Jill Halfpenny (born 15 July 1975) is an English actress, best known for her roles as Rebecca Hopkins in the British soap opera Coronation Street (1999–2000); Kate Mitchell (née Morton) in rival soap EastEnders (2002–05); Izzie Redpath in Waterloo Road (2006–07); and Diane Manning in In The Club (2014–16). She also won the second series of the television dance contest Strictly Come Dancing in 2004.
Her career began in 1989 with a regular role in the BBC children's drama series Byker Grove. She has subsequently appeared in numerous TV roles, such as Peak Practice, Mount Pleasant, Wild at Heart, Lightfields, Babylon, Humans, Three Girls, and Liar.
She has also enjoyed a successful theatre career, with roles ranging from pantomime to the West End, in productions such as Uncle Vanya, Calendar Girls, Abigail's Party, and musicals like Chicago. In 2011, she won the Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical and the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical for her portrayal of Paulette in Legally Blonde.
She was born to Maureen (née Mitchelson) and Colin Halfpenny, and has two elder sisters, Nicola and Paula; the latter is the mother of actress Chelsea Halfpenny, Jill's niece. Colin Halfpenny died in 1979, when Halfpenny was only four.
A native of Leam Lane, Gateshead, she attended St Edmund Campion Roman Catholic School there. She is a former student of the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art (1994–96) and she also went to drama school First Act Theatre in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne and to the Reavley Theatre School in Felling, Gateshead, despite claiming on Strictly Come Dancing that she had received no previous training.
She began her acting career at age 14 in the BBC television children's drama series Byker Grove, filmed in the Benwell area of Newcastle upon Tyne. Her other work has included appearances in Dalziel and Pascoe, Barbara and Coronation Street for television and theatre with the acclaimed Hull Truck Theatre Company. She took the major role of Kate Mitchell in the BBC One soap opera EastEnders in 2002. The character was introduced as a police officer sent to spy on Phil Mitchell, but after her cover was blown she quit the police force, married Phil and opened a nail salon. Her final scenes were broadcast in January 2005 after her character was axed.
In 2004, Halfpenny participated in the BBC One pro-celebrity ballroom dancing competition Strictly Come Dancing, dancing with professional Darren Bennett. The couple won the competition after receiving the full 40 marks from the judges in the final. On 14 December 2004, Halfpenny and Darren Bennett made an appearance on stage at the Royal Variety Performance which took place at the London Coliseum. In a special one-off Christmas programme which pitted the Strictly Come Dancing champions (and other top performing couples) from series one and two against each other, Jill and Darren were crowned as Champion of Champions. In December, it was announced that she would take the role of Roxie Hart in the West End musical, Chicago, starting in January 2005.
In 2005, Halfpenny appeared in The Bodies, a new play adapted from an Émile Zola novel by Peter Flannery at the Live Theatre, Newcastle, opposite her real-life husband, actor Craig Conway. In 2005 and 2006, Halfpenny appeared in hit pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle. Halfpenny was the guest presenter for and performed in the first show of the BBC four-part series The Sound of Musicals in January 2006 and played Roxy Ball in Shameless in an episode broadcast on 31 January 2006. In 2006, Halfpenny made a guest appearance in an episode of The Catherine Tate Show.
From spring 2006, Halfpenny appeared in the BBC One series Waterloo Road as teacher Izzie Redpath, a role for which she won the TV Quick Award for Best Actress. The character was killed off at the end of the second series. In 2007 Halfpenny appeared as the narrator of Freaky Eaters for BBC Three and Fat Man's Warning for Channel 4. She narrated a short film advertising how the National Lottery helps the North East, created by students at the Lord Lawson of Beamish School as part of a competition. The film they created won the competition.
From the beginning of February 2008, a pregnant Halfpenny played Spike Milligan's long-suffering manager, Norma Farnes, alongside Michael Barrymore in Surviving Spike at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. Halfpenny starred in the West End production of Calendar Girls from 28 July to 31 October 2009 and then played the part of Paulette Bonafonté in the West End company of Legally Blonde, which opened January 2010 with previews beginning December 2009. She played the part until late October 2010 and she was succeeded by Denise van Outen. For this role Halfpenny won the whatsonstage.com Theatregoers' Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical and won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical.
Halfpenny made a guest appearance in the Canadian series, Murdoch Mysteries, in episode one of the fifth series, first broadcast in 2012.
In March 2012 she starred in a revival of Mike Leigh's 1977 play Abigail's Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London. In April the show played at the Theatre Royal, Bath before transferring to the West End at the Wyndham's Theatre where it ran from May to September. In 2014 she starred in BBC drama In the Club, which returned for a second series in 2016, and Channel 4's Babylon.
In 2015 she starred in Way Upstream by Alan Ayckbourn at Chichester Festival Theatre. In September 2014, along with Tim Healy, Halfpenny narrated the history of the North East of England as part of the ceremony for the Great North Run.
Halfpenny married fellow actor Craig Conway in 2007; together they have one child. The couple divorced in 2010.
She is an ambassador for leading children's charity Kidscape. and in 2013 was awarded "Freeman of the Borough of Gateshead".