Just when it seemed the Walford Six were finally off the hook in EastEnders, their Christmas Day crime comes back to haunt them as Keanu Taylor’s body is discovered. The unlucky lothario, fatally stabbed with a meat thermometer by Linda Carter to save BFF Sharon Watts, is buried beneath the café but when the floor caves in, the corpse is found and the fractured female fraternity who covered up his murder fear the game is finally up.


Keanu’s unearthing was surely inevitable, not just because it propels one of EastEnders’ most gripping storylines in years, but also for the simple reason the cement the corpse was covered in was hastily mixed by a highly inexperienced Kathy Beale.

“All she did was go on Google to find out how to do it!” laughs Gillian Taylforth, speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com about the next twist for her character and her petrified pals. “It’s very worrying when The Six hear the floor has caved in. And of course, Denise’s necklace is buried with the body so she’s beside herself. Whose idea was it to mix our own cement – what were we thinking?!”

Kathy’s resourceful, if misguided, suggestion leads 'The Six', as they’ve been dubbed, into the next phase of the ambitious storyline that has dominated the soap for over a year. An ingenious flash-forward in February 2023 teased a mysterious murder we waited 10 months to be fully explained. Christmas Day’s action-packed instalment revealed whodunnit and who copped it, now the women are struggling to keep a lid on their sinister secret.

Lacey Turner as Stacey Slater, Balvinder Sopal as Suki Panesar, Kellie Bright as Linda Carter, Gillian Taylforth as Kathy Cotton and Diane Parish as Denise Fox give icy stares to Letitia Dean as Sharon Watts in the Queen Vic barrel store in EastEnders.
The Six are reunited next week when Sharon returns from Australia. BBC/Jack Barnes/Kieron McCarron

“Finding the body is not going to be good news,” sighs Taylforth. “Not everybody knows it’s Keanu, so the next step will be the locals asking, ‘Who is it?’ The spotlight will be back on The Six which is a worry, they’ll be investigated again and have to give statements about what really happened that night in the Vic with Nish, and Keanu supposedly running off. What are they going to do? It’s a big duff-duff!”

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Another development, pre-exhumation, is the return of errant Sharon, who bailed on her crew just days after the incident and fled to Australia to escape the pressure. “She ducked out didn’t she, the crafty thing!” grins a playful Taylforth, in her unmistakably husky tones. “Kathy promised Sharon’s mum Angie years ago she’d always look out for her. She is pleased to see Sharon back, but they do have words about her leaving the others in the lurch. She let them down big time and apologises, Kathy has her say and realises The Six must stick together and can’t afford to fall out.

“I call us the Musketeers, all for one and for all! Kathy tries to be the voice of reason if anyone has a wobble, they’ve all got to support each other and nobody wants to end up in prison. I don’t know how Kathy would cope behind bars, maybe she could work in the bakery and make a cake with a file hidden inside? It would be hard not seeing her family. I think she’d want to keep her head down, do her time and get out!”

Gillian Taylforth sat as Kathy Cotton beside Letitia Dean as Sharon Watts on a sofa in EastEnders.
Kathy Cotton (Gillian Taylforth) is reunited with old pal Sharon Watts (Letitia Dean). BBC/Jack Barnes/Kieron McCarron

While the panicking Six are in danger of turning on each other as the walls close (or should that be cave?) in, off screen Taylforth happily confirms the story has created a tight bond between the cast. As Kellie Bright (Linda) divulged last year to RadioTimes.com, they’ve even got their own WhatsApp group!

“Diane Parish (Denise) started it up, I wouldn’t have a clue how to do that! We have a little gossip and it’s lovely to feel everyone supporting each other. I won’t deny it’s been hard work at times with some very long, tiring scenes, and it’s brought us closer us friends. Obviously I’ve worked with Tish (Letitia Dean, who plays Sharon) a lot over the years, but I hadn’t done much with Kellie, Lacey Turner (Stacey Slater) or Balvinder Sopal (Suki Panesar) so it’s been lovely to work with different people I don’t normally cross paths with.

“When our executive producer, Chris Clenshaw, told us about the storyline I was honoured to be part of it, and a bit surprised to be honest to be one of The Six.”

