Hi Annie, thank you so much for allowing us into your home - and for the unexpected lunch!
You're welcome. You don't mind if I put my make up on while we talk do you? Only I expect you will want to take a picture.
Yes, I will want a nice head and shoulders for your page. Well done you for being able to do it yourself.
Well, a mirror wouldn't do me much good would it? I have been doing my own makeup for years, so I know where everything goes. Mind you, I have been known to get my lip liner pencil and eyebrow pencil mixed up, and gone out with red eyebrows and black lips! People must have thought I was a clown!
Do I understand you worked at Granada many years ago?
I have had many jobs. In 1977 I was one of the first women to run a bookmakers. I was only in my twenties, but I went on a course and qualified to be a Turf Accountant. I had a flat mate, who worked at the Stables Club at Granada, which was a bar for the employees, and I was dying to work there, so went down and landed myself a job. So I was working days at the bookies and evenings in the bar, running between the two on my motorbike. A lot of the crew knew I was a turf accountant, so would get me working out their bets in between serving their drinks.
One day I had an accident on my Kawasaki, I came off going round a corner, but that wasn't the worst, a lorry came round the corner and almost ran over my head while I was laying on the ground! Anyway, my bike was in for repair, and I kept phoning and phoning to see if it was ready, but they never answered the phone. So I went down to ask them in person. While I was standing there, the phone was ringing and ringing, so I picked it up and said "Hello, Peter Collins Motorcycles, can I help you?", and took a message. They offered me a job on the spot, and I told them I would take it if it meant I would finally get my bike back! So there you go, I left the bookies and ended up running one motorcycle shop in Bolton and one in Manchester.
I continued my job at the Stables, and would park the big bike that I had by then, on Coronation Street. The old Stables used to back onto Coronation Street, it was later turned into the Rovers, in which the tour groups could have a drink, at which time the Stables was moved to the Old School. It was at this time that they asked me to be full time, so I quit my job at the bike shop and moved to the Old School with them. So to answer your question, yes, I was there 18 years.
Those were the days when it was all done in the one building, including the Grumbleweeds etc.
Grumbleweeds? I am not familiar with them, I don't think they ever came to Canada.
They were produced by Johnny Hamp. He is great, he's written a book and sent me a copy. It's a marvellous book, so interesting, and he even signed it for me - so thrilled.
Of course Johnny knew me from Granada, before I was blind. I remember he came in one day with Sacha Distel. Now I was used to all kinds of stars coming in, and I wasn't even a big fan of Sacha Distel, but I went completely overwhelmed when he came in. Couldn't even serve him, just stood there with my mouth open!
When the Grumbleweeds were at Granada, there were about six of them, and they used to come into the bar. One day Carl Sutcliffe told me he didn't feel part of the Granada family, even though he had been there close to twelve months. I asked him why he felt that way, and he told me it was because I hadn't shouted at him! Well, I was leaning on the soda fountain at the time, so turned it and sprayed it all over him. "Do you feel part of the crowd now Carl?" I asked. After that, they put the soda fountain routine into their act.
You had your first child while you were working there didn't you?
Yes, I couldn't believe it, on my last day before going on maternity leave, they surprised me with so many presents, they kitted me out with everything I needed for the baby, I had enough nappies to last a year! Also, the producer at the time, Bill Podmore made a beautiful speech that made me cry. I wasn't well after the birth, so had to stay in hospital, Liz Dawn was ringing all the time to see how I was. She was so kind to me, told me she used to be a single parent too, and was always slipping money in my tips jar for the baby. I was also friends with Lynne Perrie who played Ivy, and Annie Kirkbride who had just started on Corrie.
How did you meet your husband?
I went on holiday to Spain on a coach trip, by this time I had two children, Charlie was three and Gerard was eighteen months. On the way back I met this fellow from Kent who seemed really nice. We had this whirlwind romance, we married and I moved to Kent, first to Dymchurch, and then we moved to Saltwood.
Both places we know very well, coming from Folkestone.
I really loved Kent, and the people were very nice. Had I been with someone nicer, I might have stayed there, but the marriage was a big mistake. I was working at South Kent College when I got progressive breast cancer the first time, and was losing my hair. They didn't have any good wig places in Folkestone, and my best friend, who was a stage manager on Corrie at that time, promised to look for one in Manchester. She was in a wig shop when Liz Dawn came up to her, and they got talking about me, she told her about my cancer. Liz took over, and asked to see their best wigs, she found what she called an 'Annie wig', paid for it, had it wrapped up and gave it to my friend telling her to make sure I got it before Christmas. It arrived on Christmas Eve, so I had it to wear when we went out on Christmas Day. I will never forget what she did for me, she was so kind. In fact everyone at Granada was, when they heard of my cancer, I received loads of cards and flowers, it was amazing.
