Robbie Jackson is back on EastEnders - and he's no longer sweeping the streets! Yes, when Dean Gaffney makes his return to the BBC1 soap next week, viewers will see Robbie with a new job: part-time market enforcement officer. And let's just say that the new-found responsibility has gone to Robbie's head - his sniff of power immediately bringing him into contact with the stall holders. Here, actor Dean Gaffney reveals all about the upcoming drama and why he feels thankful for the chance to reprise the role of Robbie:
You’ve made no secret of the fact you wanted to return full time – why has it taken EastEnders this long to ask you back? Well, there was probably a time when EastEnders overlooked me. And when I met with Sean O’Connor [the current executive producer], he said he was baffled that I hadn’t been asked back sooner, which was a nice thing to say. He said that every show needs an everyman character like Robbie.
When you left originally in 2003, were you completely devastated? Yes – and funnily enough, the boss at the time [Louise Berridge] saw me at a party three months later and said, “I’m not necessarily sure it was the right decision to let you go”. And I did read an interview later on where she said she regretted it. I think that with all the drama that goes on in EastEnders, it’s nice to have some lightheartedness from the likes of Robbie and Sonia. It’d be hard for him to get a Who Shot Phil-type storyline. But he’s always there, making people laugh.
A lot of people might have been bitter at being written and not wanted to come back… I was very fortunate to do 11 great years on the show. It’s given me an amazing lifestyle - I’ve got a lovely home and two beautiful children. So I can’t ever be angry with EastEnders. My contract came up for renewal and it wasn’t renewed. They use this word ‘sacked’ a lot – if you’re sacked, you’re told to clear your desk. But in TV land, it’s just that your character – at that time – has exhausted every avenue.
So, what kind of character has Robbie become when we meet him again?He’s a very jobsworth person. He’s an annoying and – dare I say it – anal character. To be fair to Robbie, he’s just trying to do his job, but he does end up ruffling a few feathers. He’s obviously been in India, so you’ll see him trying to get market-stall holders to chant and do this meditation. And they’re just looking at him like they don’t know what the hell he’s on about. People can see that he’s a trier, but sometimes he does get it wrong. But at one point, Sonia turns to someone and says, “But you’ve gotta love him.” So there is that thing of feeling sorry for Robbie, too.
And what’s in store for him in the weeks to come? He’ll hopefully set up home in Walford. It’s all about family and as long as Sonia is there, there’s no reason for him to leave the Square. If, at some point, Sonia left, then it would probably be hard for Robbie to stay because there’d be no reason for him to be there. So we’ll see what happens over the next few months or years.
After all these years, you must have real rapport with Natalie Cassidy?People have asked me if I’d missed Natalie, but we’re used to speaking on the phone three or four times a week anyway. So it feels no different. As someone who’s very close to me, she’s known that I’ve wanted to come back. The other day, we were walking up to the Albert Square lot and she pinched me and said, “Can you believe this?” I think, as an actress, that she’s wanted someone she can bounce off too.
When you look back at your original stint on EastEnders, how do you feel about the fame that came along with it? I came out of an ordinary second school, I was 15, and it was very well documented that I had quite bad skin at the time. And all of a sudden, I was on this show that propelled me to a fame I couldn’t even describe. Suddenly, people are interested in you when you go into a nightclub. The show was regularly getting 20 million viewers – that’s nearly half the nation watching you in an episode. And I defy anyone not to get big-headed and enjoy their time doing what teenagers do at that age. But I think it’s the reason a lot of people end up leaving – they don’t enjoy the scrutiny by the press. As you get older, you just want to do your job and go home, but soaps do create celebrities.
Would you like to see Lindsey Coulson and Patsy Palmer return?I’m not just being biased here, but I think Lindsey is probably the best actress I’ve ever seen on the show. The producers probably phone her once a month and beg, but she feels she’s taken the character to a places she can’t come back from at this moment in time. Patsy’s in a different continent, but it would be lovely to see her back too. Sid Owen, too. In my opinion, there hasn’t been a double act as good as Ricky and Bianca.
And can you see yourself being here when you’re June Brown’s age? That’d be lovely! I head Natalie say in an interview recently that she’ll be here until they kick her out. It’s such an honest and humble thing to say. And I feel the same way. I could lie and say, “I’ll see what’s around the corner”. But no, I’m bloody happy here. I live 20 minutes away. It’s a great job. I’m earning a great wage. So I feel very blessed to be back here.
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