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Thursday, 30 December, 1999, 11:27 GMT
Guess who's back in town?
Raquel returns to lovelorn Curly after three years away
Former Coronation Street actress Sarah Lancashire is returning to the ITV soap as the much-loved dizzy blonde Raquel Watts.

In a special one-off episode on 2 January - which is being billed as a real tear-jerker - viewers will see the former Rovers' Return barmaid reunited with her husband Curly Watts, played by Kevin Kennedy.

Emotions between the hapless couple will come to a head
Raquel - who left the lovelorn Curly three years ago to start life as a beauty therapist in Kuala Lumpur - will explain why she decided to leave, although he begged her to stay.

The programme will be 45 minutes long - rather than the usual 30 minutes - and devoted solely to the hapless couple.

Programme makers Granada say that at the end of the episode the audience will be left to wonder if Raquel is back for good.

A source for the programme said: "The episode is a real emotional rollercoaster - with tears, laughter and more than a few surprises."

Wanted to avoid typecasting

Coronation Street bosses are said to have been trying to woo 34-year-old Lancashire back to the show for more than a year.

She left the soap in 1996 in an attempt to vary her acting repertoire.

She starred as the district nurse, Ruth Goddard, in ITV's Sunday night drama series Where the Heart Is and the BBC comedy Bloomin' Marvellous.

Early in the New Year Lancashire is set to star alongside Christopher Eccleston in a BBC series, Clocking Off, set in a Manchester textile factory.

During Lancashire's five years on the Street, her character Raquel (nee Wolstenhulme) proved a firm favourite both with her onscreen colleagues and viewers.

The audience followed Raquel as she struggled first to make it as a model.

22 million wedding guests

They then shared the trials and tribulations of her romantic life. She had an on-off, turbulent romance with Des Barnes - played by actor Philip Middlemiss. But she finally settled down with reliable Curly.

More than 22 million people tuned in to see the pair marry. Raquel's leaving scenes in 1996 went on to pull in 20 million viewers.

Raquel's sad departure drew unprecedented viewing figures
Coronation Street producer Jane Macnaught said: "Sarah's character is one of the most popular Coronation Street has ever created.

"Her millions of fans will have wondered what has happened to her in the years since she left the show and this special appearance is their chance to find out."

Raquel's return to Coronation Street follows that of other old favourites, including Julie Goodyear's character Bet Lynch and Reg Holdsworth, played by Ken Morley.

They were seen in a recent late-night special. Their comebacks were part of a run-up to celebrations for the show's 40th birthday next year.

See also:

29 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Street set for funeral tears
26 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Soaps criticised for divorce rates
24 Aug 99 | Entertainment
Street's wedding of the year
02 Nov 99 | Entertainment
Stars return for Corrie special
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