Ian Beale and marriage have never gone well together. Four wives. Four divorces. And now he’s about to get married to wife number four again! Yes, Jane has agreed to wed Walford’s premier businessman and the date of the nuptials is set for Thursday 19 February (handily the date of EastEnders’s 30th anniversary).
But will it be a long and happy union? Or will Ian’s fifth marriage be as short as, say, the one to Mel? “I don’t think anything will be as short as the one to Mel!” laughs actor Adam Woodyatt when we meet on the EastEnders set at Elstree. “How many minutes did that last? He got married and dumped in the same episode. But with Jane? God knows. He’s such a d***head – there’s bound to be a problem at some point. Ian and Jane could be together for the next 20 or 30 years. Or it could all be done by March!”
Woodyatt is, of course, the only cast member who has been with the BBC1 soap continually since its inception. So after 30 years playing the frankly weaselly Ian Beale, has he come to like his character? “He’s got to have some redeeming qualities somewhere – I’m just trying to find them,” he admits. “He’s crap with his family – he’s been absolutely appalling. It would be nice if he finally got it right.”
Indeed, Ian’s life in Albert Square over the last three decades has been a catalogue of catastrophe. He’s been made bankrupt, homeless, been shot, seen his daughter Lucy murdered and recently found out that his son Peter was dealing cocaine to her in the run-up to her death. So is there hope that Ian can ever be a good father to his kids?
“No, I can’t see it happening. Ever,” he says with brutal honesty. “He’s very good at saying all the right things, but all he really ends up doing is shouting at the kids and getting it wrong. The one time I got Ian to be a dad was in his last scene with Lucy. It was the moment when Ian was confronting Lucy about taking cocaine and I explained to the director that I didn’t want him to get agitated or angry. He had to be a real dad, deal with the situation and do what was best for Lucy. That was the one time where Ian has done the right thing…and even then he went and cocked it all up by telling Lucy that she was his favourite child.”
Next week’s episodes marking EastEnders’s 30th anniversary will finally solve the Lucy Beale murder mystery and anticipation is high as to who the culprit will turn out to be. Everyone’s talking about EastEnders, as the old marketing slogan goes. So what does the man who has been there since the beginning think is the reason for the show’s continues success after 30 years in the schedules?
“Do you know what? Over 30 years, it’s the most-asked question and I still can’t bloody answer it properly! I just think people are invested in the characters. I’ve been in it for 30 years, Steve McFadden’s been here for 25, June Brown for nearly 30. Letitia Dean is now back, of course. You might not have watched it for a year, but when you next tune in you don’t need an explanation. You just think, ‘oh yes, that’s Den’s daughter’. Or ‘Grant’s brother’. The people and the places are instantly recognisable. They’ve become familiar to everyone.”
As familiar as an Ian Beale wedding, maybe? “Well, they come around often enough, don’t they? If you do happen to miss this one, I’m sure there’ll be another one at some point!”
You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s 30th anniversary episodes of EastEnders below: