EastEnders: Tameka Empson on Kim’s future, diversity on TV – and why she wants to do Strictly Come Dancing

Exclusive: "Lenny Henry is right in saying that TV needs to be more diverse. But I think it’s slowly changing, with the key word there being ‘slowly’"

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The glorious Kim Fox-Hubbard has kept the comedy coming in 2016. Her marriage to Vincent (Richard Blackwood) has brought with it plenty of laughs, thanks to Kim’s co-ordinated wardrobe choices for daughter Pearl and her rivalry with mother-in-law Claudette!

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So it’s no surprise to see that actress Tameka Empson has once again picked up a well-deserved nomination for Best Comedy Performance at this year’s British Soap Awards. Here we catch up with the woman herself to discuss all things EastEnders and the hot topic of diversity on British TV…

So, first of all, we have to talk about Kim and Pearl’s matching outfits…
I adore it when the costume department does that. It’s like having a Mini Me. The idea came from them because, sometimes, they get Kim more than I get Kim. But it so works. Working with the baby is so nice because it’s a reminder of what my own little girl was once like. She’s now two and Pearl is one. But my two-year-old is going on like she’s 12. She’s grown up such a lot. So I get my baby time with Pearl.

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So, you have a two-year-old [daughter Nylah] and an on-screen daughter too – you must never get a break from being around children?
Well, not all my scenes are with Pearl. The last time I saw her, she’d grown a lot. They’ll have to put a heel in my pink fluffy slippers because I won’t have Pearl be taller on screen than me. I’m not having that! But I do treat her like one of my own – even though I tell her that there’s no crying on my watch. She can cry with other people but not with me! Seriously, though, she’s a very good little girl.

As for having a break, before I had a daughter of my own, I used to say to Diane Parish [Denise], ‘how can you do this job when you’ve got children?’ And she’d reply that she came to work for a rest. I used to say, ‘what kind of a mother are you? How dare you say that?’ Now I know what she means…Sometimes, I’m on the floor with tiredness, but I don’t let the audience see it. I keep up appearances. I have so much respect for working mothers, because they often have to bring the work home at night. But if I can make the nation laugh, then I’m all right.

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Lenny Henry recently said that the BBC was “very, very white” – as a prominent cast member on a diverse show like EastEnders, what is your experience?
My experience is not the same as Lenny Henry’s. I’m on a hit show on BBC1 that has moved Kim and Vincent to No 1 Albert Square, something that was very much the plan of the executive producer Dominic Treadwell-Collins. So I’m on a programme that shows diversity. But it is only one show and we’re only one family. You can’t expect the Hubbards to represent every black family out there.

And Lenny Henry is right in saying that TV needs to be more diverse. But I think it’s slowly changing, with the key word there being ‘slowly’. We had Undercover, with Adrian Lester and Sophie Okonedo, which was great. But it’s not the same as in America, where you find a lot of dramas representing the country and its viewers. Look at a show like Heroes where you had black, Hispanic, white characters – that’s something that we need to do here. It’s a shame because we talk about diversity a lot, but we should be seeing more changes by now. It’s very slow.

That big Mother’s Day trailer must have felt like a big validation for the Hubbard and Trueman/Fox families?
Yes, it really was. I heard it called ‘the first black trailer’. But, in my mind, it was just a fantastic promo where the characters in it just happened to be black. You know, we’ve seen families come and go on EastEnders, but Denise and Patrick feel really anchored to the Square. That’s an achievement in itself and I’m just glad to be a part of it.

Will all those secrets about Claudette coming ‘back from the dead’ end up being spilled?
Well, as you know, Kim is unaware that all that has happened. Kim thinks that everything is OK, when it’s not. So, at some point, it has to all come out. And it’ll be interesting to see how Kim reacts when it does. I think problems in their marriage could flare up at any time and Kim won’t take any nonsense from Vincent.

Have you enjoyed your screen partnership with Richard Blackwood?
Yes, bouncing off Richard is great. And Kim is now a bit more grown up. Before, she was very much living the party lifestyle. But now she’s taking her responsibilities seriously.

Who would be a good friend for Kim?
I loved the scenes I had with Kat – I thought they were cheeky together. I also love the scenes Kim has with Linda – there’s a nice one-upmanship thing going on. A bit of friendly competition. And I thoroughly enjoy any scenes with Sharon – my name for Letitia Dean is “La Dean”. There’s always something a bit naughty there behind the eyes.

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Was the bouncy castle scene one of your favourites from the last 12 months?
Listen – I got a a knee injury doing that! But it was for my art! I did it in one take. I loved that scene because it’s a little bit like what I’m really like – when it comes to birthdays, you’ve got to make a big deal out of them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv7CMtqn3XU

Would you ever do reality TV?
If Strictly Come Dancing came knocking, I’d be like, “hello!”. I would be dancing all day every day. Bring it on! But not I’m a Celebrity. I’m not the right person for that show. I couldn’t do it. It’s not for me.

And are you pledging your future to EastEnders?
For me, Kim is the perfect role. Usually, if you’re in a TV drama, you play a character for a couple of months. Maybe a longer stint if you do West End theatre, but it’s still the same character week after week. But I’m growing with Kim. We’ve had children more or less at the same time. And I enjoy seeing how she goes through life and adapts to events on the Square. I enjoy it. I really do.

You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of EastEnders below.

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