Tears have come quickly, but it's the right time for me to leave Corrie
T his time, there's no going back. Seven years ago, Shobna Gulati walked away from the famous cobbled stones of Weatherfield, only to return two years later. But now her character, Sunita Alahan, is about to leave for good – in a body bag.
In one of Coronation Street's most dramatic storylines, Sunita will fall unconscious in the basement of the Rovers Return while TV's most famous pub goes up in flames.
"It was hard to watch the inside of the pub burning with Betty's picture in flames and all those memories," says Shobna.
While a stunt double was on hand at all times, the actress took part in all the inferno scenes – bar the moment Sunita falls down the stairs.
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"The heat was horrific," says Shobna. "But I just thought this is the last time viewers are going to see me as Sunita, so you might as well see my face and not the back of the stunt double."
And how did she unwind at the end of the day? "Gin and tonic," quips Shobna, who insists she wasn't shocked when told Sunita would be killed off.
"I've reached a point in my life where I don't want to come back. Is that a terrible thing to say?"
A disarmingly young-looking 46, she jokes the key is to "go out with younger men". She's dating TV runner Anthony Brown, 29.
She is also mother to an 18-year-old son, Akshay, and the fact he has almost flown the nest was a big part of her decision to leave the show.
"Corrie has been invaluable to me bringing my son up over the years but now it's time to spread my wings," says Oldham-born Shobna, who joined the soap in 2001.
Akshay is a budding actor – she proudly shows some footage of him singing in an upcoming production of Phantom Of the Opera – and has already appeared in Corrie.
"He was Dev's non-speaking nephew at my wedding. He was the only person brave enough to get on the horse," she laughs.
As a single parent, she recalls taking part in a Bollywood production when she was pregnant. When Akshay was a baby, she would strap him on to her front while teaching dance classes.
Shobna, who is poised to join the panel of TV's Loose Women, is filming her final Coronation Street scenes a few days after our chat and she admits it has been an emotional few weeks.
"Tears have come quickly because you're with your colleagues, some of whom are your friends, and you think, 'I'll miss working with you'," she says.
They include Jimmi Harkishin, who plays her on-and-off again screen partner Dev. "I liked falling in love with Dev in the corner shop. I thought it was cute. And that wasn't like a big story, it just happened," says the actress.
"I've known Jimmi a long time. We're not friends outside, but when we're together we know exactly how we're going to be together and that's very rare and very special and I'll miss that."
Coronation Street is on ITV on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.