After a mammoth 61 years on Corrie, Ken Barlow is like a member of the family to millions who watched him live through love triangles, catching out a conman, surviving a stroke, and even a murder attempt.
And as the longest-serving soap star in television history, Bill Roache, is as much a part of the public consciousness as his character.
Away from the Cobbles, Bill’s life is even more soap-worthy than Ken’s and, as he celebrates his milestone 90th birthday this week (April 20), we reveal all about the Weatherfield legends’ incredible personal life, from his love affairs and claims he bedded 1,000 women to his unusual spiritual beliefs and family tragedies…
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The son of a doctor and growing up in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside, Bill’s childhood could have been idyllic.
But at home in Ilkeston with dad Joseph and mum Hester, things weren’t quite so simple.
His mother, brought up by a violent drunk herself, was distant with her young son and Bill recalled: “She talked very little about her own childhood. I think she didn’t know how to be more openly loving.”
He did have other role models though. His other grandfather was a freemason interested in spiritualism, shaping some of Bill’s later beliefs.
His early schooling was in his granddad’s garden, in a Steiner school set up by him – where children learn for themselves rather than the curriculum.
Then, aged seven Bill was sent to boarding school in Wales, something he described as a big cultural shock.
But it also was where he first discovered acting, joining the dramatic society there.
However, while Bill caught the bug for his future career, he initially felt he had to follow his father into medicine. He joined the Army instead in 1953 when he feared he had missed the grades.
Being in the Forces left him with ear damage after a bomb detonated near him on a training exercise: “I lost 50% of my hearing,” he said. “But I’ve learned to live with it.”
In 1956 he left, and that’s when he decided to follow his true calling – acting.
After roles in various stage productions, he played a minor part in 1960 Norman Wisdom film The Bulldog Breed .
Shortly before joining Corrie, he played the leading role in a TV play called Marking Time . While there is now no trace of it, Bill says Coronation Street creator Tony Warren saw it and thought he was right for the role of Ken Barlow – and the rest was history.
Bill and Ken
Ken has appeared on the ITV soap since its very first episode aired on December 9, 1960, and has been at the centre of some of Weatherfield’s most iconic storylines.
However, he will always be best known for his on/off relationship with Deirdre ( Anne Kirkbride ) and his feud with love rival Mike Baldwin ( Johnny Briggs ) which gripped the nation.
The 1981 wedding of Ken and Deirdre was watched by a massive 20 million viewers – reportedly more than the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer two days later. Ken and Deirdre also tied the knot again in 2005.
And in real life Bill and Anne – who died in 2015 – were close. He recalled: “With Annie, it felt like being married in a parallel life even though we’d go our separate ways in the evenings.”
Bill reportedly earns £200,000 a year playing Ken, and while most people who’ve made it to 90 would be putting their feet up, Bill, who holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-serving television star in a continuous role, has no plans to quit.
He recently said: “Whilst I can do it, and whilst they will have me, I have no intention of retiring.”
However, four years ago, Bill but feared his character would be killed off when producers told him that Ken would have a stroke, and then be shot in a mystery attack storyline. He was later pushed down the stairs by his estranged son Daniel Osbourne (Rob Mallard) – but thankfully survived.
Unlike Bill, Ken has had several different careers over the years, including newspaper editor, café worker, and even a male escort.
Bill the great lover
In 2012 it was claimed Bill had slept with over 1,000 women and was even reportedly nicknamed ‘Cock Roache’ by his Corrie co-stars.
However, Bill said Piers Morgan had used Ken Barlow’s colourful relationship history on Coronation Street as a way in to asking him about his personal life during his Life Stories interview.
Bill recalled in his 2018 book Life and Soul: How to Live a Long and Healthy Life : “When Piers continued to press me for numbers and asked if it was 1,000 women, all I said was, ‘It could be. I don’t know.’ Well, it went viral – ‘Bill Roache slept with 1,000 women’. And I’d never said I had, but I took it with good humour.”
But while Bill has brushed off claims that he was a lothario, his first marriage to actress Anna Cropper, the mother of his son Linus and his late daughter Vanya, ended in 1974 after he was unfaithful several times.
Bill said he regretted his affairs – one of which was with Elsie Tanner actress Pat Phoenix.
“She invited me round to her flat and we had a few drinks, then one thing led to another,” said Bill. “At that time, she had a reputation and I had a reputation, and she felt we should meet, as it were. It just happened.”
Bill added: “There were plenty of girls around. I didn’t have any control over my own sex drive. I didn’t have the strength to control it. Every morning I woke up regretting and hurting.
“But I certainly wasn’t Ken, going from one marriage to the next.”
Bill did wed again, to Sara McEwan Mottram in 1978. He says he was always faithful to Sara, who died suddenly at their home in February 2009 when she was 58.
Bill said Sara’s death was a deep shock. He added: “We used to joke that in my dotage she’d be pushing me round in a wheelchair, and I never imagined she’d go before me.”