So you had lots of support to help you through it?
Everyone was so supportive from up here, especially Annie Kirkbride, she was with me every step of the way.
She had cancer herself at some point didn't she?
Yes she did, and she called me just before it hit the papers, because she wanted to tell me in person. I had the honour of being invited to be a surprise guest when they did a 'This Is Your Life' for her. They introduced me as her friend for twenty five years. My hair was just growing back then, but my sight was going.
What went wrong in your marriage, if you don't mind me asking?
I had been very unhappy in my marriage for some time, but my cancer came back around 2004, and I had to have major surgery, and lost all my hair again. I was recovering, but still having treatment, and losing my sight. I went on holiday to Spain for six weeks, and he came out for the last two. I knew something was wrong because he kept picking arguments with me all the time. Finally he told me he wasn't coming home with me, as I was no use to him if I couldn't see.
That is awful!
Actually, I didn't mind the fact we were splitting up, because I had been so unhappy for such a long time. The worst part was that I had three children by that point, and he had left me with a pile of debt. I even lost my house because of it. But do you know? For all the cancer, the reconstructive surgery and all the debt, I was still far happier after the marriage than before!
Was it the cancer that caused your sight to fail?
No, I had noticed after the first round of chemo that I couldn't see to read as well as I used to. I was working at Saga in Folkestone when I first noticed it, and bluffed my way through for the longest time. Or at least I thought I was bluffing my way through. Finally I told them I was going to have to leave because I couldn't see to do the job. They told me they already knew but didn't know how to approach it, and they were brilliant about it, and put all kinds of things in place for me, like a magnifier so I could read the words etc. They were amazing.
Then, after the second round of chemo, my sight really went. Now I don't want anyone to think this will happen to them if they have chemo, because it won't. I had a faulty gene which caused something called Choroidal Dystrophy, which is similar to Retinitis Pigmentosa. It was triggered by the chemotherapy, which sometimes causes temporary retinal problems, but in my case, because of the faulty gene it was permanent.
How on earth did you manage with three kids and going blind? You moved back to Manchester then?
Yes, it made sense, I had a lot of friends and support up here. My kids were very good, they would take me out to the shops, and tell me where the obstacles were etc. But it was horrible, because I would trip and bump into things, people would think I was drunk. In fact someone in a bar refused to serve me when I went with my son for my niece's birthday. My sight was bad then, but not gone completely. I ordered a bottle of champagne, then went to find the toilets. When I came back, they were all ready to leave, my son was furious because they had refused to sell us the champagne because they figured I had had enough. I hadn't had a single drink! They had explained I was going blind, but they didn't believe them.
I was finally registered blind, and had to have lessons on walking with a white cane. I did fine, and got my certificate, but I hated going into town with it. People just don't see you, they are walking along on their phones, there are people jumping over your cane because they only see you at the last minute. The worst was trying to find the door to go into a shop. I would be walking all round the shop trying to find the door!
So how did you get to meet Mr. Quinn?
I had been in touch with Guide Dogs before, but they told me I had to learn cane walking before I could consider a dog. I had to learn to walk confidently, and not do the blind shuffle. So I did all the training, and wanted so much to show my boys I could still be the strong woman I always was. So I would wave them off to college and school, telling them I was going into town with my cane. But then I would get to the gate and freeze. I would just stand there crying, I just couldn't do it. I would come back into the house and hide all day, then pretend to the kids when they came home that I had been out. (Annie is fighting the tears here at the recollection)
Then one day a lady from Guide Dogs for the Blind appeared on my doorstep with that dog over there. I asked her what his name was, and she told me it was Quinn. I was floored, because that is also my name. It seemed like it was meant to be, right from the start. Only problem was my older dog Betty, who hated him on sight. She even bit the trainer, it was a nightmare. The trainer advised me to re-house Betty, but when it came to the crunch, I just couldn't do it. So she agreed we would try again. She left Mr. Quinn overnight, then little by little he was introduced to Betty more and more, then suddenly they were playing together and running around together like lunatics.
Are Guide dogs all trained the same way Annie?
