Coronation Street star Julie Hesmondhalgh has talked about last night’s moving episode where the character she has played for 16 years ended her life.

Monday night’s broadcast culminated in Hayley Cropper carrying out her wish to die rather than suffer from pancreatic cancer.

She took her own life with a cocktail of drugs while husband Roy was by her side, and ensured that he took no direct part in hastening her death.

When she first arrived on Coronation Street in January 1998, Hayley Anne Patterson was British TV’s first transgender character. At that stage she was a pre-operative transgender woman, seeking gender confirmation treatment and a relationship.

Julie Hesmondhalgh told the Guardian: “I remember going to the audition in a leopardskin coat because I thought she was going to be another Bet Lynch.” She added: “When I got to the office, everybody was laughing. The idea was that Roy was going on a series of disastrous dates and I would be the third, a pre-op transsexual. But I didn’t laugh. I thought: ‘This isn’t a joke, Hayley won’t be a funny character.'”

Over the years Hesmondhalgh has worked with Trans Media Watch and Press for Change in a bid to raise awareness of trans issues.

The actress has been credited with helping to change attitudes.

Hesmondhalgh’s portrayal of Hayley – including her trip to get gender-reassignment surgery, and her frustration that she had insufficient legal status as a transgender person and so initially couldn’t marry Roy – also helped catalyse a national debate that led to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, a law that granted transgender people full legal status.

Hesmondhalgh said it was important that her character died as Hayley on Monday night.

“That can happen with cancer, the medication can cause confusion, and I wanted Hayley to end as Hayley. It seems strange but people have found a bit of solace in Hayley’s experience. Their lives have been reflected back at them.”

Speaking to ITV Daybreak last week, Hesmondhalgh said: “The storyline has tied in the ‘right to die’ issue so completely with Hayley’s unique story – about her own journey from being Harold in the first instance, and hoping that she wouldn’t be too confused at the end and think that she was back in her childhood.”

Coronation Street actor Charlie Condou tweeted Hesmondhalgh to say “don’t think I can cope without Hayley” on Tuesday.

Condou spoke exclusively to PinkNews last month about being a gay parent and his reasons for leaving Coronation Street. Coronation Street’s other main gay actor, Antony Cotton, who plays gay character Sean Tulley, said: “Wow. That was quite something. Powerful stuff. Exhausted watching it. Well done one and all”.