After six turbulent years Coronation Street, Tina McIntyre is set to plunge to the cobbles - and her death. It might not mean a happy ever after for the brash barmaid but, as actress Michelle Keegan tells Susan Griffin, she wouldn't have it any other way.
Michelle Keegan is cradling a cushion and confessing she's suffering from tonsillitis. But there's no rest for the actress right now, as she waves goodbye to her Coronation Street character Tina McIntyre, after six years on the soap. Befittingly, feisty young Tina won't be disappearing quietly in the back of a taxi.
Instead, she'll dramatically drop from the balcony of a builder's yard after a confrontation with her (as yet) unnamed killer.
"I came in as a new actress and to leave with such a massive storyline, I feel very lucky," says the dark-haired Keegan, showing off her petite figure in skinny white jeans and a black and white shirt.
After four years in the soap, she began thinking about taking the next step in her career and eventually felt the moment was right to share the news with the show's executive producer, Stuart Blackburn. "When I first decided to leave, the door was initially being left open and I thought, 'Oh yes, thank God'," reveals the 26-year-old, who hails from Stockport, Greater Manchester. It was only on being summoned to a meeting a while later that she was told the door was, in fact, being slammed shut.
Blackburn, a former script writer for the soap, felt terrible. "The writers came up with the story and there was part of my brain going, 'This is brilliant' and another bit going, 'You can't kill her, I told her the door was going to be left open!' I was gutted for Michelle but I absolutely stand by it and think she's got a brilliant future in acting."
After the initial shock had waned and she was told how her death will affect the whole street, Keegan says she felt glad for herself but sorry for her character.
"I felt sorry for Tina, for it to end this way," she admits. "I've played her for six years and she's not had the best of lives."
Tina was only supposed to be a short-lived character, someone brought in to help David Platt forge a better life for himself, but her feistiness proved a hit with viewers. Now, she's set to push someone too far - and pay the ultimate price.
Fans of the show will know there are four potential killers in the frame. There's Peter Barlow, who's had his way with Tina and discarded her in favour of his wife Carla. She herself, pregnant and wronged, could also prove to be a suspect.
There's also Carla's brother Rob, a former prisoner whose dodgy dealings have been rumbled by Tina. And finally, Rob's fiancee and Tina's arch-enemy Tracy, who's committed murder before. In the run-up to the killing, viewers have the chance to watch four alternative showdowns between Tina and the four possible killers, but Keegan's actually known who the perpetrator is since Christmas. "I was very good, I didn't tell anyone," she says. "I like gossip, don't get me wrong, but with something like that, I had to stay quiet."
It's no secret Tina's made poor choices but she believed she'd found contentment in the arms of Peter. "She was very vulnerable [after being forced into surrogacy in order to pay off boyfriend Tommy's debts - only for him to leave her]," explains Keegan.
"She's always craved love and affection, especially from a man, because she had such a strong relationship with her dad. Peter was older, and looking out for her. I think that's why she's devastated when he turns his back on her."
Unlike filming the fall ("It was horrible, because I'm scared of heights") Keegan hasn't found it difficult for the tears to flow during these final fraught scenes. "We'd been filming for three weeks solid and I was so involved with the storyline, it was really easy to get into character." She's even found the dramatic scenes cathartic. "You can let rip on set and feel recharged. That's the positive thing about it," says the actress, though it's something she's had to learn how to do.
When her on-screen father Joe died four years ago, she felt like "my body was grieving. I was knackered and I'd cry at the slightest thing and got cold sores. It took its toll".
She credits her fiance Mark Wright of Towie fame for being a huge support these last few months. The pair will move to his home county of Essex when their house is ready, but he lived with her for a month while she shot the final scenes and even read through lines with her.
"It was off-putting with his southern accent. He tried to [do a northern accent] but I told him to stop. He was putting me off more," she laughs. It was always her plan to move south, it just so happened she met Wright in 2012 and the pair got engaged nine months later. "We're in totally different industries and it's great to come together and talk about our work. It's a normal relationship, we just get our photo taken."
The pretty actress has already been hitting the audition circuit. "It's really hard. Corrie was my second ever audition," says Keegan, who worked as a shop assistant before joining the soap. "I went to an audition a few weeks ago, walked in the room and there were 25 girls who looked exactly the same.
I was so nervous." She's also been working with a dialect coach "to get my head around doing different characters and accents". Her effort's paying off. She's already auditioned for a new American series and had a recall, which "gave me a bit of confidence".
Keegan's also branching into fashion with her first clothing line for Lipsy. "I've always loved fashion, but when you're in a soap like Corrie, you're contracted to that and can't do other things," says the actress. "It was something I always wanted to try, so to be given the opportunity was amazing. I have designed all the outfits in the collection and been going in and changing bits and bobs."
Maybe she and Wright can build a brand like the Beckhams? "Ha," she laughs. "You never know!"