'You can't keep smoking and then preach to your kids about not doing it'
Michelle Collins is glowing with maternal pride as she sits talking in her dressing room on the set of ITV's Coronation Street.
The actress, who plays Stella Price, the tough landlady of the Rovers Return, has just heard that her teenage daughter, Maia, has done well in her school exams.
"It's such good news because she's worked so hard – these were her mock GCSEs – and she's been conscientious and motivated even though I'm not at home a lot of the time," says Michelle, who spends the week in Manchester filming and returns to her home in London at weekends.
"Of course, as a mum, you feel guilty being away from your child, but at the end of the day, it's a brilliant part to play, and I'm a single mum who has to make her living."
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Michelle split with Maia's Italian father, Fabrizio Tassalini, two years after her birth.
"Together, Maia and I are making this period of our life work, although, I have to admit, when we linked up on our mobiles to do 'FaceTime' the other morning and I saw her there in school uniform, it did make me want to cry. I just wanted to be there to give her a hug and wave her off to school.
"I can't wait to see her at weekends and I do live a little bit like a monk when I'm working, as I don't really have a social life in Manchester.
"I spend my whole time learning my lines, filming all week – the schedule is pretty full- on – and then shove everything into a suitcase and belt back to London for a few days off.
"I will take a little break in May to support her when she takes her GCSEs."
The personal sacrifice involved in her split life was particularly tough when she first joined the cast of Coronation Street in June 2011.
Initially, Michelle, who first found nationwide fame as the scheming Cindy Beale in EastEnders, did not have an easy ride, as she had to contend with a barrage of criticism from fans about her interpretation of the Northern accent.
"It was a bit of a rocky road but I've worked extremely hard to make it work. I still work very hard and I think that's paid off," she says.
"I love playing Stella because she's so feisty and her own woman – her affair with a younger man, Jason Grimshaw (Ryan Thomas), is just one sign of that.
"I know I've got some good storylines this year, so hopefully I'm around for a while.
"But I just take every day as it comes as I think you should always be a little bit humble in this business – you never know when you could get axed or killed off."
She is conscious of being a role model to her daughter and, in part because of Maia's disapproval of her smoking, she gave up the habit two years ago and supports national No Smoking Day, which takes place tomorrow.
"I never smoked in front of Maia but she always hated it, and you can't carry on with the habit and then preach to your children about not doing it," she says. "So I decided to give up, even though it was very hard.
"Also, one of my relatives died of a smoking-related disease and my grandma in Italy died of emphysema.
"I thought, 'Why am I doing this? It's bad for your skin, terrible for your heart and lungs, and decreases your life expectancy'. Frankly, there are no positives."
A smoker since she was 15, although she gave up briefly during her pregnancy, Michelle, 50, had tried, unsuccessfully, on many occasions to kick the habit.
"This time I went to the doctor for advice on the best method of quitting to suit me, and together with the fact that I truly wanted to give up and was willing to use willpower, I won the battle," she says.
She is delighted that she feels fitter and can see an improve- ment in her skin and energy levels.
"I'm enjoying life right now," she says. "Work's great and my daughter's doing well and will hopefully go to university.
"I've instilled in her the importance of education and empowering yourself by being clever.
"She's a beautiful girl and although, when the time is right, it will be lovely if she settles down with someone, until then I want her to feel confident and able to be independent and financially independent so she can make her own way in the world."