EXCLUSIVE: BBC EastEnders star Harriet Thorpe ‘rules out’ character as Christmas death victim

EastEnders star Harriet Thorpe, who plays enigmatic Queen Vic landlady Elaine Peacock, discusses the Christmas 2023 big storyline but isn't giving much away

Harriet as Walford pub boss Elaine

Harriet as Walford pub boss Elaine (

Image: BBC/Jack Barnes/Kieron McCarron)

If Harriet Thorpe wakes up on Christmas morning to find a dead body beneath her tree, she is going to be very, very peeved.

The Absolutely Fabulous star has lit up EastEnders this year as the new incarnation of Elaine Peacock and landlady of The Queen Vic. And if the jaw-dropping flash-forward to Christmas 2023 that aired in February comes to pass, there’s big trouble ahead.

In it the so-called The Six – characters Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean), Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth), Stacey Slater (Lacey Turner), Suki Panesar ( Balvinder Sopal ), Linda Carter (Kellie Bright) and Denise Fox (Diane Parish) – stare down, bug-eyed, at a suited and booted male corpse on the floor of the Vic.

What a Christmas blockbuster! Harriet tuts. “It’s irritating if I find a body in my pub at Christmas,” the 66-year-old says. Just… irritating? “Extremely irritating! Because I’ll have to clean up the mess. Get out the carpet cleaner! I’d get George to do it.” Her fella, George Knight – the handsome Colin Salmon.

So it isn’t George laid out on the floor then? “I don’t know. Not my story,” she answers smoothly. To get any more out of her we’d have to torture her and it would be a brave reporter who tried that.

Matriarchs Denise, Kathy, Linda, Sharon, Stacey and and Suki are dubbed The Six

Matriarchs Denise, Kathy, Linda, Sharon, Stacey and and Suki are dubbed The Six 



With a stiff corpse no more inconvenient to Elaine than a spilled pint, it’s clear that whatever it takes to follow in the footsteps of legendary landladies, Angie Watts, Peggy Mitchell and Pat Evans, Harriet’s got it. “My role is a dream come true,” she says. “To be a matriarch, funny yet fearless. As a woman of 66, don’t make me someone in stilettos, a pencil skirt. I want pleather trousers! Platform boots! It’s a joy creating Elaine. My strapline for her is ‘don’t sit on the pity pot, get over it, get on with it and crack a smile because you might as well’.”

And don’t get killed on her carpet… Elaine has had a lot to deal with, not least Cindy-Beale-Back-From-The-Dead.

Reunion with Ab Fab pals

Reunion with Ab Fab pals 



The Cindy Beale who is George’s ex-wife Rose and whose death was faked for a new life in the witness protection scheme.

“Cindy and I are frenemies really, aren’t we?” Harriet chuckles. “She’s a nightmare! Well actually she’s not. In real life, ironically, Michelle (Collins, who plays Cindy) and I have been pals for ages. We do dog walks together and things, so it’s strange to be at odds, but it’s life. You don’t get on with everybody and there are times in life when you don’t stay with your partners. You leave. Cindy has, abandoning her children for many years. That’s why EastEnders is so important because it deals with so many things.”

Thorpe, left, and Victoria

Thorpe, left, and Victoria 



Despite landing fully-formed in Albert Square like she’d always belonged there, Harriet didn’t set out to become an actress.

“I longed to be a dancer and I went to the Royal Ballet School at 16 but within a year The Girls arrived and you can’t fit them into a tutu! It’s not gonna happen.” She’s talking about her voluptuous bust. “Nowadays you are allowed to be more of who you are but then it wasn’t the look.” She switched to acting.

But, back to boobs… Harriet is an ambassador for the MoonWalk, the 26.2 mile (full moon) or 15.1 mile (half-moon) sponsored saunter through London that takes place in the dead of night to raise money for research into breast cancer. Next year’s event on May 18 will be her 21st for its charity, Walk the Walk, which has raised an incredible £140 million. She’ll be walking with 15,000 others in a specially tarted-up bra.

“My first decorated bra, I managed to get the whole of the London skyline across my tits. Tower Bridge all the way up to Battersea Bridge in sequins!” she laughs. The Girls may have scuppered her ballet career but they look great in a pair of cups with flashing lights. Harriet discovered Walk the Walk with the late, great Victoria Wood.

