IF a week, notoriously, is a long time in politics, 20 years is an absolute lifetime in the world of telly drama.
But two decades after she last set foot in Emmerdale, Claire King makes a rip-roaring return this week.
And, as she gets set to shake things up once again as only Kim Tate can, Claire has told iN10 why, finally, she decided to come back as the ultimate soap bad girl.
“I’ve been asked several times by ITV over the last 20 years,” said Claire, 55. “I never felt the time was right.
“But Joe Tate’s there now and the Tate family are ensconced in Home Farm.
“I thought it slotted in better than coming in randomly as Kim to demolish the village and cause havoc – although she does that anyway!”
Villainous Kim is one of Emmerdale’s most popular characters ever, with some gripping storylines. She coolly looked on as husband Frank died of a heart attack, telling him: “You’re a dinosaur, Frank, and you know what happened to them.”
And she bumped off stepson Chris, bashing him over the head with a paperweight before fleeing.
Kim is set to make the biggest of impacts when Claire dons those killer heels, ensuring a masked ball will never be forgotten.
“It was lovely to walk back on set, even after all these years, and still see familiar faces among the crew as well as the cast,” says Claire.
“That was really nice because I was aware that the pressure was on in resurrecting this big character. I had always said I didn’t want to go back and have people say I should just have left it.
“Not tarnishing what went before was the biggest thing.
“People have memories of her and that’s what made me, if not nervous, then certainly respectful. Obviously, she wasn’t going to be the same as I’m 20 years older and not this young dolly bird anymore.
“But thankfully, the writers have come up with an incredible week for me. The character’s still there and those brilliant lines are still there. So all I had to do was remember it.”
While Claire couldn’t be happier about reprising Kim and is delighted to be making at least a brief return to Emmerdale, she’s not as enamoured about her Corrie character, Erica Holroyd.
She made the soap switch in 2014, joining ITV’s other iconic soap and staying until last year. “They were struggling to write for the character,” confides Claire.
“She was like a pinball in a big machine, bouncing around from one place to another with no real direction.
“I was only in for 12 episodes originally and then they decided to bring me back and get pregnant in my 50s. That could actually have been very interesting if they pursued it, but it just kind of withered away.
“I didn’t see it going anywhere and decided that was it, I’d done my couple of years.”
Yorkshire lass Claire says she’d never made the trans-Pennine commitment of having a Manchester pad. And that made her decision to quit such a lucrative job easier.
“It could take three hours driving each way, so you were adding six hours on to your day,” said Claire.
“I was just getting tired of it. It might have been fine if I’d had more to do and I’d stayed over. That may have been a different kettle of fish.
“That’s what’s been nice in coming back here and having well-written scripts.”
Claire certainly hasn’t been hanging about since leaving the Corrie cobbles behind. She has a couple of films, panto and a big theatre tour on the way
Despite that she says: “I can hardly say I’m ambitious anymore, I leave that to the younger kids.
“It’s nice to get home in 20 or 30 minutes and to have time off.
“It’s important to get the work/life balance. I have a theatre tour next year but I don’t want to be trekking round with a suitcase for the rest of my life.”
Having been one of TV’s most recognisable faces for decades, Claire has lived much of her life in the public gaze.
Her marriage to former Emmerdale co-star Peter Amory ended in divorce and she spoke openly about their split after he had an affair.
“I gave my husband Pete a second chance. Two strikes and you’re out.”
But Claire insists she’s not troubled by attention these days.
“I live in the middle of nowhere and just lead my own life,” she says.
“I’m into my family and my race horses. I go to work, do my job, come home and public and private gets separated.
“I don’t do the red carpet thing and I don’t live in the middle of London so I don’t get followed by the paparazzi. And they don’t really want it at my age. If I was 25 or 30, maybe, but I’m way too old for it. So time has actually helped.
“If I go out I’ll be polite and sign autographs and agree to have photos – but I just don’t tend to go out very much.”
While she’s Yorkshire through and through, Claire has Scots blood running through her veins, too. Her gran on her mum’s side, Ella Drake, was from Edinburgh.
“I used to love going to see her,” says Claire. “She loved a wee tipple of sherry.”
With her soap appearances, Bad Girls and more, Claire has been a strong female figure on our screens. And whether that has played a part or not, falling victim to some of the entertainment industry’s seedier practices hasn’t been an issue.
“I’ve been lucky, but then I was brought up as tough Yorkshire lass,” she explains.
“I only had a brother and was always around boys. I used to be in bands and I’m very used to that male environment.
“I tended to muck in with things and didn’t find it offensive. So while I know there is sexism, it hasn’t affected my life.”
While many young actors these days are obsessed with their social media profile which can have an influence on their career prospects, Claire says it was very different in her early days.
“Well, we didn’t even have mobile phones back then,” she chortles. “You had to go to a phone box if you wanted to get in touch with someone.
“I was taught to call all directors ‘sir’, to get to work on time, know your lines, be polite, go home – and have a bevvy!
“There weren’t award ceremonies, you got a pay cheque for doing your job.
“Now it is all about how many followers you’ve got. Does that make you a better actress? No, it doesn’t.”
Meanwhile, Claire doesn’t just have the acting experience over younger actresses, she can lay claim to another screen skill.
Her big comeback involves a stunt sequence and that was right up her street.
“Before I joined Emmerdale I was actually training as a stuntwoman,” she adds. “You had to pass five different elements and I’d done three of them.
“Luckily, Emmerdale came along, because I’d probably have broken more than I have riding horses. I’ve got bad arthritis as it is.”
n Emmerdale, ITV, Mon- Fri.
By Bill Gibb