For a new addition to Coronation Street, getting stopped while out and about quickly becomes a regular occurrence.
However, when Simon O’Brien is spotted it’s not his character from the cobbles he’s recognised for, but someone from a different street – Brookside.
The 57-year-old, who played Scouse heart-throb Damon Grant in the popular Liverpool show, admits that is all some fans still see.
He says: “It’s literally 40 years since I first appeared in a soap.
His Corrie role is not quite as much of a pin-up as his younger days. He plays bullying (and badly dressed) Frank Bardsley, the charming love interest of barman Sean Tully.
Simon admits it is quite a change and he is still getting used to it.
He adds: “I was filming in Hull recently and we were staying in a hotel. I noticed a young waitress looking at me and I said to the other guys I was sure she was giving me the eye.
“After a while she came over and said, ‘Excuse me, my nan loves you.’ It wasn’t even her mum. That dashed the old ego, I can tell you.” Frank has a darker side as the former school bully who made undertaker George Shuttleworth’s childhood a misery.
It is a subject Simon had plenty to draw on from his own youth at Liverpool comprehensive school. He says: “I was bullied for being a misfit and because I was clever and very academic. I had no shame in working hard, if I didn’t come top in an exam I was gutted.
“But when you stand out as a teenager because you’re scruffy and a smart Alec, the bullies soon hone in on you.
“The bullying was physical and verbal and I spent a lot of time waiting at a different bus stop to everyone else to avoid them. My parents could never afford the right gear, Adidas and labels like that, and I was called Eddie Shoestring, because he was the scruffiest detective on television.
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“My older brother would get the new blazer and shirts then he would wreck them and I would get them.
“By the time I’d finished with them they were so wrecked that my younger brother got new ones.
“Back then bullying wasn’t addressed as it should be. It does have long-term effects on people. But in those days, if you told someone you were being bullied, you’d just get picked on more and you’d get no sympathy from the teachers.
“Luckily, because I learnt how to duck and dive, it didn’t have a long-term effect on me.”
Simon’s life changed overnight in 1982 when he decided to attend an open audition for Channel 4 ’s Brookside, a ground-breaking new soap.
He had been planning to take his A levels and study botany at university and only decided to attend the audition on a whim.
The actor says: “I’d never considered acting, I wanted to be a botanist, I was a real geek, but the audition was on a Tuesday afternoon which was double maths so it was a no-brainer.”
The world of botany’s loss was acting’s gain. Gritty and realistic and not afraid to tackle social issues, Brookside became a huge hit and Simon became an overnight star as cheeky Damon, the youngest son of Bobby and Sheila Grant (Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston).
Paul Usher played his brother Barry and Shelagh O’Hara his sister Karen.
He says: “It was mind-blowing, I’d never been very good at getting girlfriends until then. We went to switch on the Christmas lights in Leeds and 15,000 people turned up. We needed a police escort.”
But not everyone was pleased by Simon’s success. He recalls: “There was a lot of jealousy. I was only 17 and suddenly I’ve got the car and the girls find me attractive. To other lads that could be a red rag.
“There’d be times somebody would come up and make a nasty remark in my ear and I’d turn to my friends and say, ‘Right, I’ve got to leave now.’ I was very attuned to when things might turn dark.”
Simon stayed at Brookside until 1987 when his character was killed off in breakaway soap, Damon and Debbie, starring Gillian Kearney.
He moved into children’s TV, appearing in shows including Fraggle Rock and later branched out into presenting with the BBC football show Standing Room Only.
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Simon then moved to America, where he appeared in the sitcom Out All Night, but after returning to Britain he quit showbusiness and set up a vegetarian cafe.
He says: “It lasted for five years. Everyone said it was too far ahead of its time. I think that’s being a bit polite, basically I was rubbish at business.”
Luckily, Simon had sensibly invested his Brookside earnings in a run-down house.
He says: “I bought it when I was 19 and it was so derelict you could stand in the cellar and look at the sky. So, whenever I wasn’t working, I would be renovating the house.”
Simon began buying and renovating other dilapidated properties. TV spotted his passion and he was offered a job presenting My Dream Derelict Home.
Now a property expert he hosts Channel 4’s Find It, Fix It, Flog It and The Great House Giveaway, for which he won a BAFTA.
But earlier this year, during a break between filming, his agent persuaded him to audition for the new Coronation Street character.
While Sean, played by Antony Cotton, is smitten with his man, Frank’s presence has brought back terrible memories for George.
Simon says: “He’s very charming, but as will come out, once things don’t go his way, then the other side of him emerges. He’s only got that one tool, to put people down.”
Simon, who lives in Liverpool with his wife Liz and their 14-year-old daughter, adds: “To have been on Brookside, which broke the mould and now to be on the most iconic soap of them all, feels like things have nicely come full circle.”