite intellectual, while I was a bit dippy as a child. I just went round singing 'la, la, la,' and doing handstands.

“The best my mother hoped for me was that I would meet a nice man, settle down and have children."

Sarah, who went on to earn a reported £90,000 a year in Corrie, created one of the soap’s most iconic characters.

A TV special which followed Raquel and Curly’s honeymoon sold 750,000 VHS copies in 1995. She also won Rear of the Year in 1993.

Her last Corrie episode a year later was watched by 20 million viewers and she was nominated Most Popular Actress at the National Television Awards.

It won her a £1.3 million golden handcuffs deal with ITV – one of the first of its kind.

When she cut loose from it in 2002, ITV drama chief Nick Elliott called her his “best buy” in his 38-year-career.

She went on to play Ruth Goddard in Where the Heart Is from 1997 to 1999, then a lesbian head teacher in BBC drama Last Tango in Paris between 2012 and 2016. 

In 2017 she was awarded an OBE from the Queen and received the honour from the Prince William.

Depression struggle

In 2000 she delivered a powerful performance as actress Coral Atkins, who set up a home for disadvantaged kids after being moved by the plight of children in care.

But it was her role in the first series of Happy Valley in 2014 that has arguably earned her the most plaudits.

Sally Wainwright wrote the role especially for Sarah after being blown away by her in Last Tango.

But behind the scenes, Sarah struggled with episodes of depression and anxiety.

She told The Sun she was diagnosed with clinical depression at 18, saying: “I have never known what it feels like to wake up in the morning, full of the joys of spring, and wander through the day feeling capable of coping."

She told how she suffered from clinical depression in the 1990s and had a breakdown, calling it a “ticking time bomb waiting to go off".

Sarah said she was on medication while shooting Corrie and twice considered taking her own life.

The thought of getting out of bed left her "hysterical" and, although her family knew of her struggles, she never told anyone at ITV.

She said she was prescribed tranquillisers which ended up “being the worst thing for it" and "ended up in a terrible mess. My twenties were a write-off".

“I certainly didn’t tell anybody at the studios and I didn’t take any time off," Sarah explained. "I was terrified of being judged and misunderstood. I just battled along.

“It’s the worst thing I could have done. Being in the public eye makes you frightened to talk openly about things – which is precisely why you should. You can really a difference and open up subjects that are taboo.”

A few years ago she described herself as a “little more together” joking she was “just about ready to get on a bus by herself".

Unhappy marriage

Her unhappiness during her first marriage most likely didn't help Sarah’s state of mind.

Aged 22 she married her first serious boyfriend Gary Hargreaves, a music lecturer 11 years her senior. 

She confessed she only got married because she was pregnant, although her first child Thomas was not born until 1987. Her second, Matthew, followed in 1989.

She told the Mirror: “I’m a very traditional girl and was horrified at the thought of having a child out of wedlock.

“I didn’t want a child of mine to be different or have fingers pointed at them. The marriage lasted for 10 years which was 10 years longer than it should have done.”

In 2000, news broke that Sarah, then 36, was in a relationship with her ex Granada TV boss Peter Salmon, then 44, who at the time was estranged from his wife of 20 years, Penny Watt.

A friend of Peter's at the time told the Daily Mail: "It has been an agonising decision for him but he and Sarah do not want to live a lie."

Peter famously refused to move to Salford despite being the head of the Beeb’s Corporation North division.  

He promised he would move up north after his children, including son Joseph who he had with Sarah in 2003, had finished school but he left the corporation in 2013.

'Precious' family

Sarah has described their relationship as "precious” but keeps their family life under wraps.

“I guard it because it’s very precious. It’s not a piece of drama. It is real life, my normal life. And I value my normality,” she said.

For her first American role, Julia, Sarah flew to Los Angeles to audition and took son Joseph to make a holiday of it.

The modest star was shocked when her agent called to say she’d got the role, which she has made her own – despite Meryl Streep also playing the chef in the 2009 hit Julie & Julia.

Sarah said she deliberately didn’t watch Streep’s portrayal for a second time after watching the comedy-drama when it first came out.

Covid restrictions halted filming, and when it resumed in summer 2021, Sarah was unable to see her family which was difficult.

She might be the hottest acting ticket in town but she views motherhood as her most important job.

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“The older that I get, the harder it is to be away from home," she said.

"I love being at home. I’m very much a mum when I go home – the mums among us know it’s a full-time job."

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