JULIE Hesmondhalgh is still full of excitement after having spent a month performing at the world famous Edinburgh Festival.

She starred in a one-woman show The Greatest Play in the World, written by her husband Ian Kershaw, and is now preparing to bring the play to her ‘second home’ - Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.

“Edinburgh was amazing. I really loved it,” said the former Coronation Street star. “Nothing can prepare you for how completely bonkers it is, it’s so hectic and so full on.”

Julie, 48, certainly made the most of her first festival.

“I think I was there for around 25 days and I saw 46 shows, so I really packed it in. Plus I did my own show every day as well,” she said.

Accrington-born Julie won an award from The Stage for her performance in The Greatest Play in which she narrates the stories of friends and neighbours living in a mythical Northern street using shoes and slippers to denote each character.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s a love story set in time and space and it’s quite magical.”

The play was a surprise Christmas present for Julie from Ian.

“I’d kept ‘saying to him what’s the point of being married to a writer if you don’t write me anything?’, she said. “I asked him to write me a one-woman show we could travel the world with into our old age.

“Bless his heart, he’s very obedient. Over Christmas he kept disappearing, into his office and do a little bit at the end of the holidays he presented it to me. I had no idea what he was working on.”

Julie performed The Greatest Play at the Royal Exchange last year for a short run and it returns to the venue’s Studio where it opens on Thursday.

The Studio has a special place in Julie’s heart for it was while performing there in 2012 that she decided to leave Coronation Street where she played Hayley Cropper for 16 years.

Julie took the lead in Black Roses based on the murder of Sophie Lancaster, the Rossendale teenager who died because she was different.

“The really took a punt with me giving me Black Roses because I hadn’t done any theatre for donkey’s years,” she said. “I was terrified but it was the thing that made me decide to leave Corrie. When we did it I thought ‘I’m ready to do other things, I’m ready to be a jobbing actor again’.”

Julie’s performance as Hayley won her a National Television Award and an emotional right to die storyline as she fought pancreatic cancer led to her bowing out of the soap in January 2014.

“People ask me all the time if I miss it and of course I do; I miss the people,” she said. “But in terms of work it has been so lovely to do a bit of theatre, a bit of telly, a bit of comedy and some radio which I love.”

Julie was nominated for a Bafta for her performance as rape victim Trish in the TV series Broadchurch

“It’s also be able to do lots of little bonkers things as well,” she said. “I did the closing ceremony for Great North Exhibition in the North East recently and I was running round the stage as a suffragette. It was brilliant.

“It’s having the space to be able to say ‘yes’ to things like that. I’ve got to say, life’s very rich now.”

For all her post Coronation Street success, Julie admits that for many people she will always be Hayley, the first transgender character on a British soap.

“Without Hayley I wouldn’t have been given the opportunities I’ve had to do the kind of work I’m doing,” she said. “Corrie’s got such a fan base and I got that fantastic leaving storyline. I couldn’t have wished for a better way to send Hayley off and to send me off into the world.

“But some people will always see you as that character. In the first 12 months I would think ‘let me move on’ or I’d have people asking me if I was enjoying retirement but I’m used to it now. You’ve got to remember that not everyone sees everything that you do

“But I’ve always said that I know my obituary picture will be me in that bloody anorak with my pineapple juice!” she laughed.

Ironically Julie admits that should the part of Hayley come up now she wouldn’t even go for it.

“It was a different time but even then the beginnings of the conversation about whether it was right for me to play a transgender character were happening and rightly so.

“I was only 27 when I got the part but I had the really strong sense that it would have been unbearable for a trans actor to have that level of exposure at that time.

“All I could do was to say to the various pressure groups that they could trust me and that I was an ally and that I would look after Hayley and their real life experiences and treat the issues with respect and care.

“Me leaving had nothing to do with the changing times but it happened to end just at the point where I think it would have been an anachronism for me to have carried on playing Hayley.

“It was brilliant to be part of that conversation and I shall always be proud of that.”

The Greatest Play in the World, Royal Exchange Manchester, Thursday, September 20 to Saturday, September 29. Details from 0161833 9833 or www.royalexchange.co.uk