They usually tell her what happened to “a friend,” and she nods to show that she understands by listening.
But playing the abused woman Yasmeen Metcalfe on Coronation Street taught Shelley a lot about coping methods for victims of coercive control.
And she knows that most of the “friends” in question are actually women who stand before her.
“Often people don’t admit it,” she says.
“They’ll stop me on the street and say it happened to a friend, but it’s pretty obvious from the emotional way they talk that it actually happens to them.
“I have also received letters from people in coercive relationships in the past 30 years.
“A woman withdrew from the relationship, which was a positive thing, and people turned to the Coronation Street advice page for help after seeing what Yasmeen is going through.
“So there is light at the end of the tunnel – there are people who survived that and made another life for themselves.”
Shelley has been acclaimed for her performance in the history of coercive control – one of the most heartbreaking of soap.
Yasmeen is the matriarch of the very first Muslim family on Coronation Street who joined the soap in 2014.
But viewers saw her gradually fall prey to the psychological abuse of her husband, DJ and magician Geoff Metcalfe.
Geoff started out slowly, belittling and undermining Yasmeen, then convinced her that she has a drinking problem and started pressuring her to clean the house every day to its exacting standards.
In particularly distressing scenes, he left his claustrophobic wife alone locked in her magician’s box and cruelly killed her pet chicken Charlotte, before serving it for dinner, revealing only what he had done while she came home from her meal.
Most recently, he did his best to isolate Yasmeen from his determined granddaughter Alya, who seeks to expose him and find out the truth about his behavior and his past.
The abuse saw confident Yasmeen reduced to a nervous shadow of herself.
Viewers complained that the scenes were too difficult to watch. But Shelley, 64, defends Corrie’s decision to raise the subject.
“Any drama that deserves its salt should challenge you, so I think it’s very courageous to deal with something as dark and dark as this, involving an older person. It’s an important story to tell.
“It must be an uncomfortable watch. It’s an awkward and awful situation. I think we would be doing a disservice to the people to whom it really happened – and who happens too – if it was not a difficult watch. ”
Shelley was born in Calcutta, India, and her father, a successful photographer, moved the family to Britain at the age of 10. “I hated it here, I was the victim of racial violence,” she recalls.
She says she failed to land at the best RADA theater school because of the color of her skin. She said, “I have spent months of auditions, but an elderly person did not think I would work in this country because I was Indian and there was no work.
“He didn’t mean it meanly, that’s just how it was. Fortunately, perceptions have changed and we have moved on. “
After training at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, she landed her first television role in 1978 as a nurse Jay Harper in the iconic BBC Angels medical series. “I got my Equity card because they wanted mixed race actors,” she recalls.
She has also appeared in series including King of the Ghetto and Casualty.
She says she decided to quit television and focus on theatrical work when she was staged in Asian roles.
But Shelley was tempted to return to the small screen in 2014 to play Yasmeen – and has no plans to leave.
“I like being here,” she says.
“During my early years here, I was a little worried because I felt underused, but now I’m actually working on something and I’m stimulating my brain. I don’t know how long they will want me here, but I wouldn’t leave easily. ”
Shelley first learned of the abuse scenario early last year.
She says, “I started reading about it and it was obvious to me that it would not be an easy trip.
“The more I read, the more I realized that this kind of abuse did not start overnight. It is a long process by which self-respect and self-esteem are gradually reduced, not always by violence, but by mental cruelty and isolation.
“Geoff loves to bomb and then brutalize – that is the relationship. “
Coercive control was only recognized by law as a form of domestic violence in 2015.
The law describes it as “a continuous act, or a combination of acts, of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse, which is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim.”
Shelley worked closely with the charity Women’s Aid and spoke with victims of violence.
Some viewers were surprised when Yasmeen, a fiery personality, was the victim of Geoff, played by Ian Bartholomew, 66 years old.
But Shelley said, “One of the women at Women’s Aid said the coercer was looking for someone who was stronger than them as a challenge. “
Showbiz Editor Choices
Shelley, who lives in London with her civilian partner, director Trilby James, thinks the story is too close to home for some Corrie viewers.
“The people who feel the most uncomfortable are the ones who recognize themselves a little,” she said.
“Even the crew told me that their partners accused them of being like Geoff. This story makes us watch our own behavior. “
If you are concerned that your partner, or that of a friend, is in control and abusing, visit www.womensaid.org.uk.