EastEnders' new boss Kate Oates has teased her plans for the soap giving fans a tantalising glimpse of what is set to unfold in Walford as we enter 2019.
The senior executive producer took the helm last autumn following high-profile, if controversial, tenures running the show's ITV rivals Emmerdale and Coronation Street that were characterised by a mix of blockbuster plots such as serial killers being on the loose in both communities, and a sensitive handling of taboo topics including male rape and suicide.
Answering questions from the audience in an interview on EastEnders' official social media, the award-winning producer tentatively revealed what's in store without giving too much away - RadioTimes.com has delved deep and forensically analysed what Oates had to say, and compiled 10 plotline predictions for you to mull over. Are we on the money with our guesses?
- EastEnders announces plans for Albert Square's first gay bar
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- Tiff and Bernie in EastEnders drugs bust
Louise gets pregnant by Keanu
Sharon Mitchell's affair with Keanu Taylor was one of the most genius twists of 2018, and Oates is committed to making it her big blockbuster plot for 2019. "We have a long-running saga for the Mitchells that comes from Sharon and Keanu which is really exciting with loads of twists and turns." Keanu has already slept with minxy teen Louise after Sharon dumped him via voicemail from Australia, and no soap hook-up happens in isolation so what if Lou gets up the duff by the manly mechanic? An ideal way to pique Sharon's jealousy and make her realise she still wants her toy boy, just as he settles down with her stepdaughter.
Wedding for Keanu and Louise - with Phil as best man
Another development in the #Sheanu story is Phil unexpectedly bonding with the man who's bedded his wife and daughter. "Phil gets close to Keanu, who at his heart is a good guy and a hard worker with a sound moral compass. As the story gets messier Phil builds up his affection for Keanu, and we realise how much further he will have to fall when he finds out the truth." If Keanu marries into the family, stepping up if he gets Lou pregnant, it would be the perfect setting for the secret to blow (with Mr M as best man, naturally) and he could end up as the son Phil wishes he'd had. But what about the son he actually has?
Ben returns - and Keanu seduces him
Fans are hoping for Ben Mitchell to be among the selection of returnees Oates has promised (more of that later), and what better time to rejoin his iconic clan as a juicy love triangle simmers away? When Keanu first appeared some fans detected a spark of attraction between him and Ben - so what if Ben rumbles the Taylor totty's fling with Sharon and threatens to tell Phil, only for desperate Keanu to seduce the lonely lad to buy his silence? Just how many Mitchells will Keanu have to sleep with by the time this plot is over?
Lisa comes back rumbles the affair
Another potential returnee that could lob a grenade into the Sharon/Keanu plot is Lisa Fowler. Lou's troubled mum has recently been sectioned again (off screen) as she battles her mental health issues, but we'd like to see her well enough to spend some time on the Square with her daughter as part of her recovery. Imagine if she was the one who found out Sharon was cheating on Phil with a younger man who had also seduced her daughter? Lisa would have all the ammunition she needs to destroy Phil's precious clan as revenge for the terrible way he's treated her over the years.
Ruby turns vigilante and kills her rapists
Looking at other ongoing storylines, Oates has plans to steer Ruby's thought-provoking sexual consent plot into intriguing new directions. "Consent is a hot topic and it collides with another story in the spring. Don't forget Ruby is gangster Johnny Allen's daughter so that will offer a different kind of drama as she deals with what happened. I'm looking forward to exploring that." Will Ruby channel her dad's killer instincts, turn all Lisbeth Salander and dish out her own brand of justice on her rapists if a jury finds them not guilty? As romance blossoms with Jay Brown, how would she react if she discovered he's on the sex offenders' register after his fling with a girl he didn't know was underage a few years ago? Could she see Jay as the enemy and go after him too?
Bernie and Tiff become a couple
Keen to address the current low LGBT presence in the cast, Albert Square is set to open its first gay bar. "It will be a super-cool precinct where gay and straight characters can hang out and loads of stories can cross, somewhere fun, exciting, visual and true to multicultural London." Dare we hope lovelorn teen Bernie Taylor finds true love with Tiff Butcher and the pair become a proper couple, going on dates to this new night spot? (Soft drinks only, they're still under 18). As the brains behind Emmerdale's #Robron and Corrie's #Kana, Oates has a good track record with representing same-sex relationships. Bring back 90s fan favourites Della and Binnie to run the bar!
Tanya back – but not for long
One of the main talking points of the Q&A is the discussion of returnees. Having already confirmed there'll be two or three comebacks in early 2019 - we already know one of them is Lola Pearce - the producer has given more details: "We have a couple more secret returns, one in the spring which I'm super-excited about. It's a fairly short stint but will make a really huge impact." Could this be Tanya Branning, finally stepping up to fight for custody of granddaughter Abi from Max and Rainie? Jo Joyner is a busy bee, starring in C4 school drama Ackley Bridge and BBC daytime hit Shakespeare and Hathaway, so any return would have to be temporary. Taking Abi would shatter Max and Rainie's unlikely marriage.
Jean tracks down Sean
Oates also promises a big story for Jean Slater: "She has a big challenge coming her way, looking at her mental health through the lens of her physical health." Is she set to get a tragic medical diagnosis that could be genetic, meaning consequences for daughter Stacey and errant son Sean? The Slater bad boy hasn't been seen in a decade, and was last heard of on the run in South America. Might Jean needing to track him down to tell him he could have a life-threatening illness be the storyline to finally bring him back?
Dan Sullivan ups the alpha male factor
Ross Barton, Pat Phelan - Oates's time on the ITV soaps displayed a love of a plot-driving alpha male, and she revealed some exciting announcements about incoming male characters was imminent. She also admitted the Dan Sullivan/Carol Jackson/Bianca Butcher love triangle was one of her favourite 'Enders storylines, which got us thinking about another potential comeback: bad boy Dan hasn't been seen in almost 20 years, but he's got history with Mel who he once kidnapped and chained to a radiator. The ballsy blonde is in a vengeful mood as she prepares to destroy rascal Ray Kelly, maybe she'll track down Dan and get her own back for what he did to her too?
Kat and Max to have a shock affair
If you're still reeling from Ian Beale and Jean Slater, you ain't seen nothing yet as there are more odd romantic pairings on the way. "There are new relationships coming, and not within the groupings you might think. We've mixed up character groups for refreshing combinations which explore different aspects of characters' personalities." Max was propositioned by troubled Kat on Christmas Day, and even though he behaved with surprising decency was the seed of an unlikely affair being sewn? They'd make a dynamic duo and have not crossed paths that often. And might childbirth bond Kim and Phil to the point they suddenly find each other ridiculously attractive - only for Vincent Hubbard to reappear and reveal Mr Mitchell's part in his disappearance?! Anything is possible…
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