Karen Phillips arrived in Coronation Street in Summer 2000 as a friend of Linda Sykes who used to work with her at Wheelers factory. Karen was taken on as a new machinist at Underworld. She quickly found herself popular with the men of the Street and had a fling with Vikram Desai, and at Christmas was drinking alone in the Rovers and ended up spending the night with Peter Barlow.
By 2001, Karen was going out with Steve McDonald. Her colleague, Janice Battersby said that none of Karen’s boyfriends ever take her seriously, which lead to one of the strangest marriages the Street has seen. Janice bet £10 that Karen wouldn’t be able to get engaged, so Karen persuaded Steve to propose to her in front of all the Rovers regulars. Janice then upped the stakes from a few pounds to 2 days wages, on the condition that Steve and Karen walked down the aisle. Neither Karen nor Steve would back out - but thought that the other would. They were as surprised as the other guests when they both turned up at the Register Office - and even more when they both said I do! They held the reception at the Rovers and Vik donated cakes from the Corner Shop that were nearly past their sell-by date. Six weeks later they finally arranged their honeymoon in Florida. The couple soon realised that they really did love one another.
On returning to the Street from honeymoon, Karen set about making her and Steve the "Posh and Becks" of Weatherfield. Having moved into the flat over Streetcars, Karen soon got fed up and in September 2001 they moved into the flat over the Kabin -Number 12 Coronation Street.
In May 2002 jailbird Joe Carter landed a job at Underworld, this was the start of a volatile relationship between him and Karen, which first resulted in her being fired. Settling into the life of luxury, Karen decided that the McDonald's future was in one of Richard Hillman's new flats on "The Ridings" development. After much moaning and many arguments – Steve finally gave in to her, and made an offer, but on one condition - New flat...New job. Of course, a new flat also meant new furniture and Steve and Karen took a trip to 'Elevations', an upmarket furniture shop.
The icing on the cake for the 'McBeckham' lifestyle was for Karen to unveil her new Victoria Beckham style haircut in the Rovers, and also the news that she had landed a job at 'Elevations'. On top of this, she also announced that the first piece of furniture for the new 'Chez-McDonald' had been purchased...a sofa at £2,500. Steve was reassured by the fact that staff get 10% discount, he then reminded his wife that 10% of £2,500 was still a lot.
It then came to the McDonald's attention that a Bail Hostel was to be built near to their new flat at The Ridings and they withdrew their offer. However, Karen's precious sofa still arrived but was too big to fit up the stairs at No12, she refused to have it returned to the store, as all her colleagues would laugh at her. Soon after Karen was sacked from 'Elevations' for being too common.
By the end of 2002 Karen had returned to Underworld, and in 2003 Joe Carter promoted her to Factory Supervisor, although he was after more than her managerial skills. Karen resisted his advances, but Steve grew very suspicious. Karen even returned from a business trip with Joe to be with Steve, only to find that Steve was having a one-night stand. She immediately fell into the arms of Joe, and always one for money and the high life, was seduced by his promises of a new flat. Karen agreed to help Joe steal the factory from under Mike Baldwin’s nose, by forging checks for a fake company account named – Artrec (an anagram of Carter). Mike found out about the scam in June 2003 and drove them out of Weatherfield. Karen then realised that Joe was just using her and she left him to stay with her Auntie Eva. Weeks later, Steve tracked her down and also paid Baldwin back the money which Karen and Joe had stolen from him. Eventually Steve and Karen were reconciled.
Relaxing back into her normal life, Karen soon came up with her latest idea. Her and Steve should divorce so that they can have the wedding of ‘their’ dreams. She decided it must seem like the couple have fallen out (because of Steve's infidelity, of course!), and she staged arguments in the Rovers, and even threw his belongings out into the Street – setting many of the residents against him. After many pleas of "I WANT A DIVORCE STEVE!", he had finally had enough and told her that the divorce would happen...but there wouldn’t be another wedding! Karen tried desperately to stop the divorce, but found out that it had already gone through. She was then surprised when Steve prepared a romantic night on a canal boat and proposed to her. Absolutely ecstatic, Karen threw herself into preparations for the wedding.
Karen knew exactly what she wanted, and proceeded to book a country house for the occasion. On top of this she wanted a horse-drawn carriage, swans and a harpist. She also looked into having a winter wedding - so she could wear fake fur and arrive in a sleigh! The winter wedding never happened, and a date was set for February 2004. However, during Christmas 2003, Tracy Barlow admitted to Steve that the baby everyone thought was Roy Cropper's was actually Steve's after a one-night stand when he and Karen were apart. Unable to accept that Steve didn’t want her, Tracy cancelled the flowers for the wedding, and then the venue itself. Steve found out in time and managed to book another venue that Karen had wanted without Karen knowing.
