Barlow bitch is back on Street

Diane Pilkington

As Tony Gordon is behind bars, there hasn't been a proper baddie to terrorise the residents of Weatherfield for months now. So, the return of scheming Tracy Barlow has got Corrie fans in quite a lather.

But for actress Kate Ford, who spent the past two years concentrating on being mother to her son Otis, going back to acting has been a nerve-wracking experience.

"When you've been at home with a baby you get so used to spending time one-on-one that going back to work is really terrifying," she says. "You lose your confidence a bit," she acknowledges, before breaking into her characteristically wide grin and admitting nerves are nothing new to her.

"I could be doing three weeks of intense scenes and then one scene I can't remember my lines. It's not new for me to be a nervous wreck. It really isn't. It's just varying degrees."

Despite an anxiety-ridden start, it wasn't long before Ford was feeling right at home in the role that won her a string of awards for best bitch and best soap actress.

"I've loved it more than I expected, which sounds weird, but it felt fresh. It just felt like a new job in a way," she says.

Viewers last saw Tracy when she was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering her boyfriend Charlie Stubbs, and the years she has spent behind bars have only served to make her harder.

"She's got worse, nastier, if that's possible," Ford reveals. "If you're surrounded by people who are similar to you, you have to toughen up, and Tracy's not really a tough person. She's manipulative and a bit messed up but not a fighter."

Tracy reappears on screens when she is allowed to leave jail for a day to attend her grandmother Blanche's funeral.

After her initial taste of freedom, this arch manipulator hits on a way to engineer an early release from prison, which, unsurprisingly, means making life misery for someone else. With innocent Gail McIntyre (Helen Worth) awaiting trial for the murder of her husband Joe, Tracy strikes a deal with police to extract a confession out of the widow in return for her own freedom. And it's not long before Gail is duped by her new cellmate.

"The thing that's sad is Gail thinks she's nice. And says to her 'You're actually a really nice person', at which point Tracy feels really bad -- but not so bad that she can't do it."

Gail is an unfortunate pawn in Tracy's plan to get back to her daughter Amy, who is happily living with her dad Steve McDonald (Simon Gregson) and his new wife Becky (Katherine Kelly). Learning that the couple plan to adopt a sibling for Amy drives Tracy wild with jealousy, and makes her desperate to scupper the adoption.

Kate admits that motherhood has helped her understand her character's motivation.

"Personally, someone else having your child and you being stuck away from them and not knowing what they were being taught -- it must be a horrible feeling. She's going mental, basically."

The storyline also paves the way for plenty of fights with new sparring partner Becky, whose role has grown in Tracy's absence.

"I think Becky gives as good as she gets. And Becky's harder than Tracy is. She's more of a street fighter. Tracy would throw fire bombs and run whereas Becky would fight."

Although there has been plenty for Ford to get her teeth into, plot-wise, the actress admits her return has been tinged with sadness.

Filming Blanche's funeral came just weeks after the real-life funeral and memorial service for actress Maggie Jones, who died last year aged 75.

"I went to Maggie's funeral in London as well. That was a beautiful funeral.

"Personally, I had to not think about Maggie when it was Blanche's funeral because it would have been too hard to get through the day."

Although the loss of Blanche, who was famed for her acid tongue and sharp one-liners, was a huge blow for the soap's fans, Ford admits there is potential for Tracy to take over her grandmother's mantle.

"I don't think they were dissimilar. Tracy is a much more ruthless and extreme version of Blanche.

"I think she's a bit of a chip off the old block."