“Vic and I were very dear friends and we were always doing things and we wanted to do something that mattered,” she explains. “We were both bringing up kids on our own, our youngest ones went to the same primary school. And we found this… It was a walk, it was for breast cancer and my mum had had breast cancer, she was a breast cancer survivor.”

As soap star Elaine with Colin

As soap star Elaine with Colin 


Tom Dymond/REX/Shutterstock for NTA)

The writer Gillian Freeman, she was diagnosed in her early 50’s. “She had radiotherapy and then lived until she was 89,” Harriet explains. Tragically cancer – of the oesophagus – would go on to claim Victoria’s life in April 2016.

“I have walked with all my friends,’ says Harriet. “Jennifer Saunders – we did it together, and everyone knows she had breast cancer subsequently, bizarrely. But she’s a survivor as well. We had the Big Tits Team. Vic and I were buxom – a lot of my friends are. Not a health and safety issue – it’s just walking!”

No black eyes then. Everything is lit up in pink for the walk, from the London Eye to Battersea Power Station and Tower Bridge. But behind the fairy lights are those two words that have a lot of weight. “The words breast cancer are terrifying for everybody,” she says. “People used to hide it, hide their fear. Nowadays you can be honest and open and talk about it.” She relishes that openness. “I was dyslexic as a child and I was told I was stupid and lazy and that’s what my report said,” she says. “I realised academically I was less than. But my earliest memory was trying to make my baby sister laugh then feeling good when I could.”

When she was eight, her mum suddenly announced they were moving to Los Angeles the next week. “I was at a north London state primary school where it was quite grim. They gave us lunch if you could call it that – it was mostly vegetables boiled till they were grey,” she says. “And then suddenly I was in Beverly Hills and they had a school ice-cream machine, fried chicken, chocolate milk!”

You can picture the Willy Wonka glee. “And the sun was shining!” she laughs. “But it was also an era with the Cold War and if there was a nuclear attack Mum saying ‘find your sister and walk home holding hands!’. But we had to practise hiding under the table, too.”

Then there were her mum’s new friends. “Mum said one day, ‘Darling, we’re going to Jack’s on Sunday for brunch.’ That was Jack Lemmon! I was in a lift with Fred Astaire and said to him ‘You’re wonderful in Singing in the Rain’. Of course that was Gene Kelly!”

Pool parties with director, Robert Altman. Visits with actress Jean Peters, second wife of Howard Hughes. “You know, Hollywood is the most seductive place. It promises everything but whether it delivers or not, who knows?” she says.

Harriet has never worked in Hollywood. “At the time the idea that a movie star would ever do television was not going to happen,” she says. “There was daytime TV and nighttime TV and you didn’t cast from one to the other so it was a very different world then. In England I’ve been able to do film, television, theatre, radio, commercials, musicals… You can do it all here and always could.”

Her roles have ranged from The Brittas Empire and Ab Fab to West End stardom in Cabaret, as Madame Morrible in Wicked and man-hungry Tanya in Mamma Mia. “Now all the film stars are doing Netflix,’ says Harriet. “Everyone does everything. I don’t think I am too good for anything. Some say ‘I’d never do commercials’. I’d do anything! I’ve got my Oscar acceptance speech ready but whether I ever use it or not doesn’t really matter as much as working, being together and carrying on our craft.”

EastEnders co-star, Bobby Brazier is tearing up the dance floor on Strictly and screen step-daughter Molly Rainford was a finalist last year. Is it giving Harriet ideas? “Bobby is a joy. He is the most inspirational young man. He has integrity, humility, talent and joie de vivre that’s so compelling,” she says. They have never discussed how he lost his mum, Jade Goody, to cervical cancer when she was only 29. “Bobby’s a young man now,” she says, simply. “That’s his to process. I haven’t really danced since I was 16 but of course I would do Strictly. I can still do the splits!”

In a Comic Relief number with Abfab co-star Helen Lederer, she did them on the judge’s table. Maybe next year? “Fingers crossed. Print that!” she laughs.

In the meantime, there is EastEnders and that dead body beneath the mistletoe. “Elaine is on a rollercoaster of comedy and drama that never stops, happy to be on the ride,” she says. Best get scrubbing!

Source: https://edition.cnn.com/

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