BBC EastEnders’ Cindy’s rollercoaster real life from tragic health battle to real age

EastEnders' Cindy Beale's return has made for one of the most compelling storylines of the year, but the actor who plays the soap icon lives a very different life away from the cobbles

As one of the most iconic soap characters of all time, Cindy Beale’s (Michelle Collins) return to EastEnders has proven to be one of the most talked about storylines of the year. The fiery character, who was believed long dead by many Albert Square residents, made an explosive return to Walford this year after 25 years away, and the drama has only amped up from there.

Away from the set, actor Michelle has also led somewhat of a rollercoaster life, which has seen her contend with fierce public criticism over her “toyboy” younger partner, as well as devastating mental health struggles.

Criticism over younger love interest

Mike Davison and Michelle Collins attend the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences 2018 


Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Hackney-born Michelle started dating her now-husband Mike Davidson back in 2012, with the fashion retailer reportedly popping the question during a holiday to Los Angeles. The pair tied the knot in August 2022, with Michelle sporting a chic white jumpsuit during their stylish ceremony in Islington, London.

The couple appear to be very happy and loved-up but have also had to deal with a fair bit of criticism on account of their 22-year age difference. In a 2018 interview with the Daily Star, Michelle expressed frustrations over how their relationship was discussed, stating that she hates being referred to as a “cougar”.

Michelle, who first met Mike when he was 29, fumed: “Mike is 22 years younger than me and I’m regarded as a predator. It drives me mad. People call him my toyboy beau. He’s nearly 35, for God’s sake. He turned to me the other day and said, ‘Surely I’m not still your toyboy, am I?’ I laugh about it now but it is annoying. And I hate that word cougar. I can’t stand it. I find it so demeaning. A cougar is a predator going around looking for young flesh. I’m certainly not like that.”

She continued: “But then, women are judged far more harshly than men. And, funnily enough, often by other women. If people think I look old enough to be his mum then let them! There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s one of the downsides, I suppose, of being in the public eye.”

Michelle Collins with daughter Maia

Michelle welcomed daughter Maia in 1996 




Her explosive return to EastEnders has left viewers riveted 


BBC/Jack Barnes/Kieron McCarron)

Mental health battle

Michelle has previously spoken candidly about her mental health battles, which have seen her navigate some very dark times in her life. One particularly devastating period followed her split from former Fabrizio Tassalini, with whom she welcomed daughter Maia Rose in 1996. The pair called it quits in 1998, leaving Michelle heartbroken.

In a 2014 interview with The Sunday Mirror, Michelle shared: “I felt like I’d been tipped over the edge. I felt like a failure and found myself sinking lower and lower as the days went on, until in the end I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of the hole. The question that kept going through my mind was, ‘Would anybody miss me if I wasn’t here?’ Foolishly I somehow decided no one would.”

It was at this point that Michelle turned to co-star Peter Polycarpou, who she starred with in the TV series Sunburn, for help. Peter took her to hospital, where she stayed for a four-day period. Michell and Fabrizio remained on good terms following their break-up, amicably co-parenting Maia until Fabrizio sadly died of liver cancer at his Melbourne, Australia home in 2014.

Real age

At 61, Michelle continues to blow fans away with her youthful good looks, with many unable to believe she’s over 60. Following an appearance on The One Show back in August, viewers flocked to social media to express amazement at glamorous Michelle’s age-defying beauty, with one person tweeting: “Michelle Collins is 61. She looks tremendous.”

Another commented: “Blows my mind that Michelle Collins is 61. She looks incredible”, while a third person agreed: “Michelle looks fabulous.”

If you’re struggling and need to talk, the Samaritans operate a free helpline open 24/7 on 116 123. Alternatively, you can email [email protected] or visit their site to find your local branch

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