EastEnders cast: Who is joining, leaving and returning to the soap?

All the changes to life in Albert Square you need to keep up with.

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It has been all change in Walford of late with some big-name cast members leaving (goodbye, Max Branning) and others taking an extended break (goodbye, for now, Ian Beale), but the changes keep on coming and there are more on the way.

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We have some new faces joining EastEnders, some popular faces bidding farewell, and a return for one member of the Carter family.

And with more changes to the ensemble expected as the year goes on, we’re here to keep on top of it all and keep you up to date on all that is happening.

Read on for all you need to know about what is going on with the EastEnders cast.

JOINING

Sue Holderness (playing Estelle)

sue holderness estelle eastenders

A British TV icon is heading to Albert Square as Only Fools and Horses star Sue Holderness has joined the BBC soap in a guest role and she will be spending a lot of her time with Billy Mitchell (Perry Fenwick). But while Billy seems taken with the new arrival, other residents of Walford will not warm to her quite so quickly.

Speaking about joining Eastenders, Holderness said:  “I was absolutely delighted to have been given the chance to visit Walford. It felt very surreal to be popping into the actual fish and chip shop, Ruby’s club, The Queen Vic, and wandering around the iconic Albert Square. I was ridiculously excited about the whole thing! After more than fifty years in the business, it was my first time working on a soap and I loved the whole experience.”

Gwen Taylor (playing Violet Highway)

Gwen Taylor

The latest cast announcement in Albert Square is the arrival of Gwen Taylor, playing Stuart and Callum’s Grandma, Violet Highway. She’s a straight-talking woman who you don’t want to mess with, and she’s bound to have a few run ins with Ben Mitchell.

“With her hard façade and quick wit, Violet is sure to make someone even as tough as Ben squirm,” we’re told. “She hasn’t spent much time with her grandsons in the past, but there is a big heart buried, albeit very deep. Perhaps her boys might need her more than they realise…”

Executive Producer of EastEnders Jon Sen adds, “Having Gwen join the show is an honour, she’s the perfect actress to play the multi-faceted Violet Highway, a grandmother not to be messed with. Stuart and Callum are sure to find this out the hard way when she arrives in Walford for Callum’s big day. They’ll no doubt be wanting her visit to be fleeting but Violet definitely has other ideas.”

James Farrar (playing Zack Hudson)

James Farrar
BBC

James Farrar has just arrived on the Square, making quite the entrance as charismatic troublemaker Zack Hudson at Gavin’s memorial. It turns out he’s Sharon’s secret brother!

Described as a lone wolf who lives life in the fast lane, Zack had a difficult childhood that has subsequently prevented him from getting too attached to anyone – but he is a long-time ladies man who will be sure to gain some attention when he arrives in Walford.

On his casting, Farrar said: “I’m thrilled to be joining EastEnders. As a born and bred Londoner myself, I can’t wait to bring my experience of a place I love and know to such a well-respected long-running show, with such iconic characters. Zack certainly has a very complicated past and there is a real depth to him that I can’t wait to explore.”

And Exec Producer Jon Sen added: “James is a wonderful addition to the EastEnders cast, playing the charming rogue Zack Hudson. We are all excited to see James bring the character to life and there’s plenty of drama in store for him – trouble is always just around the corner…”

Brian Conley (playing Terry Cant)

Brian Conley EastEnders

Things are about to get really interesting for Sonia Fowler (Natalie Cassidy) as her long-discussed but never seen father is about to make his way to Walford – and he will be played by national treasure Brian Conley! Whether the two will get along remains to be seen, but Brian is excited to get started in his new role.

“As you can imagine being a Londoner and now being part of EastEnders is such an incredible moment for me. I know for sure my dad’s looking down from above and saying ‘Good on yer son!’ It was always his favourite programme. So, in so many ways, it really is an honour to be part of such an iconic show and to be working with an incredibly talented team on camera and off. I cannot wait to order my first pint at The Queen Vic.”

LEAVING

Davood Ghadami (playing Kush Kazemi)

EastEnders Kush Kazemi
BBC

After six years in Albert Square, Kush Kazemi will leave the show in what bosses are calling a “huge plot.”

An EastEnders spokesperson confirmed the news to RadioTimes.com, saying: “We can confirm Davood will be leaving EastEnders when his contract comes to an end next year. Davood has been a wonderful addition to EastEnders and we wish him all the best for the future.”

Davood joined the soap in Autumn 2014, and his character has been involved in many dramatic storylines.

And his character Kush will leave the show with a bang, with an insider adding: “Bosses have a huge plot planned, but although Davood was told in January, his departure is not for a very long time yet.”

Laila Morse (playing Big Mo)

big mo eastenders

After 20 years, on and off, as a fixture of Albert Square, Big Mo will be waving goodbye to Walford soon. But while it is sad that the actress will be off, there is every chance that she could be back at some point in the future with an EastEnders spokesperson telling us here at RadioTimes.com that “just like many occasions before, Big Mo will be departing Walford. But as always, she’ll no doubt be back in the not too distant future.” So hopefully a “see you soon” rather than a permanent “goodbye” then.

RETURNING

Maddy Hill (playing Nancy Carter)

Maddy Hill plays Nancy Carter in EastEnders
BBC

The Carter family are about to have a reunion! Having last appeared in 2016, Maddy Hill is reprising her role as Nancy with the character making a surprise return from New Zealand. Why she is back remains a mystery, but she will certainly have a lot to catch up on with all that has been happening with the Carter clan lately!

Speaking of her return, Hill said: “I’m so excited to be coming back and reconnecting with all the hilarious, warm, talented cast and crew and meeting some lovely new faces. I absolutely loved playing Nancy and have often wondered what she’s up to, so feel very grateful to be able to rediscover her 5 years on!”

Adam Woodyatt (playing Ian Beale)

eastenders ian beale

Thankfully, because we really do love to hate him, Ian has not said goodbye to the square permanently, but he will be off-screen for a lengthy period of time after surviving the poisoning plot and skulking away from Walford on the tube.

Adam’s extended break coincides with him taking up a role in the theatre, when they eventually reopen, where he is starring in the Peter James story, Looking Good Dead. The show is meant to have 23 performances around the country, but it remains to be seen when they will be able to get going.

Wondering about the other soaps? Read more of our cast guides 

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Visit our dedicated EastEnders page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers. If you’re looking for more to watch check out our TV guide.