A holiday trip to the New Forest takes an unexpected turn next week when Abi Branning reveals to boyfriend Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick) that she might be pregnant.
“The news causes a rift,” says Lorna Fitzgerald, who plays Abi. “It’s quite interesting to see how they both deal with the prospect. It’s the first big challenge in their relationship.”
Initially, Jay is supportive of Abi and makes the assumption that she’ll keep the baby should it turn out that she is pregnant. But Abi insists that she will have a termination as she fears becoming a parent too early will scupper her plans to go to university.
Jay is gutted that Abi perceives a future with him and a baby as unrealistic and their argument becomes heated as they realise their differences.
“Abi’s attitude is different to what you’d expect it to be,” says the actress. “You’d think she’d be happy and love the idea, but it’s not like that at all. When I read it in the script, I was quite shocked. You’d think she was too sensible to get in that situation in the first place, so there must have been some passionate nights!
“However, I think she has more of an understanding than Jay does about how huge a deal having a baby would be.”
So could these differing aspirations signal the end for Abi and Jay? “Well, there is a point where she thinks that she might have gone too far and lost Jay because of the things she’s said.”
And it certainly looks as though she has reason to be concerned – after drowning his sorrows alone, Jay becomes increasingly tipsy in the local pub with a barmaid called Kitty and is soon leaning over to kiss her. So how would Abi feel were she to know that her man has betrayed her? “She’d be heartbroken,” says Fitzgerald. “It would be the one thing that would tip her over the edge.”
However, the actress is willing Jay and Abi to sort through their problems and even has her eye on being an EastEnders bride: “I’d be sorry to see them split up because I’d love for there to be a wedding. I think it’d be great. Just for the dress! It’d be nice if they were able to grow old together.”
And what of the prospect of continuing to be paired with Jamie Borthwick? “It’s nice working with Jamie. He’s lovely. The amount of girls who say to me, ‘I’m so jealous!’ I’ve never heard a boy say that to Jamie. I’m just waiting on the day that one of them will. That would be great.”
Fitzgerald, who made her debut on the BBC1 soap in 2006 at the age of ten, has seen many changes during her years in Walford, the most recent of which being the departure of screen mum Jo Joyner who bowed out as Tanya in June:
“It’s really strange without her. At first, I kept expecting her to come back. Jacqueline Jossa was away as well and I’d convinced myself they’d both be returning in a couple of weeks. I notice Jo’s absence the most in the family scenes because she used to get really involved. So things have definitely changed.”
But does Abi have the potential to eventually fill that matriarchal role within the Branning household?
“There was always that similarity between them. And Abi has had to take on that position – especially because Cora’s not your typical nan. I am surprised at how well-balanced Abi is after everything she’d witnessed, but not every child goes off the rails. And I think there are a lot of people out there who’ve had to keep the peace and who can’t really let their feelings out. I’d love for the writers to show Abi’s darker side. I don’t think they will but I’d love the challenge.”