No, they are trained to suit your lifestyle. It takes a very long time before they are ready to be left with you. He had to learn to go on trams, go shopping, concerts, noisy pubs, everything I do, he had to be taught to cope with it. Then I had to be trained to walk with him. I did my training in Bolton, and I still remember the first time we went out together. I was walking along beside him, holding his harness with my head held high for the first time. You put all your confidence in that dog, and they guide you, they stop at the kerb, everything. I had this big grin on my face and was crying my eyes out at the same time, I was so happy. We walked all the way to Morrisons. Sue from Guide Dogs gave me two weeks training, showing me the routes and everything, and it is ongoing support. She has been wonderful. When I got the job at Coronation Street, she came out and did the route with me.
The difference with a guide dog is that you can ask them to find the door, but mostly you are not on your own, they give you the confidence to do it. He changed my life did Mr. Quinn, I love him and owe him so much.
Is this why you got into raising money for Guide Dogs for the Blind?
Yes, I really missed Granada, but thought I would never be able to work there again, so threw myself into fund raising for the guide dogs and other charities. I would leave collection boxes in pubs all over Manchester, (I'm no fool, because it gave me an excuse to go and collect them again!) I have also done a lot of charity work in schools. I go with Mr. Quinn and tell them all about the guide dogs, and what they do for people.
You were in the newspaper a couple of years ago after being attacked weren't you?
Yes, I was going to visit my new Grandson with Mr. Quinn, I had never walked there before. Suddenly I felt something hit me on the back of the head. I put my hand up and it was all wet and sticky, I was terrified, and completely disoriented. I tried to call my son, but in my panic I couldn't figure out how to get the voice activation to work on my phone. Then the van of lads who did it, came back round the corner and were laughing and jeering at me. I was crying and in a terrible state. Luckily a man who saw me from his kitchen window came out and helped me, he told me it was eggs, and even washed them out of my hair for me. It set me back a bit, destroyed my confidence, but then I decided I couldn't let them win, for every bad person there are a hundred good people out there, so I made myself get on with it. (You can read the article here: Manchester Evening News )
You have to wonder about the mentality of someone who would attack a blind woman in the street, I am so sorry to hear this.
Let's move on, tell us how it came about that you are now a Background Artist at Coronation Street.
Last November, by chance, I got a call from Guide Dogs to say they needed a collection box at the ITV studios, Coronation Street set. Of course, I volunteered to take that one right away, and couldn't wait to go, hoping to see lots of my old friends. Judith Wroe met me at the gates, she is a wonderful person. She recognised me from when I worked there, and took me right to the Green Room for a chat. Then Judith suggested I come back and do some Extra work. I loved the idea, but didn't know if I could do it. She told me she would speak to Joanne Moss, and go from there. Joanne called me in, and she was so easy to talk to, and that was it, she said she would give me a try!
Have you met the other Extras since then?
Yes I have, they are all so different, but all so nice. I have to tell you the story of my first day. I was in the canteen, getting my fish & chips, and talking to some of them. Then went and sat down, and I was eating, and noticing that nobody was speaking to me at all. I felt awful, thought they all hated me. Then suddenly someone said "Why aren't you sitting with us? We saved you a seat." I had only sat down at a different table hadn't I? Ha ha!
You have such a marvellous sense of humour Annie, mostly at your own expense. You tell of the time you were angry with your eldest son Charlie, and when he came home, you ordered him to the table to eat the meal you prepared with no back-chat or argument - and then Charlie came home to discover his best friend at the table polishing off his dinner! The friend said he was so scared of your anger, he didn't want to argue with you! LOL!! Or the incident in the chemist when you had a discussion at the condom counter with a lad, asking him to help you find the licqorice flavoured ones, needing a box of 24 to see you over the weekend - you thought you were at the Nicorette counter! Ha ha ha! So many anecdotes like these, how do you manage always to see the funny side of things?
Oh believe me, I don't always. However, nothing can ever be as bad as the cancer was, and I am very lucky to be alive. That's the way I look at it when things go wrong. My life couldn't be any better than where it is today, I am so very lucky.
Do you get called to work very often? It seems I haven't spotted you all that much.
Yes, I am there quite a lot, but I'm not surprised you have missed me. You see, Mr Quinn gets a treat when we have finished walking where we are supposed to go, and he knows it is coming, so he zooms along about a hundred miles an hour, so I am probably just a blur whizzing by on screen!
Ha ha, that could be it. Talking about Mr. Quinn, he was in a newspaper article too wasn't he?
