Coronation Street aired an unexpected twist for the nuptials of Billy Mayhew (Daniel Brocklebank) and Paul Foreman (Peter Ash) this evening, with the pair following up their civil ceremony with a clandestine church wedding!
The pair became engaged in July, two months after Paul was tragically diagnosed with motor neurone disease, but they knew they weren’t going to get the wedding that they both dreamed of. Archdeacon Billy would have course have preferred to marry in his church, where he’s presided over numerous other weddings over the years, but current Church of England rules will not allow it. With Paul living on borrowed time, they don’t have the luxury of being able to hang around and wait for changes to be made.
“Of course he was a bit disappointed,” Daniel Brocklebank told EverySoap during a recent press event. “If you go back through Billy’s time in Corrie, there was always things that he was very much insistent on. Not getting married because he didn’t want to do it in a secular service was one of them, he wanted to do it in a religious service.
“But of course, the Church of England’s rules are not allowing of same sex couples to get married in a religious setting.”
“I’m old enough to remember when we couldn’t get married at all,” Daniel continues. “So we are moving in the right direction in terms of those sorts of things. He would have preferred to have got married in a church, but has been very conscious not to show Paul any form of disappointment. He wouldn’t want Paul to feel that this is in any way second best, or not good enough.”
After the pair exchanged vows in the moving bistro ceremony, they were declared to be married. But Paul had been keeping a secret, that he had enlisted his loved ones to help pull off.
Alone with Billy after pretending he needed some air, Paul explained that he had arranged for one of Billy’s vicar friends from down south, Degsy (Christian Ballantyne), to meet them at St Mary’s where he would preside over a religious ceremony. It wouldn’t be ‘official’ of course, but it would be the setting that Billy had always wished for.
Billy wavered for a few seconds, worried that Degsy would get in trouble, but quickly agreed just as a minibus pulled up with Bernie (Jane Hazlegrove), Summer (Harriet Bibby), Gemma (Dolly-Rose Campbell), Dee Dee (Channique Sterling-Brown) and Todd (Gareth Pierce) waiting inside.
“Billy doesn’t really have a huge amount of time to make a decision one way or the other,” Daniel explains. “Of course he’s aware of the potential ramifications of doing it, but because Paul’s organised it and it’s going to be a quick in and out job—there’s no fanfare, there’s no dressing on the church—he thinks can probably get away with it.
“In that moment, I suppose it’s because he’s all giddy from just being married. But if he’d have had time to think about it, he probably wouldn’t have gone through with it.”
Over at St Mary’s, it was Billy’s turn to walk down the aisle, accompanied by Summer, as gospel singers sang ‘Here’s my Heart’. Daniel admits he never foresaw a time when Billy would be walking down that aisle himself.
“It was a beautiful moment, he enthused. “I’ve been in Corrie for the best part of a decade, and I have stood at the front of that church, watching people walk down the aisle towards me as I’ve done the services. And to suddenly be the person walking down the aisle, it was incredibly emotional. The scenes are beautifully written. In fact, the whole 12 episodes of that block felt really special to shoot, there was something very beautiful about them.”
“It was very emotional for Billy,” Daniel continued. “He would never have imagined that he would have been doing this, as he says, in his church in front of his God. He’d been very pragmatic about the wedding in the bistro and said he realised that God is not in a building, God is everywhere. But of course there’s going to be a different energy to marrying in a church.”
Billy was in tears as he reached Paul, who for a moment was concerned for his husband as he took his hand and asked if he was alright.
“I’ve come home,” Billy responded with a smile.
Degsy started proceedings, but of course Billy didn’t need any prompting as he recited the marriage vows, only faltering slightly as he reached the line ‘Til death us do part’.
After removing their rings so that they could exchange them once again, Degsy announced what surely must have been a first in that church, that the two were now husband and husband.
As Billy and Paul kissed, the two finally were able to hear the song they’d both wanted, but weren’t allowed, at their civil ceremony, ‘Oh Happy Day’.
Summer had been taking pictures on a polaroid camera throughout the day, but as they all filed out of the church before being discovered, no-one noticed that a single photo showing Billy and Paul at the altar had been dropped on the floor… and it’s about to cause some big issues for Billy!
“If only she’s left that polaroid camera at home and used her phone like a normal person,” Daniel laughs. “Well, it’s all to do with Reg, the verger, who we never actually meet. He’s stirs the pot after finding the Polaroid on the floor.”
As a result, Billy soon finds himself having a visit from Bishop Greg Townsend (Roger Bingham).
“The bishop is willing to turn a bit of a blind eye,” Daniel reveals. “But naughty Reg decides that he is going to share the photograph on various forms of social media, which causes a bit of a stir.”
“Therefore the bishop, despite saying this isn’t necessarily his point of view, has to be seen to be doing something about it because we have broken church rules. We have gone against what we are allowed to do.”
Although the bishop seems sympathetic to their plight, things take a turn when word gets around and Billy is invited onto Radio Weatherfield, where he decides to lay things out as he sees them.
“Billy is a sensible character, but he’s also a human being,” Daniel points out. “Just because he’s a vicar, or an archdeacon, it doesn’t mean that he can’t have his flaws. I think Billy feels that there is ultimately a responsibility to be able to not just defend his actions, but to explain them.”
“And he feels that with all these comments on social media from the parishioners, most of which are defamatory and unpleasant, getting invited onto radio is a good opportunity to explain why they’ve done this and why he feels it’s wrong that same sex couples are not allowed a religious union. Because ultimately it’s about two people who are in love with each other, and if those people are religious, then why should they be excluded from having a religious ceremony? That’s what the bishop hears and where it all goes slightly awry for Billy…”
Away from social media, whilst some of Billy’s parishioners are supportive, including Babs (Anne Baron) who brings Billy and Paul a bottle of fizz to congratulate them, passing resident Vaughn (Roger Coneff) feels he has to tell Billy that he should be ashamed of himself.
Is Daniel worried about the inevitable backlash from some viewers?
“There’s always going to be a mixture of reaction, and that’s fine,” he states. “That’s a democratic society, everybody is allowed to share their opinions, you don’t have to agree with each other. I would say in the time that I’ve been playing Billy, I’ve seen quite a change. I don’t get nearly half as much of the homophobic stuff as I did when Billy first arrived on the street. It’s now much more positive.”
“Of course, I’m preparing myself for an inevitable bit of a fallout about two gays getting married in a church, because it does break the rules. But just because there are rules in place, it doesn’t mean those rules are correct. Some people are going to love it, and are going to be really excited that we’ve taken that step. Some people are going to absolutely hate it. But if it invokes a conversation then great.”