Why Paul Coker's death in EastEnders changed Ben Mitchell forever
Three years after his murder the impact is still being felt
EastEnders' Ben Mitchell (Max Bowden) sank further into self-destructive behaviour on Thursday 18th July, resulting in him drunkenly being beaten up after picking a fight with some E20 punters. However the reasons behind the tormented character's spiralling antics were addressed when he told concerned Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold) it was the third anniversary of boyfriend Paul Coker's tragic death.
Struggling to cope with his grief, fans caught a glimpse at Ben's sensitive side as he remembered his lost love and shared an emotional moment with baby mama Lola, as he mused on what could've been had he lived.
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The current iteration of Ben with Bowden in the role pitches him as much harder and villainous than the more innocent, wide-eyed angst of predecessor Harry Reid, who actually appeared opposite Paul (played by Jonny Labey) on screen - but it's commendable continuity to keep the memory of Mr Coker alive as he remains one of the most significant people in Ben's life. It may have been three years ago, but Paul's passing arguably formed the basis of the Ben Mitchell we now see before us…
Why was Ben's relationship with Paul so important?
Ben was a scared teenager just released from young offenders but locked firmly in the closet when he fell for Paul in 2015. The sweet-natured, out and proud grandson of undertakers Les and Pam Coker, Paul was the person who allowed Ben to finally face his true sexuality and be himself, having been fearful of how tough-talking dad Phil might react.
The pair went public and Ben seemed to have found happiness at last, reaching self-acceptance with a good guy who loved him for who he was. It appeared his past misdemeanours – killing Heather Trott, attacking Jordan Johnson, antagonising Phil in pursuit of some attention and recognition – were finally behind him. Then it all went wrong…
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How did Paul die?
After getting matching tattoos (so cute) the besotted boys hit the clubs for a night out in the summer of 2016, but a homophobic attack outside a bar ended with Paul being beaten to death. Ben was wracked with guilt as he later admitted Paul begged him to walk away when the group of guys starting intimidating them and has blamed himself for how it ended ever since.
What happened to Ben afterwards?
Gripped with grief and desperate for revenge, Ben tracked down Paul's killers and went after them, with uncle Grant Mitchell coming to the rescue when things got a bit hairy. Hardened by the loss, Ben had a one-night stand with Johnny Carter and a doomed affair with city boy Luke Browning, son of mum Kathy's evil rapist James Willmott-Brown, but both liaisons failed to numb the pain of Paul's senseless death.
Sliding into self-loathing survival mode and feeling out of place at the Mitchells once more, Ben thought nothing of betraying Phil by stealing the money from his ill-fated heist with gangster Aidan Maguire, knowing it would put him in danger, and fled to France in January 2018.
When he returned, now played by Bowden, in April 2019 with Lola and daughter Lexi in tow he was full of bitterness and masterminding a secret plan to fleece Phil as payback for his poor parenting, but would he have been driven to such vengeful, conniving acts had Paul not died? Possibly not, as his sunny, optimistic influence is the only time Ben was truly happy in his own skin.
Perhaps the burgeoning romance with Callum Highway can heal the wounds the menacing Mitchell still carries from having his heart broken so brutally, but deep down Paul Coker will never be forgotten…
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