THE last year has been a learning curve for Claire King – with the over-riding lesson being the need to slow down and de-stress. And there’s no time like the present, she tells Gemma Dunn

IS it possible to stop the ageing process and turn back the clock? That was the question on eight well-loved celebrities' lips as they jetted off to sunny Sardinia for new ITV documentary, 100 Years Younger in 21 Days.

With the likes of Claire King, June Brown, Sherrie Hewson and Shaun Ryder on board, the four-part series kicks off with the famous faces undergoing scientific testing to uncover the biological age of their face, brain and body versus the reality (expect disappointment!). The group members are then pushed to their limits with a strict diet and exercise routine, plus subjected to cutting-edge anti-ageing treatments, in a bid to lose a century between them in three weeks. It was an invitation that King, best known for her portrayal of Emmerdale's villainous Kim Tate, couldn't turn down.

"My main aim was to kick-start my fitness again," she confides, having suffered for years with rheumatoid arthritis. "I lost my dog, I stopped the walking, I don't ride the horses anymore and I only do a little bit of hacking about," she says. "And I'm just working all the time."

There to learn, she adds: "I was sporty at school and I've kept that going throughout my life, so I haven't gone totally overweight. But I just fully embraced anything that was thrown at me. I was there to make myself better, healthier, fitter, whatever, but the mental side wasn't so good."

Whilst she took to the exercise, viewers will see that King's brain age is diagnosed as significantly older than her 55 years - a result she puts down to an inability to switch off.

"I'm an immediate doer, so I am always thinking, 'Right, what's the next thing I've got to do?' " reasons the Bradford-born actress. "I'm always at it, not necessarily just learning lines all the time, but with having disabled parents and caring for them and the various things going on in my life," she adds. "I put it down to that."

It's stress-related, she reveals: "I've got to start putting myself further up the list and stop looking after everybody else in the world. I need to chill out more - I think that's what it was down to, basically stress."

Just last year King took part in Channel 5's In Therapy, during which expert Mandy Saligari came to the same conclusion. Admitting the TV appearance didn't come without nerves, the former soap star broke down in tears as she relayed the loss of her best friend to the Harley Street therapist, as well as opening up about her painful marriage breakdown with ex-husband Peter Amory.

"That was a big one," she says of baring all on the show. "But that's why I've booked a holiday - I'm going to take it a lot easier. It's about not having to do everything every day and just saying, 'OK, manana'. It's been a learning curve and it's reaffirmed a lot of things that have been said, and when you have it said two or three times, you've got to take note and act on it."

Since landing her first acting gig over three decades ago, it's fair to say King has remained under the spotlight. In addition to her ten-year stint on Emmerdale, she made her mark as Governor Karen Betts in Bad Girls; earned her stripes on the reality TV circuit with runs on Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity Big Brother; and took to the Corrie cobbles as Erica Holroyd.

"I've played quite a few roles, but everyone thinks I've just done the soaps," she quips. "Kim Tate? I get it every day! But I've got nothing against her, she's fabulous."

She is keen to make it known that's not all her repertoire contains, however. "I go somewhere and someone will say, 'Oh I didn't know you did that!' " she says. "I've done a lot of comedy, so that's something I really enjoy doing. But I love doing drama too. It's great fun and you can get a good set of people that you work with for quite a long time. Bad Girls was fantastic - I did that for about six years and it was great."

Has she seen more opportunities come her way in recent years? "I've been lucky because I have worked and I'm still here," she says. "There's quite a few that just haven't been able to do that and it's something that you are made conscious of - look at all the news at the moment."

Of sexual discrimination, she adds: "I've got enough balls to turn around and say, 'Right, fine I won't take the job'. I'm one of those. So yeah, I've probably screwed up some jobs by not doing it, but I'm in a better place. As for the age thing, I think every women who has got into her forties suddenly goes from the tart with the heart and the young pretty thing to the lawyer, middle-aged.

"There are great parts written for that age, but very few and far between. And then you're moving into, not Driving Miss Daisy, but somewhere heading that way, and they are better parts. The character parts. But you have to change and people perceive you as a certain look. A certain strength of character and if the parts aren't there, they aren't there."

  • 100 Years Younger in 21 Days starts on ITV on Tuesday.