Gillian Taylforth as Kathy Cotton, Kellie Bright as Linda Carter, Letitia Dean as Sharon Watts, Diane Parish as Denise Fox, Lacey Turner as Stacey Slater, and Balvinder Sopal as Suki Panesar gather in the Branning living room in EastEnders.
The actresses behind The Six are closer than ever thanks to the storyline. BBC/Jack Barnes/Kieron McCarron

Kathy’s inclusion is proof she remains at the heart of the show after nearly four decades, and despite the fact she was absent for a good 15 years, although it feels like she never left. One of just three of the original 1985 cast line-up still on the Square, along with the aforementioned Dean and Adam Woodyatt (Kathy’s son Ian Beale), ‘Kaff’ is an ordinary woman whose resilience in surviving extraordinary situations – including coming back from the dead – has earned her the level of affection audiences reserve for true soap legends they’ve shared their lives with.

“She is normal, down-to-earth and just gets on with life, you can relate to her,” says Taylforth when asked to explain her alter ego’s popularity. “Kathy is very protective of her family, like most of us, and is willing to stand up to people if her hackles are up. She’s a great listening ear for others, don’t forget she used to be a Samaritan. What I really like about Kathy is her loyalty, she was a great friend to Angie and Pat, now she’s got another nice friendship with Elaine Peacock which I enjoy. Even though they bicker a bit!”

Taylforth’s consistently authentic portrayal makes it impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, so it’s surprising producers initially considered her for a different part entirely.

Kathy Beale, played by Gillian Taylforth, for EastEnders in 1985.
Kathy Beale, played by Gillian Taylforth, has come a long way since the show began in 1985. Don Smith/Radio Times/Getty Images

“I got seen for Sue Osman in the café at first (eventually played by the late Sandy Ratcliff). Julia Smith and Tony Holland (EastEnders’ creators) came to my drama school, Anna Scher, and I did an improvisation and a chat. After we met they thought I could be Kathy, but worried I was too young to have a teenage son Ian’s age. I said I’d have a couple of late nights and wear my hair differently! At a third audition, I read with Jean Fennell, who was originally down to play Angie before Anita Dobson. A few days later my agent phoned me at work to tell me I got the part, I was a secretary at the time, and sang ‘Congratulations’ down the phone! That was a lovely moment.”

EastEnders quickly became a phenomenon once it launched and revolutionised the genre, combining Coronation Street’s sense of working class community with Brookside’s controversial social commentary. One of the most impactful plots of those heady early days was Kathy’s sexual assault in 1988 at the hands of smarmy businessman James Wilmott-Brown, one of many tricky topics EastEnders beamed into the nation’s living rooms.

“I was very nervous about that because I wanted to give it justice,” recalls Taylforth. “It was a big thing for me to take on, very well-written by Tony McHale, and raised debate about consent. I remember going over and over the scenes and kept thinking this actually happens to people, my heart went out to them. I got letters from those who had experience of it in real life, of course, I wasn’t qualified to answer them so I passed them to someone who could. That shows the power of the storyline.

“Kathy had been raped before in her teens and conceived Donna, the daughter she gave away. That still haunts her. In the backstory her parents didn’t deal with it very well and Kathy was so young she couldn’t have kept the baby. Later, when Kathy faked her death and went on the run she left her son, Ben. So there is double guilt of abandoning two kids. Oh Kathy, what’s the matter with you?!”

As befits a strong soap siren, Kathy has had mixed fortunes when it comes to fellas. She outgrew childhood sweetheart Pete Beale, her marriage to Phil Mitchell fell apart due to his alcoholism, and sociopath Gavin Sullivan was so controlling he forced her into pretending she’d perished in a car crash in South Africa, only to step out of a cab round the back of the O2 Arena very much alive a few years later.

Gillian Taylforth as Kathy Sullivan in 2015.
Gillian Taylforth returned as Kathy Sullivan in 2015. BBC

It looked like she’d found happiness with fourth hubby Tom ‘Rocky’ Cotton, until he burnt down her beloved café for the insurance and almost killed her grandsons. “Well, we all make mistakes, don’t we!” reasons the actress. “Rocky was that cheeky chappy all women fall for. Even though he was naughty Kathy really loved him, and I loved their relationship.”

Whether there’s more romance on the horizon post-Rocky’s departure, or a spell in jail for The Six’s antics, Taylforth is ready to roll with whatever is thrown next at dear old Kathy. “I loved doing other stuff like Footballers’ Wives, The Bill and Hollyoaks, but I was over the moon when EastEnders asked me back in 2015. The last nine years have gone so fast but I’m very settled and happy to be here.

“To be involved with this current big storyline, and to have a new generation of Beales with Kathy as the matriarch in the middle of it all, it’s just great.”

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