Emma Gregory has a helper at her tea rooms in Wilmslow – husband Simon Gregson, aka Coronation Street’s Steve McDonald. Armand talks to the couple, pictured, about life on, and away from, the Street

Simon Gregson has been a household name since he burst onto our screens in 1989 as Steve McDonald in Coronation Street. I’ve known Simon and his wife, Emma Gregory, for a number of years and was so excited for them both when I heard the news they had taken over the Morley Tea Rooms at Morley Nurseries on the outskirts of Wilmslow. As a couple they are a dynamic combination – Emma is a ball of creative energy while Simon is the backbone of the family who always has his his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. I caught up with Simon and Emma at Morley for a cup of chamomile tea, and a piece of Emma’s delicious homemade cherry cake.

How did you both meet and was it love at first sight?

Simon: We met 18 years ago in the pub in Eccles owned at the time by Beverley Callard (who played Liz McDonald on the Street).

Emma: I used to go to Bev's pub with my brother Michael and she was running a singing competition called Eccles Factor. Simon was one of the judges and Bev asked me if I liked Simon, 'as he’s single and he likes you'.

Simon: While Bev was saying that to Emma, she was saying to me that Emma liked me. So she set us up really.

Emma: Bev then asked me to come along to the Hells' Angels Bike Run for Manchester Children’s Hospital, which Simon was going to be at and I was so nervous I turned back twice. But we sat next to each other and Simon said let me buy you a drink. I said no… I will buy you one. And we’ve never been apart since.

Great British Life: Emma's cakes are a sell-out. (c) Morley Tea RoomsEmma's cakes are a sell-out. (c) Morley Tea Rooms

And now you’ve opened up Morley Tea Rooms. How did this come about?

Emma: I’ve wanted a tea room for such a long time and I used to come into this one with my grandma. We got on really well with the people that owned it and the Morley Garden Centre next door and I found out the tea rooms were available.

Simon: Yes. The tea rooms and the garden centre were getting too much for the couple to run so Emma went to speak to them as it’s close to where we live and she’s always wanted to do it. I said to her don’t miss this opportunity, go for it.

Emma: it’s the best thing I ever did. I love it.

Is it difficult juggling this and having your three boys at home?

Emma: The boys are eight, 13 and 16 so they’re not so little and my hours are 10am until 4pm so I’m back at home by 5pm. It works.

What are your ambitions for the Morley Tea Rooms?

Emma: I would like to expand in the future but we shall see. Everything is homemade here. I personally make the cakes every day.

Simon: And I was chief taster. And now I’ve got to go on a diet.

Great British Life: Simon and Emma take a break for tea and cake. (c) Kirsty ThompsonSimon and Emma take a break for tea and cake. (c) Kirsty Thompson

What can customers expect?

Emma: We seat 34 inside, 34 outside and we’ve just taken on some more outdoor space for the summer, so during the school holidays, we’ll have lots of things going on such as a bouncy castle and barbecues. We cater for gluten-free, dairy-free customers. The most popular cake is Victoria sponge but I do get requests, so people will phone up and say, 'Oh, can you do a coffee and walnut cake for Tuesday?'. I also do a little bit of outdoor catering, including afternoon tea. At the tea rooms, visitors need to call and book beforehand if they want afternoon tea.

Simon, how hands-on are you with the business?

Well I can’t prep any food as you need to have the relevant food hygiene qualifications to do that.

Emma: You’re good at washing up.

Simon: Yes. And clear the tables but I tend to avoid answering my phone between 10 and 4 so I can avoid being pot washer. I’ve been in TV for 34 years, what do you expect!?

Emma: Tough. Your wife’s got a tea room now...

Great British Life: Coronation Street's McDonald Family in1995Andy (Nicholas Cochrane), Steve (Simon Gregson), Jim (Charles Lawson) and Liz (Beverley Callard). It was Beverley who played matchmaker to Simon and his future wife Emma. (c) ITVCoronation Street's McDonald Family in1995Andy (Nicholas Cochrane), Steve (Simon Gregson), Jim (Charles Lawson) and Liz (Beverley Callard). It was Beverley who played matchmaker to Simon and his future wife Emma. (c) ITV

Simon, I can’t believe it’s been 34 years since you joined Coronation Street. You were 15 when you filmed your first episode. With an average audience figure of 25 million viewers watching, how did that level of fame affect you as a teenager?

It was crazy. There was massive press intrusion. I would have to leave the house through my mum and dad's back garden, then our neighbours' back garden onto the street behind and finally into my mate's car, just to get out.

Even being asked to go on all the kids' tv shows at the time, I was so nervous. I had no previous acting experience, I was just a kid plucked from a normal secondary comprehensive school and turned into a household name overnight, so I had to learn on the job. It’s different if you’ve trained as an actor, you've had a few auditions and then you get a break. For me, it wasn’t like that at all. Also in the beginning my character wasn’t well-liked at all, but there started to be a substantial following for 'The Twins' (Steve McDonald and his brother Andy, played by Nicholas Cochrane who left the series in 1997).

