Gillian Louise Kearney (born 9 May 1972 in Liverpool) is an English actress best known for her early role as Debbie McGrath in Channel 4's Liverpool-based soap opera Brookside and the spin-off mini-series Damon and Debbie, and for playing Jessica Harrison in the long-running BBC television medical drama series Casualty, as well as Emma Barton in the ITV Yorkshire-based soap opera Emmerdale. The role of Emma gained her recognition because of character's involvement in Emmerdale’s most high-profile storylines during her three-year stint.
Gillian Louise Kearney
9 May 1972
Damon and Debbie (1987)
One of four children born to Gerard and Barbara (née Allerston) Kearney, Gillian Kearney has three brothers, including Tom, a professional footballer. Her father is a retired civil engineer, and her mother a school care worker. Growing up in Aigburth, she attended St. John Almond RC High School, Garston, where she gained nine GCSEs and four A-levels. She later trained at the Rose Bruford College.
Her interest in acting began at secondary school. After repeatedly being overlooked for the lead roles in school productions, she decided to join the Liverpool Playhouse Youth Theatre, where she featured in plays including All Flesh is Grass (as Ema), Katie Crackernuts and Yer Dancin'? It was there, in 1986, that she was spotted by members of the Mersey Television production team; this resulted in her being asked to audition for a role in Channel 4's soap opera Brookside. Kearney landed the role of Debbie McGrath, the girlfriend of Damon Grant, played by Simon O'Brien. When O'Brien decided to leave Brookside, he requested that his character be killed off so he wouldn't be tempted to return to the show. Because Damon was so popular, particularly with younger viewers, it was decided to create a "soap bubble" in which the character would meet his demise: the result, Damon and Debbie, became Britain's first mini-series spin-off from a soap opera. A year after filming her final scenes, Kearney was asked to return for a few episodes. Christmas 1988 saw Debbie McGrath make an unexpected return to visit Sheila Grant, Damon's mother; she arrived with her baby, Simon – Damon's son.
Kearney played the young Shirley in the award-winning 1989 film Shirley Valentine.
She also had the lead female part as Ellie Brookes in Sex, Chips & Rock n' Roll, a six-part television mini-series written and created by Debbie Horsfield and directed by John Woods. It was produced by Wall to Wall for BBC One originally airing in 1999 before being adapted into a successful stage musical.
In 2002, Kearney landed the role of June Forsyte in the ITV1 adaptation of John Galsworthy's classic novel The Forsyte Saga. She later reprised the role for the second series. Following the success of The Forsyte Saga, Kearney's next role brought her back onto the ITV screen in its newest medical drama, Sweet Medicine. Kearney was cast as Dr Deborah "Deb" Sweet, and starred alongside Jason Merrells, who played her husband, and Patricia Hodge as her formidable mother-in-law. The show was intended to take up the mantle of the popular rural drama Peak Practice, which had recently ended, but low viewing figures saw Sweet Medicine axed after just one series.
In 2005, Kearney landed a role in Channel 4's hit series Shameless, playing the role of Marty Fisher's (Jack Deam) girlfriend, Sue Garland. She left the show along with her on-screen partner in 2007. She had a number of television roles following her departure before landing the role of Jessica Harrison in Casualty, in January 2008. Kearney left Casualty in February 2010, but returned briefly to tie up the loose ends of her character's storyline in May 2010.
As of 2 January 2015, Kearney began appearing in the ITV soap opera Emmerdale, in the role of Emma Barton, the estranged wife of James Barton (Bill Ward) and mother of their three sons Pete (Anthony Quinlan), Ross (Michael Parr) and Finn (Joe Gill). Kearney has received critical acclaim for her performance, particularly when it came to the "No Return" week which saw the character hold James hostage and cause a huge crash that endangered the lives of seven Emmerdale residents; after Emma accidentally pushed James off the bridge, he later died. Kearney was nominated for Best Serial Drama Performance at the 2016 National Television Awards. In 2019 Kearney directed the 5Star woman's prison drama Clink.
Kearney lived in Crouch End, North London, from July 2000, and then rented a property in Clifton, Bristol, during her time appearing in Casualty. She returned to live in Liverpool after the birth of her son; she also rented a home in Yorkshire where she filmed Emmerdale, and a holiday home on the Atlantic coast of County Clare, Ireland.
In April 2009 Kearney mentioned, during a This Morning television interview, that she was seeing a final-year medical student called Eddie, whom she had met whilst in Bristol. Early in 2010, Kearney announced her engagement to Eddie Foo and their intention to marry later that year in Ireland, but the plans were soon put on hold when she discovered that she was expecting their first child. Kearney gave birth to an 8 lb 3 oz (3.7 kg) baby boy on 26 August 2010.