His last public relationship was with TV weathergirl Emma Jesson, 36 years his junior.
They split in 2012, with Emma stating this was due to the actor’s ‘spiritual path’ becoming more of a priority.
Bill is now celibate, saying: “I don’t need a sexual relationship anymore. Everything works, but I don’t have that need for sex I used to have.”
Bill is a believer in astrology, says he has seen ghosts and wants to communicate with aliens, and was even photographed taking part in a Druid ritual at Stonehenge in 1976.
On the Coronation Street set, Bill was praised for his astrology skills which he tried out on his fellow cast members – he had done a remote course while starring in the show.
He claimed to have foreseen Anne’s wedding to co-star David Beckett in the stars, saying: “I cast her chart in the early 1990s. I said, ‘It looks as though there’s a relationship coming up,’ and shortly after that David Beckett joined the cast. They were married in 1992.”
After Anne’s passing Bill also revealed a psychic told him that his pet dog Poppy was able to do impressions of Deirdre Barlow.
Now, Bill is a member of the Circle Of Love group. It’s associated with the Pure Love Movement – a mystic sect that believes love can conquer anything.
People in the group also say they have healing powers – and Bill is no exception to this. He explained: “I place my hands over people’s heads or shoulders and let the energy of love flow through me into them. I could put my hands on someone and cure them of something really serious.”
Bill even believes his spiritualism is the secret behind his longevity. Five years ago, he revealed that he had simply ‘stopped’ ageing thanks to a ‘belief system’ he had discovered.
He said: “A few years ago, I made the decision that I was going to start getting younger. The body was actually designed to go on for ever.”
However, despite his out-there beliefs, Bill says he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He said: “There is great humour in being truly spiritual, which is something that people often forget.”
Bill and his kids
The star has had five children. As well as Linus and Vanya, he had Edwina, Verity, and William with second spouse Sara.
Lookalike son Linus, 58, followed in his dad’s footsteps and has starred in Law & Order and Vikings.
Linus shares his dad’s spirituality saying: “I realised success as an actor alone wouldn’t make me happy. I needed to explore my spiritual side in more depth.”
He has described Bill as an inspiration to him, but added that fans were always mobbing his famous father wherever they went. “We went for a walk together and these young girls were saying, ‘Oh, we love Bill Roache, we’ve always had a thing for him’.”
Keeping it in the family, Linus and his younger half brother William James, 36, even both appeared in Coronation Street in 2010, playing Ken Barlow’s lost long son and grandson James and Lawrence.
That same year, William played a younger version of Bill in BBC drama The Road to Coronation Street, about Tony Warren’s initial attempts to bring Corrie to TV.
He said of preparing for the role: “I watched old clips of Daddy. He was very dashing. It’s the Roache genes.”
During one of his worst moments – being falsely accused, then cleared of sexual offences in 2014, his daughter Verity, 41, was his ‘rock’, constantly by his side.
She works as an interior designer – despite her father once saying that he hoped she would be seen on-screen in the Rovers as an extra.
Off-screen, he has faced tragedy with daughter Edwina, who died from a viral infection at just 18 months in 1984.
He later said that he believes her to be a nurse in the afterlife, adding: “She is helping other children who have passed over to understand what has happened.”
Vanya died aged 50 from a liver condition in 2018 – and Bill couldn’t say goodbye to her after he crashed his car in snow on the way to the hospital.
“To not be able to say goodbye to Vanya was awful,” he recalled. “But I take some comfort in now knowing she is in a better place and at peace. I like to think about the happier times we had.”
Bill’s not boring
AFTER being described as “boring” and unpopular with his fellow Coronation Street co-stars in an article, Bill successfully sued The Sun for libel in 1991 and was awarded £50,000 in damages by the jury.
However, this was the same amount that he had turned down in an out-of-court settlement before the case, leaving him liable for £120,000 in costs.
So, Bill sued his law firm for negligence, but was declared bankrupt in 1999 and had to put his £300,000 cottage on the market.
Even his on-screen arch-enemy Johnny Briggs sang his praises in court – but it was clear that the article had a major impact on his self-worth.
Bill recalled: “I bolted straight into my dressing room and didn’t want to see anybody. They were saying that I was not doing my job, that I was a joke to the storyline writers, which is not true.”
A few years on, Bill was able to joke about it, saying: “If people find someone who has had 23 girlfriends and three wives boring, that’s fine by me.”
Bill has also shown his lighter side on TV over the years. In 2003, he appeared on Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes as Perry Como, singing Catch a Falling Star , and raised laughs during an episode of Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule where he pretended to use his boxing skills on the other guests on the show.
He is a keen exerciser, doing weekly ‘fun fit’ classes which he described as being similar to playing tag at school.
Ultimately, Bill puts his happiness down to his positive outlook on life, saying: “If you can enjoy yourself and find joy in whatever you do, it makes such a big difference.”
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https://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/bill-roaches-life-90-bedding-26775186 Bill Roache's life at 90 - bedding 1,000 women, rude nickname and unusual beliefs