EastEnders: Carmel attempts suicide after Shakil is stabbed to death – Bonnie Langford interview

"She's so angry and broken," reveals the star

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EastEnders’ Carmel Kazemi attempts to take her own life next week in the aftermath of her son Shakil’s fatal stabbing in a knife attack, as the show explores the fallout of the shock death on his family and the community.

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Shakil and friend Keegan Baker were embroiled in a feud with a local gang which spiralled out of control and into violence, when both boys became victims of knife crime with Shaki eventually losing his life.

The Kazemi clan are shattered in the wake of the tragedy, and as the Square pulls together to remember Shakil with a shrine, devastated Carmel trashes it, unable to cope with her loss. On Tuesday 29 May, Carmel is pushed to take drastic measures and she attempts to take her own life, feeling she cannot live without her son.

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Eldest offspring Kush arrives and realises to his horror what his mum has done and calls an ambulance. Thursday 31 May sees Carmel insisting to paramedics she’s fine and there’s been a terrible mistake, but it’s clear the grieving parent has a long way to go as she joins the locals at a memorial for the teenager.

Bonnie Langford reveals the fallout’s effect on her character Carmel, and discusses EastEnders’ decision to tackle the knife crime epidemic.

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How is Carmel coping after losing Shakil?
Not very well at all. She starts off in denial, completely refusing to accept it. She then goes through an absolute rollercoaster of emotions like a massive pendulum swinging back and forth to the point where Kush is very worried about her. She is in shock and completely lost. She loved Shaki so much, he was her baby and she feels this huge guilt because she was away at the time of the crime enjoying herself.

Is she looking for someone to blame?
I think she wants to blame everybody. She feels these young people don’t understand the consequences of acting out of anger, or status, pride or greed. She thinks that they have no respect for their own lives or anyone else’s. She just can’t understand any of it and doesn’t know what to do.

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Do you think it’s important to show what happens after the death?
Yes, absolutely. When the immediate aftermath has passed, for others the world carries on as normal, but for Carmel and the family, life has changed forever, there is a void that will never be filled. Those are the times, behind closed doors, that we rarely see unless it happens to us. Soaps and continuing dramas are able to show those private moments almost in real time. The audience can share them step by step.

Why does Carmel not want to attend the memorial for Shakil that Linda has organised?
It’s denial, it’s anger. She just feels that people don’t know what to say, she’s so angry and broken. Deep down she’s angry with herself because she always tried to protect her son and the one time she went away just for a day it all went so terribly wrong. So there is a huge amount of personal responsibility and guilt.

What was your reaction when you knew you would be involved in this storyline?
It’s incredibly brave and important that EastEnders have taken on this story and treated it with such sensitivity and commitment. As an actor I felt a huge sense of responsibility, it’s so much more than just telling a story, it’s about sharing the very private and personal world of trauma and grief and the effects a violent act can cause. I feel proud to be a part of it.

What kind of research have you done?
Sadly I didn’t have to look very far to do any research, you just turn on the television or look at the papers and every day there are more and more reports of these incidents on our streets. Grief is so personal and I wanted Carmel’s to be totally raw. I spoke to Brooke Kinsella, as the team have been working with the Ben Kinsella Trust on the story, and asked her about her reactions at the time of her brother’s death. Although it seemed blunt to ask such direct questions, she was utterly gracious and supportive and gave me some insights into her way of dealing with such a terrible crime. Brooke wanted to talk about Ben to keep his memory alive and acknowledge what happened to him and try to prevent it happening again.

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How will this change Carmel?
I feel such sympathy for her, she’s so bubbly and positive and kind and the storyline directly prior to the crime is all about her pride in her son. Her world comes crashing down and she’s absolutely devastated. It shows that this is completely and utterly random – it could happen to anyone. I feel such empathy for all the people who are affected by knife crime, there are no winners.

What do you hope the storyline achieves?
I hope it gets people thinking and talking, and they begin to understand the hopelessness and think twice before carrying a knife. I hope families are able to talk and listen to each other. I really, really hope that at least one less story about a knife crime gets told – that there’s one less dreadful headline.

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