2016 Celebrity of the Year Award
Annie Wallace currently plays school headmistress Sally St. Claire on Channel 4’s Hollyoaks. She is the ﬁrst transgender person to play a regular transgender character in British soap history. In 1998, she was engaged by ITV’s Coronation Street to help researchers with the character of Hayley Cropper, which led to an 18-month consultative role for storylines and scripts. She also became close friends with the actress who played Julie Hesmondhalgh, who persuaded Annie to follow her original, but abandoned, dream to be an actress. In the past, Annie has campaigned for Press for Change and Stonewall. She is currently working with the LGBT Foundation in Manchester and several other trans groups to help raise awareness within the LGBT community.
We caught up with Annie after she won the first ever Celebrity of the Year Award at The National Diversity Awards 2016! Here is what she said…
What did you think of the other shortlisted nominees within your category?
Every one of them are incredible people – I was totally humbled by even being considered to be in a category alongside their names! The work they all do is fantastic. Being famous for something, whether it be sport or entertainment, comes with a profile that is too important to waste, and myself, and all the other nominees, are not only aware of that responsibility, they all go above and beyond their responsibilities and are working to improve the lives of other through their work.
After winning the award, how did you feel?
I felt totally shocked… I burst into tears as I recall, although I can’t remember half of what I said at the podium. It genuinely was the last thing I expected. Before my name was called, I was yelling “Come on, Mo!”
How do you think the work you do is making a difference and changing perceptions?
I’ve always hung my work on the word “Visibility” – just being out there, working hard and showing others that trans people are as valid as everyone else. That wasn’t possible until the last few years, so to be at the forefront of a growing movement is very important to me. Destigmatising transgender people is an important mission for me. I hope I live to see a time when trans people are recognised as just another part of the human experience, rather than a curiosity.
What has been your biggest challenge so far and how have you overcome these barriers faces?
My biggest challenge was my initial transition – just trying to live and work with honesty as the person I really was. That was 26 years ago, at a time when trans people really weren’t either liked or supported. Somehow, I managed it, and kept my head down, not telling anyone I was trans, working and earning a living. In recent years, it was the challenge of trying to establish an acting career.
I struggled with that for a long time, going through some pretty difficult financial issues, But gradually things started to change, and then everything came together in July 2015.
What has the reaction been from your co-workers and supporters?
Everyone has been so supportive and happy for me. It’s a fabulous feather in the cap for Hollyoaks too, for believing in me and investing in the character of Sally so well. They have big plans for next year too, which is very exciting!
You are an inspiration to so many, but who or what was your inspiration?
There are so many people who have inspired me, from a distance and closer to home. Julia Grant, the first trans woman to put her story on TV back in 1978, who showed me it COULD be done, and changed my life (who is now my good friend)… Caroline Cossey, the beautiful trans model who also had an acting career…
One of the biggest has to be my dear friend Julie Hesmondhalgh, who played Hayley in Coronation Street for 16 years. She encouraged me to be brave, to take risks and to push myself further than I was willing to do… to go to drama school and follow my initial acting career goals, long abandoned. I simply wouldn’t be where I am now without her support and encouragement.
What were your thoughts on the awards? Did you enjoy the night?
It was a beautiful night, in a beautiful venue, full of fantastic, creative, forward-thinking, selfless people determined to push the envelope for acceptance, equality, tolerance and diversity right across the board, in almost every sphere you can imagine. Just wonderful.