Join the cast of EastEnders and you’d expect to be served a pint over the bar of the Queen Vic by landlord Mick Carter. But Gary Webster had a very different introduction to fellow actor Danny Dyer – as viewers to Tuesday’s episode saw, the pair got to know each other on location in a hot tub.
“Many people I know, both male and female, were very jealous of me. It was quite a unique entrance,” laughs the former Minder star. “I’d never met Danny before, but what a way to break the ice! A quick ‘how do you do’ before having a cocktail in the hot tub. And it seems to have provoked a lot of interest online.”
Fans of the BBC1 soap witnessed Mick being blackmailed into becoming a swinger by Webster’s character Neville Peacock in scenes that played out alongside matriarch Peggy Mitchell receiving heartbreaking news that her cancer had spread. ‘Swingers and terminal illnesses…you can’t say EastEnders doesn’t do light and shade!” posted one Twitter user.
“The Mitchells’ storyline is very intense, so EastEnders did well by bringing in light relief when it was needed,” says Webster. “In life, some of the craziest, funniest things do happen when you’re at your lowest. The Carters’ storyline was quite a risk, but it seems to have come off brilliantly. As usual, it’s EastEnders breaking down barriers, taking a risk and coming up trumps.”
And the 52-year-old has nothing but praise for his co-star Dyer: “He was very down to earth and easy to work with. On some jobs, you find that actors have their established routines. But we just hit the ground running. It was a fun time.”
Tonight’s visit to Walford will see the storyline pick up from where we left off, with Neville’s proposition set to test his marriage to Belinda to breaking point. “His marriage is stale and they’re trying different things to get the interest back. But it often takes a catalyst for things to change. What we’ll see this evening is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Webster’s guest stint isn’t his first time in Walford – way back in 1987, at almost the start of his career, he played Graham Clark, the brother of Barry. So have things changed much in three decades?
“Well, being an East End boy, getting a role on EastEnders was a thrill. And it still is. Back then, we had a whole day to rehearse, but despite that having gone, the quality of the writing, acting and directing is still as high as ever.” And would he like to continue playing Neville? “Well, we’re always in the hands of the powers that be. If I get to do more, then I’d be very happy. If it doesn’t, then I’ll have had a fantastic time.”
It’s now also over 20 years since Webster starred as Ray Daley alongside the late George Cole in ITV’s Minder, an experience that he says was the best training an actor could receive. “I think of it as my four years at the National Theatre. I got to witness George’s timing, professionalism, dedication and focus at first hand. I’ve taken all these things with me in my career and in life. He was a wonderful guy to work with. And a decent human being, which is rare in this day and age.”
Since those days of on-screen wheeling and dealing, Webster has experienced mixed fortunes in real life. More acting work came on Channel 5 soap Family Affairs and The Bill, but he was also declared bankrupt in 2005 and suffered a heart attack in 2011. Yet despite the setbacks, he retains a positive outlook on life.
“I always look forward. Whatever’s going on, I can’t allow myself to be down. While in no way comparing myself to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he once described himself as being ‘a prisoner of optimism’. And I love that phrase. I look back on all my experiences and take the good from them.
“Now, of course, I’m more experienced. I’m calmer and I’ve got children [two sons, Jack and Freddie with wife Wendy Turner Webster]. I always say that once you have children, you stop being ‘the picture’ and instead become ‘the frame’. These days, I don’t need to be the main focus and I’m very happy with that.”
You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of EastEnders below.
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