EastEnders has scored a casting coup by signing up Only Fools and Horses star Sue Holderness, who joins the cast as outrageous theatrical agent Estelle Jones from 26th April. And although the role is just a four-episode guest appearance for now, the actress admits she’d jump at the chance of a longer stint on the soap.
“I’ve always loved EastEnders and they need a bit of lightness and jollity,” she says, speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com. “They’ve got Tameka (Empson, who plays Kim Fox) to represent that but you could have another lighthearted character. Estelle is a good-time girl who just wants to have fun. They should bring her back!”
Holderness is known to millions for playing Marlene Boyce in the iconic BBC sitcom, and its successful spin-off The Green Green Grass opposite screen husband John Challis, aka Boycie.
Although this is her first foray into the world of soap, a unique experience for any performer especially with current pandemic protocols, the star points out the parallels between herself and her new cast mates with regards to playing the same part over many years and still getting job satisfaction.
“I’m working a lot with Perry (Fenwick, aka Billy Mitchell) in my storyline and he told me he’s been in the show for 23 years. I thought it must be wonderful to play a character for that long then realised I’ve sort of done it – I first played Marlene in 1984 and I still do guest appearances in character. It’s lovely to get to know a role so well. And I’d really love to get to know Estelle better, she’s very different to Marlene and is quite posh so I hope Only Fools fans aren’t disappointed!”
Friends fans may have already clocked the reference to Joey Tribbiani’s chaotic agent in the character’s name, which conjures up the desired image of a vampy, slightly immoral showbiz luvvy not afraid to bend the rules to get her cut…
“The name ‘Estelle’ will be a shorthand to some people who will figure out the kind of character she is, I’d like to think it’s deliberate! Another fun thing for the audience to spot is the agency she runs is called the Deeks Agency, and Deeks was Barbara Windsor’s real surname! So there are some nice connections in there.”
Estelle’s eventful week-long tenure in Walford sees her make a beeline for unsuspecting Billy, who she gets to know through representing his daughter Janet, currently on the path to becoming a child star.
As Billy and wife Honey Mitchell (Emma Barton) encounter Estelle at an audition, they start to suspect she may be cooking the books and is not being totally honest when it comes to the financial side of her business. While she tries to deflect unwanted attention on her accounts, she flirts with Billy and the pair go on a date…
“Part of a theatrical agent’s job is to entertain and charm everybody, but she takes it a bit far by chatting up the father of one of her child actor clients!” laughs Holderness. “It’s immediate, one look at Billy she decides she fancies him and asks him out. Shocking!
“I haven’t based Estelle on anyone I’ve worked with personally, but you hear stories from other actors who’s agents have been doing nefarious things with the money, buying big houses and suchlike. It’s never happened to me but I wouldn’t be surprised if a woman like Estelle exists!”
Holderness is full of praise for the working atmosphere on EastEnders, especially under the current filming restrictions, and positively lights up at the possibility of reprising the role in the future. In fact, she’s already picked her next love interest…
“She’s a social climber so I think she’d move up from Billy and go for Phil Mitchell. He’s the big cheese, isn’t he? Estelle aims for the top. She might toy with some of the other men like Mick Carter or Ian Beale, who’s probably a bit wet for her actually, but Phil would be the one.”
How would Estelle fare against Phil’s molls, Kat Slater and Sharon Watts, who wouldn’t take too kindly to this newcomer sinking her talons into Mr Mitchell and muscling in on their on/off liaisons with the gangster?
“Can you imagine it? They’d all be fighting over poor Phil, I don’t know how he’d cope. I think he’d probably run for the hills!”