Yes he was. I was going to the Nightingale Centre at Wythenshaw Hospital, and it had snowed. Suddenly I noticed that Mr. Quinn was acting strangely, and couldn't walk. I thought he had broken his leg. My son and I lifted him off the path onto the snow, and he went crazy, running about like a mad thing. We realised there was salt on the pavement, and it was hurting his paws. I asked them in the hospital if they could put some surgical gloves on his feet for him, and they did. It got into the Manchester Evening News.
If you want to read the whole article you can find it HERE
We stopped the questions and answers here while Annie explained how she does everything by voice activation, including her texts. She related how she had sent a text to a friend, telling her she was a nice lady. At the other end, it was interpreted as "You're a Nazi". :-) She proceeded to show us how the voice activation works on her Ipad. Pushing buttons, she planned to leave a comment on Facebook to demonstrate, she said "Hello", and a voice replied "Siri says Hi back". We burst into laughter, as she explained she had forgotten to push the dictate button. However, she went on to say that she was never without a friend to talk to, she always had Siri! LOL!! (For those without Ipads, Siri allows you to use it by voice) She told us her friends don't delete her texts, rather they bring them up and read them again when they need a good laugh.
She also told us about a series of You Tube videos she made, demonstrating how a blind Mum can wallpaper her own bedroom. I have added one of these videos to her gallery. If you want to see more, you can find them by doing a search for Annie Giles-Quinn on You Tube. At her suggestion, I picked the one to show you where she comes down the ladder and steps straight into her bucket of wallpaper paste!
Annie, you make a point of laughing at your mistakes, and joking about all the mishaps you have, due to being blind, but doesn't it ever get you down? Do you not get frustrated when things go wrong?
I would be lying if I said it doesn't. I have had some very bad days. For instance when I was about to turn fifty, and was in the middle of my chemo, I had lost my hair and decided that as it might be my last birthday, I was going to throw a 'surprise' party for myself, as I had never had one. I was tired that day, but wanted to go into town to buy some earrings for my party. Normally I dress up to go out, nice clothes, make up, breast prosthethis and wig, which I had at the time. But this day I just couldn't face it all, so went in my tracky bottoms, and a bandana on my head. With my seven year old son, Freddie, I ended up at New Look, and as I went to pay for my earrings, I realised my purse had been stolen. Horrified, I told the assistant, who really didn't want to know, and told me to step out of the way. It was pouring with rain outside, so asked another customer if they could lend me a couple of pounds to get home, as I had no money. He gladly gave it to me, but the assistant snatched it off me and handed it back to him, telling him not to give me money. I grabbed Freddie and ran out of the shop in tears, and went to find my sister in a nearby pub. As I walked in, a gang of lads started tormenting me, asking me if I had any lucky heather, and calling me a gypsy. I shouted at them that I wasn't a gypsy - I had cancer! By then both Freddie and I were crying as we ran all the way home in the rain.
Next day, I received a call from the manager of New Look, asking me if I had lost a purse there, as they had found one with everything in it except money. I dolled myself up to the nines, including my beautiful wig, and went down there, stopping off at the bank first. The same assistant was there, and had the nerve to tell me I hadn't reported my stolen purse, and that she hadn't seen me before. I reminded her of the woman in the bandana from the day before who was having a bad day healthwise, and handed her an envelope with £10 inside. I instructed her to keep it behind the counter, and give it from me to the next poor soul who has their purse stolen in their shop. They were reluctant to take it, but I told her I didn't want anyone else to ever feel like my son and I felt walking home in the rain the day before. People judge you solely by your appearance, it's sad really.
I agree, it's such a mistake to decide who or what a person is, without even knowing them, but you only have to read Facebook for a short time to realise how often it is done.
Now tell us about the work you do with the schools.
I do a lot of work with schools, telling the kids what it's like to lose your sight, and the work the guide dogs do. Some of them have never even touched a dog before, so we have a good time, and many of them manage to overcome their fear of animals too. I always tell them they should watch Coronation Street to see if they can pick him out when he is on - and they do!
Thank you so much for giving up your time for us Annie, it has been so interesting talking to you, and despite the sad topics we have discussed, I don't think I have ever laughed so much in my life!
You are very welcome, but before you go, one thing I would like to say is a massive thankyou to Joanne and Judith for believing in me. Also, I would like to thank everyone who helps me so much when I am at Corrie, they really look after me. Mr. Quinn even has his own bowl, and is known as Weatherfield's resident guide dog.
That's wonderful, and long may he hold that title. We will watch for him - and you of course! Let's not forget you work there too! Ha ha!! Thanks Annie.