The course of true love never did run smooth, particularly in soapland. But actress Emma Barton has high hopes that when her EastEnders character Honey Mitchell returns to Walford this week, she can rekindle her relationship with the perennially lovelorn Billy.
When asked whether Honey and Billy should get re-married, the 38-year-old actress says: “I think it would be really sweet. Honey and Billy are very different to a lot of the couples on the Square. And I’d like to show that a young family can work through their issues. I think that’s really important.”
It’s now a decade since Honey made her debut, with Barton’s original stint on the BBC1 soap lasting from 2005 to 2008. The character was axed at the end of that period and Barton makes it clear that it was never her decision to leave.
“It was a real shock. And a disappointment. I remember being told at the time that I had to go up and see the boss and I joked to some of the cast and said, ‘wouldn’t it be awful if I wasn’t coming back?’ And actually, I was right.
“But I’m a strong believer in what’s meant to be – and leaving EastEnders gave me such opportunities. I don’t think I would have ever been offered the role of Roxie Hart in Chicago if it hadn’t been for me playing Honey.”
As well as that lead role in Chicago, Barton has also toured the UK in the National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors. But now (after testing the waters again at EastEnders last year with a brief reappearance) she’s back full time in Albert Square. So did she jump at the chance to return?
“Well, I’d had a lovely time doing all the theatre. And it was just towards the end of my run in One Man, Two Guvnors that there was interest from EastEnders. And, of course, I was like, ‘yes, please!'”
Honey’s comeback storyline will see her return from Canada with son William in order to visit Honey’s Aunt Caroline. But a trip back to the Square for a reunion with daughter Janet and Billy ends in romance. So what exactly are Honey’s feelings for her ex-husband?
“There’s always been a little spark between them. In some scenes last year, you saw that extra look being shared. And I think she always sees the best of him and knows he’s always trying. She’s always loved him – it’s just that caring nature that Honey has. She’ll always have that soft spot for him.”
In typical Billy fashion though, it seems like he could well make a mess of things, especially when he ends up leaving Honey a drunken, saucy voice message. But in a surprising move, Billy’s clumsy attempt at seduction pays off – the result being that Honey ends up beckoning him into bed!
“She is a little bit taken aback by the voice message, but also secretly quite excited,” explains Barton. “He’s melted her heart by being a bit cheeky and forward and she just thinks, ‘why not?’. But I don’t think it’s really that appropriate when Les in the other room!”
Viewers will have to wait and see whether Honey and Billy have a real future together, but Barton is certainly enjoying working alongside actor Perry Fenwick again. “I look at Perry and he’s like the big brother I never had.
“When we were given that opportunity to do the Down Syndrome storyline [Billy and Honey’s daughter Janet was diagnosed with the condition shortly after her birth], we developed a very good working regime because we wanted to do the storyline justice. And I guess that brings you closer together as actors. You get a closer partnership.”
Not that she’s entirely without complaint. If there’s one thing that her character needs to fix once she gets ensconced on the Square, it’s the state of Billy’s flat. Surely that place needs a taste of Honey?
“Oh yes!” she agrees. “That wallpaper is quite horrendous. I remember the flat that we used to have – it was lilac walls and we did a scene where they were painting and it was all fluffy and lots of fur and glitter. I think Billy’s place definitely needs the Honey touch. Get rid of all the West Ham stuff for a start!”
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