IT SHOULDN'T really have come as a surprise that North-East actress Denise Welch has decided to quit Coronation Street later this year. Four years is a long time in one programme, especially given the turbulent life of her character, Rovers Return landlady Natalie Barnes. The man-eating blonde stole Kevin Webster from his wife Sally, saw husband Des Barnes killed within a month of their marriage and suffered when her drug-dealing son Tony was found murdered.

When I spoke to the Tynemouth-raised actress earlier this year she admitted that her schedule was "knackering". Partly it was her own fault - she'd taken up Tyne Tee Television's invitation to present their home improvement programme The DIY Show. For five days a week she was behind the bar of the Rovers at Granada's Manchester studios. Then on Friday night a car whisked her to the Newcastle for two days of house decoration and renovation.

The bonus, she added, was seeing more of her home. That taste of home life must have played a major part in her decision to quit the top-rated show after four years. Presenting a DIY show was welcome relief from the misery inflicted on Natalie by the scriptwriters. The actress was reported as hoping that the character would be involved in more light-hearted storylines.

That's unlikely to happen in her final months as Natalie makes what Granada calls a "dramatic exit" at the end of the year. She won't be killed off though, leaving the door open should one of the soap's most popular characters want to return.

Filming the Tyne Tees show did at least bring her back home. In order to keep the family together she and actor husband Tim Healy, who starred in Auf Wiedersehen Pet, rented a house near Granada's studios and sent their ten-year-old son Matthew to school in Cheshire.

After four years of living away from the region, Welch clearly feels it's time to return home permanently. "I do miss the North-East," she said back in April. "My sister and family are living in our house and we go there at weekends. Matthew hasn't lost touch with his friends and still sees them." She was probably weighing up the pros and cons of quitting the Street when she said it. Apparently Welch, 42, decided to leave before finding out she was pregnant with her second child, due in March.

In the past she's spoken about suffering from extreme post-natal depression in the months after Matthew's birth so wouldn't have relished the prospect of returning to the hectic Street schedule after the birth of her new child. "I'm looking forward to being a mum again and spending some time with my baby," she said when her departure was announced yesterday.

She added that she was "relishing the prospect of new challenges in my career". She can console herself that being in a soap no longer typecasts an actor like it used to. Nick Berry and Ross Kemp from EastEnders and Sarah Lancashire from Coronation Street have proved that there is life - and very profitable life, both in terms of roles and money - after soap.

But it's likely that motherhood may be the biggest and most important role Welch plays in the months after her Street departure.