|Shirley Valentine||Young Shirley|
|The Other Half||Holly Lamanuzzi|
|The Lives of Saints||Christella|
|London to Brighton||Kelly's next door neighbour||uncredited|
|Sealed with a Kiss||Ginny||Short|
|Brookside||Debbie McGrath||Regular role|
|Damon and Debbie||Debbie McGrath||5 episodes, Mini Series|
|The Final Frame||Cassy||TV Movie|
|Waterfront Beat||Helen||6 episodes|
|Men of the World||Jenny||1 episode|
|The Tide of Life||Emily Kennedy||Mini Series|
|Heartbeat||Susan Watkins||1 episode|
|The Ruby Ring||Elizabeth Langley||TV Movie|
|Hetty Wainthropp Investigates||Debra Woolmer||1 episode|
|Liverpool 1||Julie Callaghan||5 episodes|
|The Things You Do for Love||Young Joan||TV Movie|
|Sex, Chips & Rock n' Roll||Ellie Brookes||Mini Series|
|Black Cab||Phil||1 episode|
|Hope and Glory||Kitty Burton||10 episodes|
|In His Life: The John Lennon Story||Cynthia Lennon||TV Movie|
|Murder in Mind||Catrin Palmer||1 episode|
|Midsomer Murders||WPC Jay Nash||1 episode|
|Clocking Off||Lynne Watson||2 episodes|
|The Real Jane Austen||Jane Austen||TV Documentary|
|The Forsyte Saga||June Forsyte||Mini Series|
|Blue Murder||Lesley Tulley||2 episodes|
|Sweet Medicine||Dr. Deborah Sweet|
|Where the Heart Is||Maria||1 episode|
|Shameless||Sue Garland||12 episodes|
|Trial & Retribution||Gina Casper||1 episode|
|Lilies||Miss Bird||1 episode|
|Primeval||Valerie Irwin||1 episode|
|Casualty||Jessica Harrison||93 episodes|
|Silent Witness||DI Bridges||2 episodes|
|Moving On||Danielle||1 episode|
|Suspects||Tamsin Shaffer||4 episodes|
|Emmerdale ||Emma Barton||Regular role|
- Macbeth ... Lady Macduff, Witch; Everyman Theatre, Liverpool; 6 May – 11 June 2011
- Strangers, Babies ... May; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh; 23 February – 17 March 2007
- The Flint Street Nativity ... Mary; Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool; 7 December 2006 – 20 January 2007
- Hedda Gabler ... Hedda Gabler
- A Man of Principle ... Ruth; Colin's Bridewell, Liverpool; 26 October 2004
- A Midsummer Night's Dream ... Hermia; Albery Theatre, London; 16 March – 12 May 2001
- King Lear ... Cordelia; Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; 9 September – 23 October 1999
- The School for Wives ... Agnès
- Comedy Theatre, London; 6 May – 2 August 1997
- Piccadilly Theatre, London; 11 February – 26 April 1997
- Theatre Royal, Bath; 9–14 December 1996
- Festival Theatre, Chichester; 26–30 November 1996
- Tyne Theatre and Opera House, Newcastle upon Tyne; 18–23 November 1996
- Richmond Theatre, Richmond; 11–16 November 1996
- King's Theatre, Edinburgh; 5–9 November 1996
- Thorndike Theatre, Leatherhead; 8–26 October 1996
- The Rivals ... Lucy; Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; 8 February – 23 March 1996
- When We Are Married ... Nancy Holmes; Festival Theatre, Chichester; 24 July – 17 August 1996
- The School for Scandal ... Maria; Everyman Theatre, Liverpool; 1992
- Othello ... Desdemona; Everyman Theatre, Liverpool; 1992
- Alice in Wonderland ... Alice; Everyman Theatre, Liverpool; 1991
- The White Devil ... Giovanni; Everyman Theatre, Liverpool; 1991
- Your Home in the West ... Sharon; Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; 28 March – 13 April 1991
|Sex, Latte, Paperclips ||Michelle||BBC|
|Boots on the Ground ||Dr Callard||BBC Radio 4|
|Brief Lives ||DC Archer||BBC Radio 4|
|Bring Her Back ||Dr. Moira Leigh||BBC Northern Ireland|
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- "Saint Benedict's College history". Archived from the original on 11 February 2010. Retrieved 8 May 2009.
- Jones, Catherine; "We've got talent! £25m Culture project launched" Archived 5 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, LiverpoolEcho.co.uk, 23 September 2008. Retrieved 16 July 2009
- Plunkett, Jon; "Brookside: the highs and lows" Archived 9 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine The Guardian, 10 October 2002. Retrieved 16 July 2009
- Williams, Steve; Jones, Ian; Kibble-White, Jack; "Channel 4 at 25: 1987" Archived 8 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine OffTheTelly.co.uk, November 2002. Retrieved 16 July 2009
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- "Gillian Kearney". United Agents. Archived from the original on 17 March 2015. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- "Macbeth". Everyman Theatre. Archived from the original on 19 May 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
- "Traverse Theatre Company: Strangers, Babies" Archived 15 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine Traverse.co.uk (Retrieved 16 July 2009)
- Fisher, Mark; "Theatre; Strangers, Babies" Archived 6 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine The Guardian, 2 March 2007. Retrieved 16 July 2009
- Butler, Billy; "Gillian Kearney Interview" Archived 25 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine BBC (Radio Merseyside), 5 April 2006. Retrieved 16 July 2009
- Underwood, Mitya (25 October 2004). "My Play's a Winner". The Free Library. Archived from the original on 7 February 2021. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
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