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Steve Burbridge In Conversation With . . . Sarah Jane Buckley

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 27th Nov 2012 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge

 SARAH JANE headshot.JPG

The two roles could not be any more different – as Mrs Darling in Peter Pan she is kindly and virtuous, but as Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks she was a mad and meddling mother who caused chaos in her midst.

‘Kathy was a bit crazy, wasn’t she?’ laughs Sarah Jane Buckley, the actress who, in her three-and-a-half year stint on the soap, made Kathy Barnes a cult character. It’s now almost five years since Sarah Jane left the series, yet she is still constantly stopped by fans – even in the unlikeliest of places.

‘I still get recognised as Kathy - including on the top of the Rock of Gibraltar,’ she chuckles.

‘I was with my boyfriend and I asked him to pull over as we drove toward the top as I was suffering with vertigo. This woman began shouting we had to move and couldn’t park where we’d stopped before suddenly announcing that as it was Kathy Barnes we could park where we wanted!

‘I’m gobsmacked when people recognise me, but I’ve never had anyone say they hated me, or that they didn’t like what Kathy got up to,’ says Sarah Jane.

And, boy, did Kathy get up to some dastardly deeds. From seducing her daughter Sarah’s boyfriend and then blackmailing him into breaking up with her, to kidnapping the baby of her other daughter, Amy, and waging war on her neighbours, the Ashworth’s, Kathy was at the centre of a series of sensational and shocking storylines.

The decision to leave Hollyoaks was made by producer Bryan Kirkwood, rather than Sarah Jane herself, and she admits it was a disappointing one.

‘I never wanted to leave, because I loved playing Kathy,’ she explains. ‘I think they could have done more with her.’

However, Sarah Jane picked herself up, dusted herself down and returned to her musical roots, starring in a number of high profile stage roles, including Gina in Pop Star! and Eva Cassidy in Over The Rainbow, a biographical musical-play chronicling the life of the tragic singer.

‘To play Eva Cassidy is quite simply the role of a lifetime,’ says Sarah Jane. ‘To sing 24 songs a night, in a lead role, is phenomenally rare and I don’t think it happens in many other shows. I was on stage constantly and the acting element was as important as the singing. It was a mammoth part and incredibly challenging.’

But Sarah Jane’s background stood her in good stead to cope with the demands which accompany the role of leading lady. Indeed, she made her first television appearance, at the age of 17, singing on an ITV talent show, ‘Scramble’, hosted by Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan.

She went on to train at The Guildford School of Acting and, upon graduating, entered the world of musical theatre to play roles in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Oliver! and Elvis The Musical.

Sarah Jane then formed a cabaret duo called The Polka Dots, alongside fellow actress Jo Michaels, and for six years they travelled the world with comedians and artistes including The Chuckle Brothers and Joe Pasquale.

So, Sarah Jane’s acting and singing talents will, undoubtedly, be a welcome addition to this year’s pantomime at the Sunderland Empire, Peter Pan.

‘Panto is such a wonderful experience,” says Sarah Jane. ‘Peter Pan is such a great story and lots of fun. I just love seeing children coming to the theatre. Some people ridicule panto but I see it as a great way to give children a real theatre experience which is massively important.

‘If just one child grows to love theatre as a result of seeing our panto, then I feel we will have done our job.’

And Peter Pan is Sarah Jane’s favourite pantomime, too. She has performed as Mrs Darling in Malvern, Rhyl, Tunbridge Wells and Lowestoft, with Sunderland marking her fifth consecutive season in the role.

As well as playing Mrs Darling, Sarah Jane also performs as a mermaid in the production.

I play Mrs Darling quite straight but then play the Magical Mermaid as a real down-to-earth Liverpool lass, heavy Scouse accent, the works. It’s such fun and a real hoot.

‘It always makes me chuckle, after the show, when someone asks where the Scouse accent has gone? At least I know I must have been convincing when that happens.’

Although Sarah Jane is in constant demand and working regularly on stage, she has her sights set on an alternative television career.

‘I’d love to be a presenter on television programmes like This Morning or Loose Women,” she reveals. “I have actually done a lot of hosting and interviewing on stage for corporate events, so it’s definitely something I’d enjoy doing on television.’ 

And if that particular role does not materialise, she would never rule out a return to Hollyoaks.

‘I’d really love it if Kathy were to return with a toy boy in tow!’ she admits. ‘Everyone always says to me, “Oh, I wish you were still in Hollyoaks”, to which I reply, “Why? Kathy was so terrible”. Maybe we should start a campaign to have her brought back.’

But if that call never comes, Sarah Jane has wouldn’t mind trying her hand in another soap.

I love soaps, they are never boring. You can really develop a character, too. I auditioned to play Stella Price in Coronation Street, but it’s understandable why Michelle Collins got the role, as her profile is massive.’

Not easily deterred, though, Sarah Jane would also jump at the chance to become a diva of the dales.

‘I live in the North now, so a part in Emmerdale would be absolutely smashing!’

For the time being, though, Sarah Jane can’t wait to begin performing in Peter Pan.

‘We have a really lovely cast and it’s a wonderful opportunity to be part of the team who are bringing pantomime back to the Sunderland Empire. I can’t wait to get started!’


Peter Pan is at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland, from Thursday, December 13, 2012 until Saturday, January 6, 2013. Tickets are on sale now and are priced from £10 to £25, with concessions available. To book call 0844 817 3022 or log on to




1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Thanks, Steve. A really interesting read. I saw Over The Rainbow on tour, as you know, and Sarah Jane Buckley was outstanding in it.
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