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Shaw was born into the hotel and pub trade, at the time when her parents ran the Talbot Hotel in Belper, Derbyshire. She attended St. Benedict's School in Derbyshire, learnt classical dance at Hilda Davis School of Dance, Belper and went to the Arden School of Theatre in Manchester in 1990, where she got a degree in theatre studies.
Her best known work at present is hairdresser Maxine Peacock in the long-running, popular British soap opera Coronation Street which is set and filmed in Manchester. However, Shaw came into conflict with the show's bosses after they reportedly tried to cut her pay by £20,000 a year and she bowed out from her famous role as a result. Shaws's character met a tragic and unfortunate end in the episode screened on 13 January 2003, when she was murdered by Richard Hillman (played by Brian Capron).
Since the birth of her children Tracy has returned to acting and has performed in several National Stage Tours, more recently Mum's the Word (2010) and Busy Body (2011), as well as the lead role in pantomimes in Worthing and Southsea.
In May 1996 she was presented with the Rear of the Year, title. She had a series of high-profile romances including one with Alex Moscovich and also engagement to Darren Day, which led to an array of media stories of cocaine addiction which were ultimately proven to be false though Shaw admitted to having used the drug.
She married Robert Ashworth in June 2001, but a series of early problems occurred including a row on a return flight from the Caribbean after she had been filming ITV1's Wish You Were Here...?. In 2003, her father Karl Shaw was featured in an article in the News of the World, and said that Shaw survived on "three bottles of wine and a packet of crisps a day". He also said that if "she carries on this way it will kill her". She made moves to turn her life around including spending two months in rehab in the United States and leaving her husband. Before this she had set up an eating disorder charity called 'The Tracy Shaw Foundation' which helps teenagers combat eating disorders, as she had struggled with anorexia during the 1990s, and at one stage her weight plunged below six stone.
Her marriage ended in divorce in 2004, and Shaw set up home with and subsequently became engaged to childhood friend and Cisco Sales Manager Ashley Poundall, the son of her mother Anne's boyfriend of eight years, Colin. The couple currently live in Caversham, Berkshire and have two sons Louis (born February 2005) and Luca (born September 2006).. Tracy's maternal grandfather Edward Duffy hailed from Coatbridge in Scotland and she still has a number of family members living in the area.
In 2000, alleged stalker Kevin Sedgwick pleaded guilty to harassing Shaw over a period of five years. He had written a number of letters to her, as well as Coronation Street co-stars Jacqueline Pirie and Jennifer James, and hung around the grounds of Granada Studios in Manchester, put his arms around Miss Shaw, and asked for a kiss. Sedgwick pleaded guilty later that year to multiple acts of gross indecency with children and had suffered from hearing voices in his head.