Popular television actress Charlie Hardwick took centre stage for an online session with students at the University of Sunderland.

As part of their course, students across all stages of their Performing Arts and Screen Performance Degrees were treated to a talk with a range of industry professionals, as well as Charlie, who is best known for her role as Val Pollard in Emmerdale.

Charlie, 60, left the soap after 11 years in 2015, when her character died during a helicopter crash in the village. Still a TV favourite, she returned to our screens in 2019 playing Sue Carp in the Channel 4 comedy-drama Ackley Bridge. Following her Emmerdale career, Charlie also starred in roles on stage including Clear White Light at Live Theatre in Newcastle in the role of Maddie.

Charlie said: “It was such a pleasure to talk to the students and answer questions about my journey in drama. I come from a working-class background, left school at 16 and was a clerk in the DSS when I stumbled into a youth theatre which changed the course of my life.  I was the first member of my family to subsequently go into higher education, gain a degree and to work in the arts as an actor; a future I would never have believed could be mine.”

She added: “The session gave me the opportunity to discuss in detail, and in good company, my personal experiences in both theatre and film, best practice, craft, skills, highlights, lowlights and some pearls of wisdom gained along the way.  I was so refreshed by the passion and enthusiasm of your students, it reminded me why I doggedly chose this path in the first place. It truly lifted my spirits and I wish them all the best on their journeys.”

The annual sessions, a collaboration between Newcastle’s Live Theatre and University of Sunderland, provide potential pathways of opportunity for students to consider ways of entering the arts and entertainment industry following their graduation. They also get access to the theatre and interviews with actors and writers.

However, because of the impact of coronavirus, the module had to move online with Live Theatre’s Emeritus Associate Director Max Roberts, also a Visiting Professor of Theatre Studies at the University, organising the event with professionals, including Janet Plater, who leads a professional actors’ agency Janet Plater Management, Phil Hoffman-Artistic Director of Project A Theatre Royal Newcastle, and Drummond Orr, Production Manager at Live Theatre.

Dr Adelle Hulsmeier, Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts and Programme Leader for Screen Performance, said: “Every year we conclude our module, Page to Stage, with a session that introduces the students to a range of industry professionals. They are from varying roles and offer incredibly valuable advice on how to navigate the industry and gain employment.

“Max organises some incredibly exciting people and we cover wide and relevant content from approaching an agent, to working as an actor. We are grateful to Max for not only bringing in such exciting and stimulating guest speakers but for understanding the needs to our group of students; he provides such quality to the work we do. This year the students were introduced to Charlie Hardwick. Her knowledge, expertise and passion for this industry was incredibly infectious, and I know the session has been helpful and inspiring to students in Performing Arts and Screen Performance programmes.”

Max Roberts said: “I really enjoy the ‘Page to Stage’ semester and over several years the students have worked on some exciting new plays commissioned by Live Theatre and have had the opportunity to work with inspiring professional actors, writers and artists based in the North East.

“Whilst Lockdown has restricted our face to face encounters it has also provided an opportunity for the students to meet some fantastic writers and artists who are associated with Live Theatre from much further afield.

“This year we invited Actors Agent Janet Plater from Janet Plater Management, Phil Hoffman the Director of the post graduate bespoke actor training conservatoire ‘Project A’ based at the Newcastle Theatre Royal along with other younger arts professionals who having recently graduated from northern Universities have found work in the creative industries.”

He added: “I was also delighted to invite Charlie Hardwick a vastly experienced actress known to the students through her extensive work in theatre and television. It was a lively session full of anecdotes, laughs and invaluable advice which given the very positive feedback from the students was an opportunity much valued and appreciated.”

Stage two Performing Arts student, Megan Dunn, says that having the opportunity to chat with professionals gave the group a greater insight into the industry.

“Each session provided an open, friendly environment where we could ask our questions to them and receive genuine helpful advice,” she says. “Charlie Hardwick was such a warm and vibrant character who shared with us experiences within the industry. It’s given an insight into where our own careers can perhaps take us.”

Nelson Jesus, also a stage two Performing Arts student, added: “The meeting was amazing, we could basically start imagining how the environment will look like after University, which is great, because sometimes we don’t know what to expect.

“The fantastic Charlie Hardwick told us about the possibilities and the difficulties within the area, showing us that hard work is what makes us, but sometimes it’s really a shot of luck, and we just have to be patient. It’s an industry that will bring us freedom to express and do what we love, no matter the job or role we get.”