When former Hollyoaks star Peter Mitchell from Limavady found out he’d landed a guest role in Coronation Street he said it was like “a dream come true”.
But even after filming his first scenes on the cobbles, which will air tonight, the Derry-based actor still can’t believe he has joined the cast of Britain’s longest running soap.
“I knew for about a month before we started filming and I had to keep it on the QT,” Peter told the ‘Journal’. “I’ve been hugely blessed in everything I’ve done but, this is Coronation Street. I remember going in to film the first scene, sitting in the green room, and thinking ‘this is wee Pete Mitchell from Limavady’. I’m punching well above my weight. I mean, I grew up watching Coronation Street. Never in a million years did I think I would be doing this. It’s unbelievable.”
Peter’s role in Corrie is ‘Sam’; a hospital patient who meets recovering accident victim Sinead Tinker, played by Katie McGlynn, and her boyfriend Chesney Brown (Sam Aston) and gives Sinead,what he describes as, some tough love. Peter has more scenes next week and, while he doesn’t know where the character will go, he is relishing every moment of acting alongside and learning from some of the industry’s best.
“I am absolutely loving it,” says Peter. “It’s a guest role and I am enjoying it as long as it lasts. We’ll see what direction Sam takes me. I am so thankful for the opportunity, I’m grasping it with both hands. I want to make my wife proud and my family proud.”
Peter, who lives in Derry with his wife Brenda, who is from the Bogside, says there was a moment recently when he stopped and really thought about how lucky he is because twelve and a half years ago it was a different story.
Peter was living every boy’s dream, playing professional football and signed with Leeds United but, after a horrific car crash in 2002, he was left paralysed.
“I remember everything about the accident and how close I came to dying. I remember it all and thought ‘this is it. My life is over’,” says Peter.
Peter acknowledges how lucky he has been because of the support he had with Leeds United behind him, and his incredible family. It was six years since he worked when an opportunity came up for Cast Offs on Channel 4.
Acting wasn’t something he had thought of - he had never even been in a primary school play and the only trace of drama in his family was his grandad, Ken Cummings, who Peter affectionately says “fancied himself as a bit of an actor”.
Undecided about whether to audition, Peter went ahead and booked flights. Turns out it was the best £300 he’d ever spent.
“I came close not to auditioning,” laughs Peter. “It was crazy. I had just met Brenda before that and after getting the Cast Offs job I went from having no agent to having an agent and my first job within 24 hours.”
Since Cast Offs the 30-year-old has built up a seriously impressive CV with a fast developing acting career, including roles in Doctors and the BBC 3 comedy White Van Man.
With every role, Peter says he has worked really hard and, more so, because he is not a classically trained actor with a drama school background.
“I haven’t been coached so when an opportunity comes up I feel like I have to put the extra work in,” says Peter. “My life is such a rollercoaster and, for me, I’ve been through every emotion that it gives me the confidence to perform. I’ve gone through so much in my own life. I’ve experienced great tragedy, so given the opportunity in front of a camera I have the confidence to perform.”
It’s that real life, raw emotion that has taken Peter to what he calls ‘my baby’.
Initially approached by the BBC about a documentary series around accessibility issues for wheelchair users at the World Cup, Peter successfully pitched his own idea which has been commissioned for an hour-long documentary on BBC 3, scheduled for broadcast in April.
“I’ve had the idea of telling the stories of people who have gone through life changing events and what support there is for them,” says Peter, who says making the documentary has been a huge eye opener for him.
“It’s been unbelievable,” he says. “I’ve gone through what these people have been through, and it’s the toughest time of their lives. I can relate to them and I have their trust. It’s just so honest. I hope it raises awareness and shows there is just not enough support for these people. I’ve been incredibly lucky. I had Leeds United behind me and an amazing family but, for a lot of young people, they don’t have that support and it’s hugely frustrating.
“It’s my baby and, fingers crossed, it’ll show in April.”
In the meantime, Peter says his wife Brenda, and his amazing family and friends, are keeping his feet on the ground. Recently he was asked if he could turn back time, and change things, what would he do.
“I wouldn’t change things,” says Peter. “I know what I’ve lost every morning when I get up and jump on the wheelchair but, I have gained so much.
“My life, well nothing comes close to what I have with Brenda. It’s truly overwhelming.”
Peter says he is reminded constantly that it is family - his mum Karen, dad Peter and younger brother Ciaran and his friends, and people like Charlie Begley who coached him from the age of 10-16 with Newtown Youths, that have made him the man he is.
And, no doubt, they’ll be tuning in to watch Peter’s debut on the award winning soap tonight.
As for Peter, well turns out he’ll have to get it taped. He’s flying back from London and will miss it but, from the sound of things, back home in Limavady and Derry, Corrie fans could be getting to know Sam quite well in coming weeks.
“I know it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” says Peter, adding: “It’s unbelievable. I have to pinch myself.”