I’m the Victoria Beckham of the roaring twenties! Quitting Mr Selfridge after two series was a gamble for Katherine Kelly. But now she’s back as Lady Mae – and she’s modelled herself on someone familiar
Eyebrows were raised when Katherine Kelly, best known as Coronation Streets troublemaking ex-con Becky McDonald, was cast as formidable socialite Lady Mae Loxley for the first series of Mr Selfridge three years ago.
But as the lavish period drama about the rise and fall of American entrepreneur Harry Selfridge – creator of the London store – pulled in an average of 8 million viewers during that run, Katherine confounded everyone with her star turn as the upper-crust ally of Jeremy Pivens Harry – and proved to herself shed been right to leave the Street after seven years.
So it was strange then that after two highly successful series, in which Lady Mae became an integral part of the show as she used her contacts to provide financial backers for Harrys fledgling store while struggling in a loveless marriage to ruthless businessman Lord Loxley, Katherine took one of the biggest gambles of her professional life by deciding to quit the show for the sake of her newborn daughter.
Jeremy Piven as Harry Selfridge and Katherine Kelly as Lady Mae Loxley. The relationship between Mae and Harry is key to the final series of Mr Selfridge, which is drawing to a close after four years
It could all have gone horribly wrong, says Katherine, whos returned for the fourth and final series having taken a year out to be with her husband Ryan and their daughter Orla, whos now 22 months.
When I left after series two I thought I was leaving Mr Selfridge forever. And theres been a leap of several years from series three to four, so they could quite easily have decided Mae was no longer part of Harry Selfridges increasingly fractured life and written her out. But I knew I wanted to step back from acting even if it was a scary thing to do. Id never taken more than four weeks off during any year since I became an actress 12 years ago, and even that only happened when I was a regular part of the Coronation Street cast.
But it was talking to her friends in the business that persuaded her. When I became pregnant with Orla I talked to actress friends of mine whod had children and they all said theyd gone back to work too early. I decided I didnt want to do that. I didnt want to miss out on my daughters early life. I wanted to take a full year off and gamble on there being work at the end of it. Fortunately there was. Mr Selfridge is a very female-run show, from executive producer Kate Lewis downwards, and everyones been incredibly supportive and understanding of my situation.
Katherine has returned for the fourth and final series having taken a year out to be with her husband Ryan (pictured) and their daughter Orla, whos now 22 months
There were enough gaps in the schedule filming this last series for me not to have missed anything significant with Orla. There were days when I was out of the house by five in the morning and not back until eight at night and I didnt even see her with her eyes open, but on other days I was with her all the time. So Ive been lucky, although Im not pretending motherhood is easy. Its a constant juggling act and some weeks it works, others it doesnt.
The relationship between Mae and Harry is key to the final series of Mr Selfridge, which is drawing to a close after four years in which it never quite hit the heights of Downton Abbey as its creators had hoped, though its regularly attracted audiences of five million viewers even into its third series.
Katherine as Lady Mae in series two, in the new series, she returns from running a Paris fashion house penniless after divorcing her second husband
Its now 1928, nine years after series three ended, and Harry is at the pinnacle of his success. But the storm clouds of the Great Depression are gathering and with his wife Rose long dead, his children grown up and a growing infatuation with seductive, money-grabbing singing duo the Dolly Sisters, Harrys life is starting to spiral out of control.
Enter Mae, whos been running a fashion house in Paris but whos now penniless after divorcing her second husband. Can she revive both Harrys and her own fortunes with a ready-to-wear range for Selfridges? Harrys got her developing this ready-to-wear range at the store. Shes like the Victoria Beckham of her day – but without the husband!
Barnsley-born Katherine, 36, says she wasnt prepared to return to the series on any terms – it had to be the right move not just for her, but for Mae too.
I had a discussion with the production team and told them I didnt want her to become a character like Rose, Harrys meek wife who died at the start of series three, because she absolutely isnt that. Shes far too independently minded. I wanted the storyline to ring true as to who Mae really was and I certainly didnt want to return just because its what actors do when theyve been out of a show for a while.
I remember when Suranne Jones had been out of Coronation Street for a bit, and one of the scriptwriters there said how great it would be to have her back. But to do what? Just getting somebody back for the sake of it isnt a good enough reason to return to a show. It certainly wouldnt have been a good enough reason for me to return to Mr Selfridge.
Katherine first found fame as troublesome barmaid Becky on Coronation Street
But Im delighted with Maes return. Shes been through a couple of divorces, shes now trying to make it as a designer and businesswoman working with Harry, and hes got her developing this ready-to-wear range at the store.
Shes like the Victoria Beckham of her day – but without the husband! Harry knows hes on a downward spiral and he wants someone close by who really understands him. Not that Mae keeps him in check because she doesnt, shes very similar to him when it boils down to it.
Katherines delighted to be back for the shows swansong, and says it actually helped knowing that this is definitely the end. It was always intended as a four-series project, so the story of Harry Selfridge could be told from the start of his rise to riches to his very sad fall from grace, almost literally into the gutter.
Filming this series has been such a release, we havent held anything back, we havent had to manufacture a false cliffhanger ending in the hope that there might be another series next year. So roll on the final episode and stand by for a grand finale!
Lady Mae Loxleys other half, Lord Loxley is as much of a snob as he is a bully. The arrangement that so benefited Lady Mae, wherein she lives in the city and he remains in the country comes to an abrupt end when financial difficulties require him to return to his seat in the House of Lords in the hopes of using his position for profit. Entitled, ruthless and abusive, he aims to crush Maes independence and dismiss the American he regards as a vulgar showman in the process.
Lady Maes husband (formally)
Powers / Skills
To compete with Harry Selfridge
Type of Villain
In Series 3, Mae has now divorced from Lord Loxley and is now living abroad. Lord Loxley now wishes to make Harry Selfridges life a misery as revenge for supposedly driving Mae away from him. He is also shown to be in league with Harrys son-in-law Serge De Bolotoff who comes to Loxley after Harry doesnt pay for his aviatoring. Advertisement
In the series opener Rosalie got married, gaining a formidable mother-in-law in the form of Princess Marie De Bolotoff (Zoe Wanamaker).
Kelly was on maternity leave during filming so won’t be back at all for the current run, but she has given fans hope of a comeback for season four.
Mr Selfridge has returned to our screens for its third season, but things are looking a little different.
Former Coronation Street star Katherine Kelly proved a hit with viewers as Lady Mae, but sadly isn’t featuring in the third series.
Revealing she was still following the show, she wrote on Twitter: ‘Mr Selfridge!! I’ve missed you!!
What happened to Doris on Mr Selfridge?
What happened to Agnes in Mr Selfridge?