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Tender interviews actor Christopher Harper

Tender interviews actor Christopher Harper

Upon hearing of an upcoming grooming storyline on Coronation Street, Daisy, Tender’s National Partnership Manager, met with actor Christopher Harper who plays the character of Nathan Curtis, a perpetrator of child sexual exploitation

Could you tell us a little bit about the story line that involves your character in Coronation Street?

So, Bethany Plait is a young, spiky and bright teenager (16 years old) in Coronation Street, that has had a bad couple of years having suffered from an eating disorder and problems at home. And now she is now becoming a victim of organised groomers. This is the first time that a mainstream soap had dealt with sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and it is the first time that this pre-watershed audience have had it brought up as part of the conversation.

Nathan is a very charming, very kind, affable older guy who put Bethany first and tells her she’s beautiful. He drives a nice car, owns a salon, he is good looking; so he seems he has everything going for him. What Bethany can’t see (but the more experienced members of the audience can) is that his intentions are not what she is hoping for. She is falling in love with him, but he is just using her.

You mentioned that hes older, how old is he?

He says he’s 35. Their ages are not the most important element of the story; it is just supposed to be one of the alarm bells. This could happen between 16-year-old girls and 22-year-old men.

Have you or the Coronation Street team worked alongside any specialist organisations in regards to the storyline?

We’ve have worked very closely with the NSPCC, from actual cases, and from information in the report by Dr Alexis Jay for the National Crime Agency following the Rotherham sex ring. It is something that is coming to the forefront of the media now. Barnardo’s and NSPCC are doing a great deal of work to raise awareness of the issue. We have also done a lot of work with survivors and I’ve teamed up with Voicing CSA UK who are a charity run by survivors.

One of the ways that Tender work with young people is that we spend a lot of time looking at early warning signs of abuse. Could you tell us how Nathans behaviour and actions have changed from the very early scenes between him and Bethany compared to where they are now?

Nathan is very clever; he spots that Bethany is vulnerable. She doesn’t have anyone telling her she is great – he makes her feel bright and fun and interesting. He tells her these things and showers her with praise, gifts and attention, making her feel valued and special.  What helps Nathan is that he also has a female friend called Mel, who makes Nathan look ‘safe’. But when you peel back the layers, it is clear to see that Nathan divides and rules. He is very nasty about Mel behind her back in front of Bethany, gradually dividing the two. He also begins to isolate Bethany from her family.  He teaches her that his opinion is what matters the most and that his attention and love is what she needs. So she goes from being flattered and in love, to feeling that she has no value without him in a very short time. He does it very deftly and cleverly because he’s done it before with other young women.

Do you think Bethany may feel fearful of the consequences if she doesnt do something that Nathan asks?

Absolutely – that’s exactly where it goes. He eventually controls Bethany through guilt and shame, especially when she starts having sexual encounters with Nathan’s “friends”. She feels ashamed of her own behaviour and it’s only Nathan’s forgiveness that gives her the power to keep going.

What do you think is the most important message the storyline gives to those who may not understand abuse?

I think it shows that the initial point of abuse can feel soft and comfortable. Like it’s coming from an exciting and fun place. But it can quickly become something very different. The storyline also teaches that if you find yourself in those situations it is not your fault and there are people that can help you: Tender, NSPCC, ChildLine and so many more. It is never your fault.

How do you feel about the role of Nathan? 

It’s been a massive learning curve for me. As an actor, it’s been great getting to play somebody so duplicitous because he is very charming but he is evil. He is so evil. As a result, finding out what makes him tick has been quite daunting. But being on Coronation Street is really exciting.

Have there been any challenges with playing the role of an abuser?

Well, it is very difficult to see a good side to him and understand what his background may be. However, it just comes down to control. He enjoys inflicting his will on people because he finds himself a very clever manipulator and loves himself for it. He is making those choices at every single step. Sometimes it’s to protect his back but sometimes it’s because he believes his own illusion and it’s an intoxicating buzz to control people. He does it in a brutal and cruel way.

I understand that the storyline has been criticised by some viewers as being too explicit for the timing of the show. What are your thoughts on this?

It was a very brief thing. A couple of people said, ‘this isn’t right, this isn’t Corrie.’ Immediately we saw coverage in the press, on social media and fan mail from people saying how important it is that this story is being covered the way it is and the time it is. It is starting a conversation with a lot of people and that is very important. I think what Corrie are doing is amazing. But the big thing is though that nothing is ever shown, we are only telling an 8th of the story. And everything that happens is based on truth from 2 or 3 key cases that the writers have linked to. We just hope that enough of it chimes and that it helps people in these situations to realise that there are people out there who can help.

You said that its based on lots of research and lots of specific cases, – Tenders work address prevention education, Bethany is 16 and we work with a lot of young people that age, and older and younger. Do you think that there is a duty of care to get it broadcast and get it to as many people as possible?

I think it’s vital that what Corrie are doing is in line with the work that charities like Tender do. It is all about prevention and seeing the warning signs. It’s being able to see that identifying yourself as a victim doesn’t weaken you, it gives you the opportunity to ask for help.

So, have you learnt anything from being part of this storyline?

I learnt how far reaching the problem is and how brave the victims who have sought help are. And how many are now helping other victims.  There is more to do and charities like Tender and the NSPCC are delivering brilliant work and now have more government backing… but most importantly all this work enables victims to come forwards and discover that what happened to them was wrong, was a crime and that everyone is ready to help them.

SRE is going to become compulsory in schools, do you think that is going to be a positive thing?

Absolutely, it’s all about empowering young people to recognise signs and to know where to go for help. I also hope that SRE will teach young people the good things about sex and relationships! SRE will open a conversation about the dark and negative sides too, then victims will lose the stigma around being a victim and that is so important in the process of recovery.

Thank you so much, and good luck from the Tender team for the London Marathon you are running in aid of the NSPCC.

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