18th February 2004 and the day of the wedding, most of Weatherfield turned up at the very posh Walcott Manor – including Steve’s mother Liz, and brother Andy. Tracy also turned up to get her baby from the Croppers and ended up telling everyone whom the real father of the baby was. Karen was heartbroken that her dream wedding was ruined and more by the fact that Steve had lied to her, however they eventually married when Steve made Karen realise that Tracy meant nothing to him.
When Karen learnt about what Tracy had done to ruin her wedding she was furious. She turned up at Amy’s christening bent on spoiling the Barlow’s day as much as Tracy had spoilt hers. The two women brawled in the aisle of the church and Karen thumped Tracy.
Tracy’s continued presence on the Street annoyed Karen, not to mention the fact that Liz McDonald made the decision to move back to Weatherfield. Liz and Tracy got on like a house on fire and Karen wasn’t able to stand the fact that Liz paid so much attention to baby Amy.
On a rainy August night in 2004, Karen’s dad, Malcolm Phillips, turned up at her and Steve’s flat. He informed Karen that her mother was dying and asked Karen to come and see her. Karen refused and threw him out.
Karen then went on to open-up to Steve about her childhood. Her parents were very religious and Karen was made to knock on doors trying to convert people until she was 14. Karen confessed that it was Linda Sykes who got her away from her parents. It was her who saved her when she was being bullied for dressing strangely. Karen used to go to Linda's house to smoke and watch television, until her Dad found out and went ballistic, called her a whore and beat her. She moved out the next day, slept on Linda's sofa, got herself a Saturday job and tried to forget. Her parents had disowned her ever since.
Karen’s mother died a week later.
This sent Karen on an emotional rollercoaster. She began to think that it was God that was punishing her for her “sinful” ways. She decided to give up drinking and smoking and to also get rid of all her material things. She put all of her designer clothes into black sacs and gave them to the factory girls and she even started to be pleasant towards Liz and Tracy. Steve managed to talk his wife into visiting her mother’s grave. Karen realised that whilst she may not have been a good daughter that she would be a good wife to Steve – they loved each other and that was all that mattered now.
After this shake-up, Karen thought that the only way to cement her and Steve’s relationship was to have a baby. Karen made it no secret that she and Steve were trying for a child, which led to many arguments with Tracy Barlow who gladly rubbed Karen’s nose in the fact that she had a child with Steve. Tracy branded Mrs McDonald as “Barren Karen” which utterly infuriated Karen.
Karen’s hatred for Tracy, and to a stronger extent Amy, increased every time that they saw one another.
In November 2004, Karen went to Dublin to spend some time with friend Linda Baldwin. Steve was tricked by Tracy and Liz into driving down to London, only to find out that the “McDonald-Barlows” were to appear on a new quiz show called “Top of the Tree”. Steve finally conceded defeat and agreed to appear on the show. The family ended up winning a car – no thanks to Karen being Steve’s “Phone a Friend” and providing the winning answer (yet she didn’t realise that it was a gameshow).
When Karen found out about the gameshow she was fuming. She pointed out to the Barlows that it was only because of her that they won the car and that she should be allowed to use it as and when she pleased. A ridiculous war of “Wheel taking” ensued with both Karen and Tracy taking turns to remove the wheels from the car.
In late November 2004 Karen, at long last, received the news she had been waiting for – she was pregnant. She delighted in jeering at Tracy, however, the McDonalds’ happiness was short-lived. At the Underworld Christmas party Karen started to have stomach pains and it was later confirmed that she had miscarried.
This sent Karen over the edge, and when she discovered that Liz had told Tracy about her miscarriage she was livid. On Christmas Eve 2004 Karen saw Tracy loading the car up ready to go and visit her step-brother Peter Barlow. When Tracy popped back into No.1, Karen climbed into the driving seat and drove off. It was not until later that Karen realised that baby Amy was in the back.
Steve and Tracy hurried to the Red Rec, only to find the car on fire. Tracy instantly assumed that Karen had killed Amy, and she returned to Coronation Street vying for blood. The two women ended up fighting on the roof of Underworld and it wasn’t until Tracy found out that Amy was alive and well that Tracy laid off.
It was the worst possible Christmas for Karen and Steve. Steve told Karen that he had had enough of her and that he could not believe she would pull a stunt like she did – letting him believe that she had killed his own daughter. Karen pleaded with Steve to give her another chance but he said that she’d had too many chances already.
Karen McDonald left the Street on Boxing Day 2004.