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Jill Halfpenny was born on July 15, 1975, in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. She is an actress, best known for her roles as Rebecca Hopkins in the British soap opera Coronation Street from 1999-2000; as Kate Mitchell in rival soap EastEnders from 2002-2005, and as the winner of the second season of Strictly Come Dancing.

Her career began in 1989 with a regular role in the BBC children's drama serial Byker Grove. She has subsequently appeared in numerous television roles including Wild at Heat, Peak Practice and Waterloo Road, for which she won a Best Actress prize at the TV Quick Awards.

Jill also enjoys a successful theater career with roles ranging from pantomime to high profile West End productions such as Abigail's Party, Calendar Girls and musicals like Chicago. In 2011 she won the Theatregoers' Choice Awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical and the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical for her performance in Legally Blonde.

She is the aunt of ex-Emmerdale actress Chelsea Halfpenny.

Early Life

A native of Leam Lane, Gateshead, she attended St Edmund Campion RC school in Wrekenton. She is a former student of the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and she also went to drama school First Act Theatre in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, and to the Reavley Dance School in Felling, Gateshead, despite claiming on Strictly Come Dancing that she had received no previous training.

Career

Jill began her acting career in the BBC television children's drama series Byker Grove, set in the Benwell area of Newcastle upon Tyne. Her other work has included appearances in Dalziel and Pascoe, Barbara and Coronation Street for television and theater with the acclaimed Hull Truck Theatre Company.

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She took the major role of Kate Mitchell in the BBC One soap opera EastEnders in 2002. The character was introduced as a police officer sent to spy on Phil Mitchell, but after her cover was blown she quit the police force, married Phil and opened a nail salon. Her final scene was broadcast in January 2005 after her character was axed.

In 2004, Jill participated in the BBC One pro-celebrity ballroom dancing competition Strictly Come Dancing, dancing with professional Darren Bennett. The couple won the competition after receiving the full 40 marks from the judges in the final. On December 14, 2004, Jill and Darren made an appearance onstage at the Royal Variety Performance which took place at the London Coliseum. In a special one-off Christmas programme which pitted the Strictly Come Dancing champions from season one and two against each other, Jill and Darren were crowned as Champion of Champions. In December, it was announced that she would take the role of Roxie Hart in the West End musical, Chicago, starting in January 2005.

In 2005, Jill appeared in The Bodies, a new play adapted from an Émile Zola novel by Peter Flannery at the Live Theatre, Newcastle opposite her real-life husband, actor Craig Conway. In 2005/06, Jill appeared in hit pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle.

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Jill was the guest presenter for and performed in the first show of the BBC four-part series The Sound of Musical in January 2006 and played Roxy Ball in Shameless in an episode broadcast on January 31, 2006. In 2006, Jill made a guest appearance in an episode of The Catherine Tate Show.

From spring 2006, Jill appeared in the BBC One series Waterloo Road as teacher Izzie Redpath, a role for which she won the TV Quick Award for Best Actress. The character was killed off at the end of the second season. In 2007 Jill appeared as the narrator of Freaky Easter for BBC Three and Fat Man's Warning for Channel 4. Jill was also the narrator for a short film advertising how the National Lottery helps the North East, created by students at the Lord Lawson of Beamish School as part of a competition. The film they created won the competition.

Jill was invited to University of Sunderland where she presented the awards evening for Seaham School of Technology in November 2007.

From the beginning of February 2008, a pregnang Jill played Spike Milligan's long-suffering manager, Norma Farnes, alongside Michael Barrymore in Surviving Spike at the Theatre Royal, Windsor.

It was announced in mid-October 2008 that Jill will be taking part in the 2009 live Strictly Come Dancing tour with her professional partner Darren. On Christmas Day 2008, she appeared in a Christmas special of Strictly Come Dancing and won. She also appeared as a special guest dancer on the episode which aired live from the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool on November 7, 2009.

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Jill starred in the West End production of Calendar Girls from July 28 to October 31, 2009, and recently played the part of Paulette Bonafonté in the West End company of Legally Blonde, which opened January 2010 with previews beginning December 2009. She played the part until late October 2010 and she was subsequently replaced by Denise van Outen. For this role Jill won the whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical and also won the Laurence Oliver Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical.

She made a guest appearance in the Canadian series, Murdoch Mysteries, during the series' fifth season.

In March 2012 she starred in a revival of Mike Leigh's 1977 play Abigail's Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London. In April the show played at the Theatre Royal, Bath, before transferring to the WEst End at the Wyndham's Theatre where it ran from May to September.

Personal Life

Jill married fellow actor Craig Conway in 2007. Together they had one son, Harvey-Rhys Halfpenny, born May 3, 2008. The couple divorced in 2010.

She is an ambassador for leading children's charity Kidscape and in 2013 was awarded Freeman of the Borough of Gateshead.

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