EastEnders: Charlie Brooks reveals all about Janine’s return to the Square

"She wants her little girl back and she means business. She knows she’ll have a fight on her hands, but Janine loves a challenge"

She was last seen fleeing Walford in September 2012, but next week Janine Butcher returns with only one thing on her mind: getting her daughter Scarlett back. Here, Charlie Brooks talks about her time away from the show, what lies ahead and why she hopes Janine’s reappearance will lead to a ratings surge:

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So, can you tell us what happens when Janine arrives back?
Janine turns up at her house and it’s one of those typical duff-duff moments where the door opens and you get a “Hello, Michael” in true EastEnders style. Then it continues into the next episode with Janine walking in and seeing Kat, which immediately puts her on the back foot.

Has she returned a changed woman?
Well, I really wanted her to come back as a meditating hippy! I would have loved that. But no, she’s been to Europe and Brazil and now she’s very much got her head screwed on. She wants her little girl back and she means business. She knows she’ll have a fight on her hands, but Janine loves a challenge.

Is she not back for Michael as well?
I don’t think she’d ever go back to him. As we know, Janine has massive trust issues with men. So I think she has a lot of deep-rooted anger at Michael after the way he treated her. She was driven away, she couldn’t cope and she didn’t have his support.

What do you prefer playing – the vulnerable Janine or the tough Janine?
I do like playing the softer side, but there are so many times you can say, “Oh my dad, who I could never trust…” So I’m really enjoying playing the bitch this time around. She’s quite high-powered. But how that’s going to combine with being a parent I don’t know. 

Are you going to ruin all your new-found popularity from I’m a Celebrity?
Oh, I hope so! Yes, I’ll go back to being hated by a nation. It was nice while it lasted.

There have been negative stories in the press lately concerning EastEnders’s ratings. Is it something that the cast talks about and do you hope Janine’s return could be responsible for a ratings surge?
We have a thing called the Walford Gazette, which gives us a weekly update on the ratings. I think they were more talked about years ago when you didn’t have Sky Plus and that kind of thing.

But yes, we do converse about it occasionally and obviously you want the ratings to stay high. And it’d be fantastic if Janine could be responsible for that. But I always think that I’m that woman who people see and think, ‘Oh I can’t bear her. Switch her off. I want to slap her in the face’. There are particular Janine-isms that even I find irritating.

So what did you get up to during your time off?
My daughter Kiki and I did a road trip around Australia and we went camping around Europe. We snorkelled in the Great Barrier Reef, we hiked down to the Ardeche, we did lots of kayaking and rock jumping. Loads of fun. I’m looking for our next trip already – we’ve got a camper van and we’re going to Cornwall!

And what was it like coming back to EastEnders after that extended break away?
Initially, I wasn’t skipping through the gates because you do kind of get used to your time off. As I’m a bit older now, I love being at home where I can cook and be there for Kiki. So I was saying to my friends, “How did I used to fit in a full-time job?” And when I got back I had a really wobbly two or three weeks, so I spoke to the director who assured me that it was all fine. But it just takes a bit of time to find your feet. I’m feeling really happy now.

Do you ever bring Kiki on set with you? Could she end up following in your footsteps?
I don’t think I have a choice. My daughter is all jazz hands – she loves acting, singing and songwriting. The other day I had to tell her off about something and she said, “Thank you very much for that, Mummy. That hurt and that’s going in my next song”. And I find little pieces of paper stuck in her room with lyrics on them like, “My Mummy’s mean”.

What can we expect from Janine over the next few months?
She’s looking to revisit the businesses that she abandoned and get them up and running. I love it how somewhere along the line Janine suddenly got a business degree and is making all this work! Plus now that she’s not attached in marital terms, you can flit off into different groups and work with different people. So she’s developing a relationship with Jasmyn Banks’s character Alice – I think we’re going to be working quite closely together. I always enjoy the catfights with Kat as well. But what I’d really like is for Max and Janine to do something together as I think that would work really well.

And what kind of exit would you like Steve John Shepherd to have?
I would like Janine to destroy Michael! That’s what I want!

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Charlie Brooks returns to EastEnders on Thursday 18 April