I’ve got used to things now and it’s still bonkers when you think about it, but we have a very normal life with our kids.

You’ve been involved in some huge storylines. What are your favourites?

I think Steve’s depression storyline really changed things for me personally. Before, if I was in a pub and some lads came over it would mean I would have to leave straight away as it was trouble. But after that storyline I started to have lads come up to me thanking me and saying they were getting the help they need and it’s changed their lives. So that was wonderful.

Also the storyline with Steve and Leanne losing a baby was particularly challenging for me because while ‘Steve’ was reading Mr Men books to his dying child, I would be going home reading Mr Men books to my three-year-old at bedtime, so that was tough. As an actor, you want to do a great job on sensitive subject matters but there can be a danger of getting too deep.

Steve lost another child, this time with Kym Marsh’s character, Michelle Connor. What effect did that have?

Simon: The director wanted us both to cry during those scenes but I thought that it was too much. Kym was incredible bringing that devastation to life but I wanted Steve to play the supporting role for her and then go off and do his grieving.

There was a lot of press attention for the storyline and there was a lot of focus on the mother’s grief but not really about the father's grief, so I made a point to highlight that there are dads out there who have lost a child and their grief and pain is valid too.

How do you manage to switch off the emotional trauma your character may be going through?

I learn my scenes the night before and then when we’re on set we get a chance to do a few line runs. But for me, it doesn’t come off the page until I'm performing the scene with my cast mate, so I can react and respond accordingly. So you just say it as if you mean it, take the cheque, then boom that’s it for the night.

Do any of your children want to be actors?

Simon: No. They all want to be footballers.

Emma: I was a football girl. I loved sports at school.

Great British Life: Simon appeared in I'm A Celebrity in 2021. (c) ITVSimon appeared in I'm A Celebrity in 2021. (c) ITV

Simon, you came second in I’m A Celebrity in Wales in 2021. What was that experience like for you?

Simon: Well, I was only in it for about 10 days because I was a late arrival and then we had the storm, so it was ok actually.

Emma: Me and the kids went down to Wales too for a while and then we came back once Si had gone in. We were having parties all the time so we were having a lovely time. I’m just gutted it wasn’t the Australia one because of the pandemic.

Simon: You just wanted the luxury hotel and sunshine.

Emma: Absolutely!

Great British Life: Simon and Emma at the Morley Tea Rooms. (c) Kirsty ThompsonSimon and Emma at the Morley Tea Rooms. (c) Kirsty Thompson

Now you’re busier than ever running the tea rooms, how do manage quality time for the two of you?

Simon: Well, we were thinking of going out tonight actually. Sometimes it can get to 8pm or 9pm by the time Emma gets in. Even though the tea rooms close at 4pm you have the wipe down to do and produce to buy and prepare for the next day.

Emma: We are more about doing things together as a family. We love it. Cinema days… ten pin bowling…

Where are your favourite Cheshire destinations?

Emma: We both love Cibo in Wilmslow, the Mere Resort and walks around Quarry Bank Mill

Simon: The Church Inn and Bull's Head in Mobberley. I absolutely love Tatton Park

How do you both look after yourselves physically and mentally?

Emma: I’m on my feet all day here. It’s hard work but I really enjoy it, I’ve got great customers and an amazing team. Baking is really therapeutic for me. Because I suffer from anxiety there were times when I was worried the cakes would not be good enough and the project might not work but the baking helps and the response has been fantastic. The kids love to bake too.

Simon: Our eldest, Alfie, has finished school now so we spend a lot of time together. Then I tidy up the house because ‘happy wife, happy life’.

Emma, has it been difficult being married to someone in the public eye?

Sometimes it has its moments but we are homebirds really. We have a lot of parties at home.

Simon: We’ve got everything we need at home really. We’ve got a pub and a Love Island-style area.

What advice would you give to your younger selves?

Emma: Don’t care about what other people think. I spent far too much time worrying

Simon: The same as Emma really. I was always really anxious growing up, worrying about what people thought of me. It made me try too hard, which made things worse because I over-shared and over-cared. There were also times of depression. When your kids start to notice things you can’t keep brushing stuff under the carpet. So I saw a psychiatrist and he said I had the anxiety for more than years. For a while, I took medication to help and went to the gym but I also took to Twitter to share my thoughts and feelings. Personally, I think everyone has a mental trigger that can help with recovery. For me it was thinking, 'do I want to be surrounded by my family on my deathbed wishing I worried more?'. No, I didn’t. That was a eureka moment. So now I just let things go and wash through me. I’ve learnt to train my brain not to hold on to stuff that doesn’t matter.

Morley Tea Rooms at Morley Nurseries

Altrincham Road, Wilmslow SK9 4LY