Turning 50 as put a real spring in the step of Coronation Street favourite Sally Ann Matthews.
The self-confessed exercise-phobe has decided to mark hitting the milestone age by completing 50 charity runs to back good causes close to her heart.
But she admits her new street-pounding regime is letting her indulge her love of prosecco and chocolate without having to worry about piling on the pounds.
Sally Ann, who plays Jenny Bradley in the hit ITV soap, said: “It’s an insane thing I’m doing. It’s great that I’m talking about it so I can’t get out of it.
“I don’t recognise myself. I never exercised. Now I can’t wait for the next run. Doing a 5k is a massive achievement. I’m 50 and never done anything sporty.”
“The weight thing has gone out the window but I’m not bothered about that. I’m not vain. My skin feels zingy and more alive, I’m enjoying that feeling.”
Sally Ann, who celebrated her 50th on September 19, wants to raise £5,000 to donate to Acting For Others, Action Against Cancer, Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, The Matt Hampson Foundation and the RNLI.
The actress has a personal connection to each charity and opened up about just how much each one means to her.
She said: “A close friend died during lockdown from cancer. She suffered for a number of years. I’ve got another friend going through treatment now.
“Cancer affects so many people and it’s a vile, horrible disease. Anything that goes towards research and new treatment is a good thing.”
Sally Ann, who lives in London with hubby Nick and sons James, 21, and Louis, 19, chose to support the JDRF because her eldest son’s girlfriend has type 1 diabetes.
“This is for her,” she said. “She was due to run the London marathon for JDRF but that was cancelled. She was meant to be running but I’m running instead. She’s amazing. She was only ten when she was diagnosed and initially struggled.
“I guess anything that marks you out as different at that age is hard but now she has a disk on her arm and a pump on her leg and doesn’t hide it. She’s a great ambassador.”
The Matt Hampson Foundation supports young people seriously injured through sport.
Those it has helped include Sal’s family friend George Robinson, 22, an actor who plays Isaac in Netflix show Sex Education.
He had a spinal cord injury in a rugby accident aged 17 that left him paraplegic.
As a keen boater, Sally Ann is also eager to support the RNLI.
And seeing so many friends in acting out of work right now amid the ravages of the pandemic, she wants to do her bit for the ailing sector.
She said: “Acting For Others supports anyone in the industry and going through a difficult time.
“Theatre is where my heart is. Anyone associated with theatre, front of house, box office staff, not just actors, have been affected. And they don’t get the same type of help from the government.
“So many of my friends aren’t working and have no idea when their industry will be back up and running. Many actors I know have given up the business because they’ve needed to support their families. We all know how fortunate we are to be working.
“Being a jobbing actress for 22 years I’m well aware what unemployment is like and looking for your next job.
“I’ve loved being back at Corrie and not having to go for endless auditions and endless rejections.”
Between filming sessions for the hit soap, Sally Ann has completed two of her 50 runs, which she wants to wrap up by her 51st birthday.
She said: “I’m pretty good when I set myself a challenge. I’m a brilliant dieter but then I will instantly put it back on again. I’m fairly faddy. It all started with the Couch to 5k programme. My friend did it and told me how great she found it.
“I started in January but then I got a knee injury. After a load of physio, I started again in May. I really enjoyed it. When it finished I thought, ‘What do I do now?’ That whole self-motivation thing I’m never good at. But if I’ve got a target, I’ll do it.
“I never thought I could run a 5k. My original plan was to run five 5ks before 50. But as I started doing the 5ks, I thought, ‘I can do this, they’re not too bad.’”
Sally Ann, who got some specially fitted trainers for her birthday, said hitting the milestone age did not bother her.
She said: “I don’t feel any different. It didn’t weird me out. I wasn’t maudlin about it, feeling my own mortality or any of that. Covid has meant I didn’t have a big party, which I wouldn’t have wanted.
“We went away on the boat and had a brilliant time. It was also my wedding anniversary. I thought I’d give him one day to remember rather than two.
“I did drink a lot of prosecco that day but I still managed to do my first run the day after. I did the second one yesterday. I’m just bloody amazed I could run for that long.
“When I started, running for 60 seconds nearly killed me. The Couch to 5k programme is great. So much of it is mental.
My running playlist is musicals. From West Side Story, Hamilton, Frozen 2, Chicago, a bit of everything. That keeps me going.”
After the pandemic forced a production shutdown, Sally Ann was delighted to return to filming on the cobbles during the summer.
But she says there have been some positives to social distancing rules.
She said: “I’m not a hugger. So the whole keeping your distance from people, I’m like, ‘Bring it on!’ I have a natural force field around me that repels people. I don’t miss that!”
Sally Ann also has an action-packed couple of months ahead because Weatherfield is getting a new arrival.
She said: “Jenny is going to have a family member join the show, someone the audience knows nothing about.”
Of her character she added: “She’s insane, so is fun to play. It’s a lovely place to be. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had some great stories which I’ve really enjoyed doing.
“I miss theatre but there’s nothing else I want to play. I’m happy.”
You can support Sally Ann by donating at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SallyAnnMatthews