Sue Johnston awarded Freedom of the City of Liverpool

Sir Paul McCartney and Jurgen Klopp led the tributes as the Freedom of the City of Liverpool was awarded to one of the city’s best-loved stars of stage and screen.

Liverpool Town Hall was standing room only as the great and the good of the city paid tribute to Sue Johnston. Best known for her role as Sheila Grant in Brookside and Barbara Royle in The Royle Family, Sue, 80, said the honour had “taken her breath away”.

In being awarded the city’s highest honour, she joins Brookside creator Phil Redmond and her on-screen partner of decades, Ricky Tomlinson, on the roll of honour.

Sue has enjoyed a long and successful career in some of the country’s best-loved television shows, including the Royle Family, Brookside and Coronation Street. Born in Warrington, the 80-year-old grew up in Prescot before working for legendary Beatles producer Brian Epstein.

She made her television debut in Corrie playing a minor role as Mrs Chadwick before a first stint alongside Ricky Tomlinson on Brookside as Sheila Grant. The self-confessed Liverpool fan is best known for her role as Barbara Royle in the critically acclaimed The Royle Family, again with Tomlinson.

Sue was made an OBE in the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours for her services to drama and charity.

Flanked by family and friends, the veteran actor was joined by dignitaries from the world of football and the screen to celebrate the honour. Liverpool FC legends including Kenny Dalglish, John Barnes and Phil Thompson rubbed shoulders with actor David Threlfall – known for his leading role in Channel 4’s Shameless – comedian Joe Wilkinson and Brookie’s own Billy Corkhill, John McArdle.

Paying tribute in a special ceremony in the council chamber, Lord Mayor Richard Kemp said Liverpool had taken Sue “into our hearts, big style,” applauding her “outstanding contribution to the TV and film industry”. Cllr Liam Robinson, leader of Liverpool Council, said Sue was “not only a legend here” but a “national treasure” who had been recognised as a “genuine reflection of the contribution you have made to the life of this city”.

In a special video message, Sir Paul – himself a recipient of the freedom of the city 40 years ago – referring jokingly to the apocryphal belief being afforded the honour allows you to drive sheep through the city centre said, “If you need a couple of sheep to borrow, I’m your man.” He signed off paying tribute to Sue with an “alright, la!”

In a separate message, former Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he was “really proud” to be associated with her, adding, “I know you really deserve it.” The ex-Reds boss said, “Don’t forget, you’ll never walk alone.”

To thunderous applause, Sue said the love and support she had received had “taken my breath away” and thanked everyone for attending, including her 12-year-old grandson Rory as the chamber sang him Happy Birthday. She said: “This honour is so deep, we who live in this city love it.”

Image: Sue Johnston receives the Honour of the Freedom of Liverpool from Lord Mayor Cllr Richard Kemp, Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Kenny Dalglish and Andrew Lewis, chief executive of Liverpool Council. Credit: David Humphreys

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