Playing nation’s favourite Cilla will be like a walk in the park compared to Sheridan Smith’s next challenge.

She’s about to portray Julie Bushby, the pillar of the community who helped convict Karen Matthews for kidnapping her own daughter, Shannon.

Mum of three Julie, 45, says: “Sheridan will probably be surprised to hear I don’t hate Karen, despite what she did.

“I just hope she gets to know the real me and portrays me well. I’m straight talking and loyal to my friends.

“God knows what Karen will think about the actress playing her. She once said she wanted Kate Winslet!”

Game of Thrones star Gemma Whelan will play Karen in the TV blockbuster, due to start filming in a few months.

Try our Game Of Thrones quiz below

Question -1 of 20 Score -0 of 0
Who pushed young Bran Stark out of the window in season one, resulting in his paralysis from the waist down?

Poundworld worker Julie laughs at how Sheridan’s version of her might turn out.

“Apparently she’s looking forward to swearing more on screen,” she says. “I’ve used to have a real foul mouth but I’ve mellowed now. I think she’s a great actress, so that’s a bonus.”

The TV drama will tell the story behind shamed mum-of-seven, Karen, jailed for eight years in 2009 after the kidnap in Dewsbury Moor.

Nine-year-old Shannon was drugged and held captive at the flat of accomplice Michael Donovan for 24 days.

She was discovered alive under Donovan’s bed. Police had launched a huge search and the community pitched in, led by Julie, who chaired the residents association.

She helped organise teams who handed out posters and eventually even helped jail Shannon’s mum by prompting a confession.

Julie said: “The day Shannon was found I got a text saying ‘they’ve found that lass in Batley Carr’. I thought it was rubbish.

“In the end I rang the coppers and I told them I’d heard she’d been found and they said ‘no comment’ and then paused saying ‘Julie, I can’t tell you.’ That’s the moment I knew it was true.”

A party erupted and residents sobbed in relief. But over the next few days the mood on the huge council estate slowly changed as suspicions were raised.

“In the day Karen would be all sombre when cameras were on, but when press went away she went back to her childish ways and was all silly again,” says Julie.

READ MORE: Green light for controversial Shannon Matthews film

READ MORE: TV film plan for Shannon Matthews kidnap plot

After being challenged by Julie and a police officer, the guilty mum cracked.

She told Julie: “People will hate me for what I’ve done, I have disgraced my kids.”

Karen served four years in prison and Julie visited regularly, swapping letters and news from home.”

She described Julie as her “only friend” during her time inside.

Donovan was also freed on licence, after serving half his eight-year sentence for kidnap and false imprisonment.

Julie is haunted by the case, convinced police have yet to hear the full story.

She says: “Karen didn’t have the brains to plot this alone. One day we’ll know the truth. Perhaps she’ll finally open up to me.”