There are actors who appeared in soaps; there are iconic soap characters and then there’s soap royalty. Claire King definitely fits into the latter as the lady who brought to life the UK’s first and ultimate ‘Soap Bitch’ Kim Tate. With Claire leaving her role in Coronation Street in the coming months, could this be the time for Emmerdale’s best ever bitch to return to the dales?
We interviewed Claire a while ago when she was between theatre roles and long before she treaded on the cobbles of Weatherfield to talk about being soap’s biggest bitch, life after Emmerdale and what she think’s Kim is up to now… seems only right to get it out of the archive!
Its been over 15 years since you left Emmerdale; is it ever possible to escape Kim Tate, especially as you still live in Yorkshire?
“No but then I wouldn’t want to. She was a great character to play, probably the best part I’ve ever played to some extent. Playing a baddie is always fun and being Kim gave me some great opportunities.”
Kim was one of the most iconic characters in Emmerdale’s history. What gave her that edge?
“I think the fact she was the first ‘soap bitch’ in the UK made her stand out from the start. The American soaps had the British ‘soap bitch’ Alexis Colby played by Joan Collins. So when Emmerdale brought in Kim, it was something completely new for the UK. I think it was the late Les Dawson who renamed Emmerdale ‘Dallas with dung’ at that time.
“Kim also had a very dry underlining sense of humour and even though she tried to sell her child, faked her own death and stood by while her husband died, she was a pussy cat underneath. Her relationship with Seth Armstrong was lovely and she truly loved Dave Glover. She didn’t have many redeeming features but what I loved most about her was she didn’t give a monkeys at the end of the day. She did what she did and to hell with it!”
Many other families have tried to imitate the Tates such as the Kings, Wyldes, the Maceys, and now the Whites. What makes a great soap family?
“What made the Tates great was that they were so diverse in their beliefs and moral values. Frank and Zoe were very proper while Chris and Kim were more devious but in the end you saw each of them at all extremes. When I arrived it was for nine months and I stayed for nine years.”
Was there ever a time during that period when you thought the producers had gone too far with Kim and the Tates?
“With Kim, my attitude was very much ‘bring it on’ because she was such camp character in some ways. The further they pushed the barriers, the more I loved it.
For the Tates, I really felt for Malandra Burrows (who played Kathy Bates) and Peter Amory (Claire’s ex-husband who played Chris Tate) when they formed a band and had the record out – Just This Side of Love. Peter was supposed to be playing in a band but was wearing a suit and couldn’t have looked less rock and roll if he tried. It was very embarrassing but also very funny for those of us looking on.”
You mention in your autobiography that you didn’t get on that well with Norman Bowler who played your on-screen husband Frank. How awkward was it working so closely with him?
“You obviously can’t get on with everyone. You just have to be professional but when you are working with someone day in, day out, it can get annoying. When we were filming the ‘lovey dovey’ stuff, it was worse so I would purposely eat garlic before those scenes. On the flip side, it made being nasty to him on screen a bit easier too!”
What was your favourite ‘Kim Tate’ storyline?
“As much as I loved the incredibly camp scene when Kim held the compact to Frank’s face to check he was really dead and then did her makeup, my favourite storyline was the love triangle with Dave Glover which was fab to do. We never really did know if James was Frank’s child because there was a hint of a bribe so who knows, the baby could have been Dave’s after all.”
What about your favourite Emmerdale moment?
“The plane crash was groundbreaking for its time and changed everything for Emmerdale. It was a real turning point for the show as it was due to be cut. They started to steer away from the rural scenery and concentrate on both the drama and the humour in the storylines.”
Emmerdale makes six shows a week and has a cast of more than 50 regulars. How does that compare to when you were filming?
“We were showing two episodes back then, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and there was about 18 of us so it was like being a part of a small family. At the time it seemed a hectic schedule but it was nothing compared to now. We worked five days a week, Monday to Friday. We still did 7am till 7pm in terms of hours but we’d all go to the pub for a nice lunch. We’d spend a day rehearsing, a day ‘blocking; sometimes we’d do double stranding where we’d have two stories being filmed at once which happens all the time now, with more than two units filming. There was still pressure but nothing like they have now.”
Where do you think Kim’s been all these years and could she return one day?
“Well that helicopter couldn’t have taken her that far and she didn’t leave with that much so I imagine she’s been in Ireland conning some poor chap. If she came back to the village, I think she’s be like a whirlwind. She come in, run rampant in typical Kim Tate fashion and then disappear. I couldn’t see her staying as a lot of water has passed under the bridge since she left. Saying that I’d never say never to going back!”
You are known for playing strong female characters – is that because of the legacy of Kim and your own nature?
“I have played some downtrodden characters but they haven’t had the profile of Kim or Karen Betts in Bad Girls.
What’s your dream role?
“I’d love to play a role like Faye Dunaway’s in The Wicked Lady. Her character Lady Barbara is basically a bored wealthy woman who gets her kicks from committing highway robbery. She was the Kim Tate of her time.”
Finally, you are a self-confessed rock chick with a great history in music. What you rocking out to these days?
“I do love music but I don’t get to as many gigs as I used to. What I love about performers like Lady Gaga and Madonna and characters like Kim is that at the end of the day, they just don’t give a stuff and live for the moment.”