One of the most harrowing soap storylines in years concluded last night in emotional scenes watched by millions.
The body of Coronation Street’s Aidan Connor was found after the troubled character took his own life in the second of Monday’s episodes.
Speaking in his first interview since leaving the cobbles, Shayne Ward, the former X Factor winner turned actor who played Aidan, revealed he was still struggling to cope with the impact of the role.
But he added that the controversial plot had already succeeded in stopping other men from going down the same route as his character.
Shayne, 33, said: “A lot of people who are considering attempting suicide have got in touch to say, ‘I’m calling somebody now. I was attempting it and you’ve helped me.’
“The response has been truly overwhelming.”
Last night, fans saw on-screen dad Johnny, played by Richard Hawley, discover Aidan’s body inside the same flat which days earlier was the setting for Shayne’s final lines in the ITV soap.
Aidan was seen crying on the sofa after saying his goodbyes to friends and family in the Rovers.
His life spiralled out of control following a relationship break-up, money problems and the realisation that his baby had been given away.
Shayne, who lost a family member to suicide, told of how playing Aidan took him to a “really dark place”.
In the UK, 12 men a day take their own life — that is more than 4,000 a year.
The actor said: “I knew when I took it on that it was more than just a storyline.
“This is affecting millions of people around the world every single day, and when I read the stats I couldn’t believe it.
“So when I’m getting into that place, it’s a really, really dark place which again breaks my heart.
“You feel that there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
“You feel lost, you feel hopeless, powerless, unloved and you feel like you can never make things right.”
It was not just Shayne and his castmates who felt the emotional gravity of the storyline.
Crew members were also in tears during filming, as it brought back memories of much-loved Corrie props man Mike Curtis who took his own life in 2015 aged just 32.
Shayne said: “The way it’s been handled has been incredible. There’s been respect among everybody, knowing what a painful subject this is not just for myself but for everyone involved.
“I knew a lot of people on that floor while filming have been affected by someone that they know who has lost a life to suicide.
“There were a lot of tears. We all knew that this is basically creating a moment not just in Corrie’s history but also for suicide.
“It was important to raise awareness and use our platform.”
The former chart star, who starred on the cobbles for three years, sought the help of a therapist for five months in a bid to understand the sensitive subject.
He said: “I started seeing somebody from the moment I was approached about the story before Christmas.
“It was important for me to understand why people attempt suicide.”
Shayne found the sessions so helpful that during discussions about his exit from the soap with outgoing Corrie boss Kate Oates and representatives from the Samaritans, he asked for another therapist to be made available behind the scenes for cast members to talk about their feelings.
He said: “It goes beyond a story — everyone has their own individual thing going on.
“When they leave work, or when they’re at home, they’re back to their suppressed thoughts.”
The reception to the therapist has been so impressive that producers have decided to keep him on long-term.
Last night's episode saw all who loved Aidan in tears
Shayne added: “I’m really pleased to hear that he now stays on two or three days a week.”
As dad to one-year-old Willow May and fiance to former Hollyoaks actress Sophie Austin, 34, Shayne can relate to the pressures placed on men in modern society.
He said: “A lot of men don’t talk in general. It can be a pride thing.
“A lot of us feel that we have got all the answers figured out and that if we’ve got problems then we can handle it.
“We are the man of the house, we don’t need to let anybody know that we’ve got weaknesses.
“It just breaks my heart to know this is happening to so many men. I think the numbers alone are evidence of that.”
Shayne hopes he can use this week’s emotional scenes to earn future roles in serious dramas.
But he is not quite done with Aidan’s exit.
He said: “I’ve mourned Aidan from the moment I agreed to do the storyline. He’s been an incredible character to play and I miss the street every single day. I miss the cast and crew, the whole company.
“What an amazing three years I have had.”
But team player Shayne refuses to take all the credit for the heart-breaking scenes as they were the brainchild of producer Kate.
He said: “I’m so proud of her, because to have the balls to go into something like Coronation Street and tackle the issues that she’s tackled — with the grooming storyline, with the male rape storyline and now the male suicide — is incredible.
“We are part of a generation where everybody’s got something to say but when it comes dramas like Corrie I think you’ve got to evolve.”
Which is exactly what Shayne — who beat Andy Abraham and Journey South to the X Factor crown in 2005 — is planning to do in future.
He said: “I crossed over from a singer to the acting game, so I already know that experience.
“I never take anything for granted and the way that I handle things going forward now is that I’m no longer going to live with suppressed thoughts in my head — the ‘What if? Why didn’t I? Or I should have done this . . .?’
“I’m just going to go for it now. Nothing is easy and nothing is given. So you have got to work hard for it and that is exactly what I’m going to do.”
He is already eyeing this weekend’s TV Baftas ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London as a prime opportunity to network.
Shayne added: “I’m going with Kate and the guys from Coronation Street as well.
“I’m very, very pleased that they invited me. I’ve never been to the Baftas, so it’s something that I’m looking forward to.
“I’m 100 per cent committed to being in independent films or serial dramas now.”