Cancer is a horrific blight on our world, stealing away millions of lives each year. For some people, this cruel disease is just a distant threat that preys on ‘other people’, for the rest of us, it can hit very close to home. I unfortunately know a great many people who have personally been affected by this; one is a very dear friend of mine who is currently battling a rare form of pancreatic cancer. So it’s a subject that strikes a chord with me, which is why I was extra saddened by yesterday’s news of Sophiya Haque’s passing.
The stage and screen actress was performing in the West End production of Privates on Parade when she was diagnosed with cancer before Christmas. Just two weeks after receiving that diagnosis, she died in London at the age of 41. It was reported on the BBC News website that she had contracted pneumonia and was understood to have then developed a blood clot in her lungs. Her partner, musical director David White, told how she died suddenly, but peacefully, in her sleep on the Wednesday night (16th January 2013).
Haque was born in Portsmouth in 1971 and was a student of the Arts Educational School. A gifted singer and dancer, she was experienced in many areas of the entertainment industry and became a true star; both on the West End stage and television. After spending a number of years working in Mumbai (including a seven-year stretch presenting for MTV Asia as their ‘First Lady’ of musical television), she returned to the UK in 2002. She appeared in a variety of West End musicals/plays, such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams, Britain’s Got Bhangra, The Vagina Monologues and the musical adaption of The Far Pavillions, and was seen last year in Wah! Wah! Girls at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and Peacock Theatre. She is also well known for her role as barmaid ‘Poppy Morales’ in Coronation Street, playing the regular character between 2008-09. ITV released a statement in the wake of her death, describing her as a, “vibrant and beautiful actress who was a pleasure to have around during her time on Coronation Street.”
Privates on Parade may have become Haque’s last ever role, but it was one she described as “absolutely delightful” in an online interview with website Spoonfed, adding that, “I never ever thought in a million years that I’d get to do it on stage. I am one happy customer.” The only woman in the company, she starred as entertainer ‘Sylvia Morgan’ in this musical play written by Peter Nichols, but left after being diagnosed with cancer. Her final performance was just before Christmas. Michael Grandage, who directed Haque in the production, said that everyone was “devastated” by her death.
“She was a true force of nature and her glorious performance as Sylvia in Privates on Parade is one that will be remembered with great joy. A spirited lady, she lived life to the full, and her presence in the theatre will be sorely missed. The company would like to dedicate the remaining performances to her memory.”
Haque’s sudden passing, and at such a young age, has come as a shock to those in the theatre industry who knew or worked with her. Many have written messages of condolence on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Her agent Stuart Piper, managing director of Cole Kitchenn, posted a statement saying: “I am so desperately sad that she has been lost to the world at such a tragically young age, but feel blessed to have known her,” adding that, “Sophiya was one of the most inspirational people I ever met. She was the kind of person you always want to spend time with: full of light, warmth, compassion, care and with an infectiously wicked sense of humour and my co-agent Olivier Thomson and I loved every minute of working with her.” Thomson also commented on her passing, describing her as, “a wonderful actress, a wonderful client, but so much more than that, a wonderful friend.” He went on to say that, “she was adored by everyone she worked with and will be deeply missed.”
Depending on which newspaper/website you look at, she is either headlined as a star of the West End or Coronation Street. I don’t think it matters which she is remembered as, just so long as she is remembered. And that she certainly will be.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Friday 18th January 2013