EastEnders: David Witts on the pressures of fame and Joey’s split from Lauren

"The job is great and the doors it opens are fantastic but, if anything, the fame side of it is a drawback rather than an appeal," says the actor in a revealing new interview

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Just what is life in the spotlight like for David Witts, the EastEnders actor whose first 12 months on the BBC1 soap have earned him a Sexiest Male nomination at this year’s British Soap Awards? Here, he talks about why he shuns celebrity culture, the perils of social networks and why he won’t ever be appearing on reality TV shows:

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Last time we spoke, you called these sexiest accolades “slightly disconcerting”. Have you got your head around it all yet?
They are what they are. It’s just good fun, isn’t it? But we’re a long way off me taking them seriously. So I’m not going to be preparing a speech. I didn’t prepare one for the NTAs, which was actually something worth making a speech about. So I’m definitely not going to be preparing one now!

Speaking of that NTA win, there was the uncomfortable moment when your girlfriend got booed as you accepted your award. Was that an odd experience?
Yes it was. It certainly brought me back down to the ground. It was done in jest and in a pantomime style. But, you know, I personally wouldn’t ever be that person who boos the girlfriend of somebody on stage. You can’t judge people for doing it, though. If it had been done in a nasty way then that would be different. But I hope it was done slightly tongue in cheek.

Do you find it strange that people become so proprietorial over you?
Yes – there’s a strange sort of ownership that people can feel because they watch you on telly. When, in fact, the opposite is true because you’re somebody else’s boyfriend. But because EastEnders is filmed in this naturalistic way, you really feel for the characters. Some people start to think that they actually know you and that they’re invested in your life.

I saw on Twitter the other day that your name was being linked to Strictly. Is there any truth to this?
No! That’s literally the first I’ve heard of it. I will not be doing any reality TV. When you’re on a popular show like EastEnders, there’s a culture of fame that comes with it and it could become easy to forget why you became an actor in the first place. Personally, I don’t think I’ll be forgetting that any time soon and I will never do anything like Strictly.

You’re not interested in the fame game?
No. People might think ‘Oh you’re in EastEnders, you’re now a star’. Well, actually, it’s just a job. I’ve been in jobs before. Hopefully, I’ll be in jobs after EastEnders. And that’s what I enjoy doing. I don’t want to go onto any sort of reality show as I think that’s sort of like a downward spiral. You do that and then you have Hello! covering your wedding and OK! Magazine covering your divorce. And then you release My Life by David Witts in your mid-20s when you haven’t done anything. I think it’s all quite ridiculous.

So the temptations of celeb culture aren’t there for you?
That temptation’s not there at all. It’s not something I enjoy. The job is great and the doors it opens are fantastic but, if anything, the fame side of it is a drawback rather than an appeal. I don’t go to premieres. I don’t go out partying like a celeb. I’m still doing normal things – I go to my local pub and drink a couple of lagers with my friends who all have normal jobs. I’ve seen people who live for the fame and, certainly, the type of show I’m in could mean that I get exposed to that culture. But it’s not something I relish. If it were to go away tomorrow and suddenly nobody knew who I was, I’d be living in exactly the same way as I am now. 

Do you feel self-conscious about the nature of the fame that EastEnders brings?
Yes. I find myself over-compensating all the time. When I go somewhere that has any kind of customer service I’m sickly sweet because I’m so worried that, otherwise, people are going to walk away thinking I’m rude.

When I first joined the show, I went to a local club and I literally walked past somebody. And then, the next day, on one of the social networking sites, this person had written: ‘Met Joey from EastEnders. Bit of an…’ followed by a not-very-nice word. And then people had replied: ‘Oh, really. Why?’ And she said, ‘He was trying it on with me and all of my mates.’ And I had literally just walked past her on the way to the bar. So it makes you incredibly self-conscious of your image when you’re out. Because it’s more interesting to say ‘he’s an a**ehole’ than it is to say ‘oh, he’s a really nice guy. He’s really normal’.

And now sites like Twitter mean that this negative feedback is instant…
Yes, that’s why I keep out of all that. You just open yourself up to people saying whatever they want. It’s easier to hate people that you recognise because, obviously, there’s an element of jealousy there. For some people, not all people, I have to say. But some do feel like they’re hard done by because they’re not in the same situation and that resentment leads to them saying negative things.

It makes them feel better about the situation but it’s something that makes me very self-conscious. And it’s quite tiring! You know, I still get the train every morning and I can be quite moody and tired at 5am. But if someone comes up to me shouting ‘Oi Joey!’, I can’t be a normal person and say, ‘leave me alone, I’m trying to sleep’. I have to summon up the energy from somewhere and say, ‘hello, nice to meet you’, just so they don’t turn around and think I’m an idiot. In that respect, they’ve very much got the power.

It’s lovely if they’re warm and gracious, but there are people out there who will just shout at you. And you also have to accept that they won’t speak to you using your real name. Whereas if I went up to them as a stranger, shouted at them and called them by a name that was different to their own, they’d probably tell me where to go.

Back in January, you said to me that it would be a shame if the writers decided to split Lauren and Joey up. Four months on, that’s exactly what’s happened. How do you feel about that decision?
I still think it’s a shame. I don’t know what’s going to happen and often break-ups like that are used as a tool to bring out different sides to relationships. But I do think it’s a shame, on both a personal as well as a theatrical level. I really enjoyed working with Jacqueline Jossa and, of course, some viewers had become fans of Lauren and Joey as a couple.

But the reason why he’s ended the relationship isn’t because he doesn’t like her. The opposite is true, really. You know that awful line that’s used in so many movies – if you really love her you’ll let her go? It’s literally like that. Joey thinks he’s bad news. When she’s with him, Lauren’s drinking a lot, she’s not herself and she’s not doing anything with her life. So in many ways, it’s quite chivalrous for him to do this because he’s thinking not of himself but of the bigger picture for the person he loves. But we’ll have to see what happens next.

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To vote for David at the British Soap Awards head to www.britishsoapawards.tv