Meet the stars playing Barbara Windsor in Babs – Jaime Winston and Samantha Spiro talk working with the screen legend

The two actors mined the EastEnders and Carry on star for information when she was on set for the BBC1 biopic – and were utterly charmed by her

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The two actors who play a young Barbara Windsor in the BBC’s biopic Babs tell Libby Purves what it was like to tell the life story of the screen legend.

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Jaime Winstone: “Barbara Windsor was a sex symbol, but did it with innocence and grace”

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I knew the Carry On films and EastEnders but didn’t know Barbara had a really good theatre background! It was tempting to read her story, but I was playing her in a time where she was naive about the industry. So I sat down with her and started to fill in those gaps, and she really opened up. I found it really heart-breaking, that little girl being sent away… Finding theatre and dance and building her confidence.

And she’s still so quick… She’s 80 in August and she’s got a razor-sharp sense of humour.

It’s easy to play into this iconic character as a sort of pin-up, Carry On Barbara. But she’s a real, amazing woman: so strong.

Women in showbiz in that period were looked at as though you couldn’t be the lead; you had to be the sexy little blonde and show a bit of leg, “Oh, right, a nurse’s outfit”. She was a sex symbol but did it with innocence and grace, and she’s so brave.

I loved doing the Carry On scene! And there’s one moment where I’m sitting in the café with her and [first husband] Ronnie Knight and I look across to my older self — real Barbara! — that was very emotional.

You don’t often get moments when you’re playing a real person and act in a scene with her. I could call her at any time, and she would guide me through things and make me laugh, so I felt safe.

To be honest, the singing was hard, when I had to rehearse with her and work on songs… I’ve never done much singing before in front of people, so to belt it out on stage for the scene of her first audition!

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She really guided me through that and unlocked something. I overcame a thing I’d been scared of for quite a while. She’s just amazing, completely amazing.