Hollyoaks fans are currently re-living the Clare Devine era, with classic episodes featuring the village vixen at her bad girl best showing in the Hollyoaks Favourites slot this week, but before she was the wicked witch of the village actress Gemma Bissix was already a veteran of rival soap EastEnders.
The actress first appeared in Walford when she was just nine years of age in 1993 as sweet schoolgirl Claire Tyler, whose mum Debbie married lovable loser Nigel Bates. Deb sadly died in a car crash two years later and her daughter was officially adopted by lovely Nigel, and they moved to Scotland in 1998 when he found love again with schoolteacher Julie.
“I was only nine when I started EastEnders,” she recalls in an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com. “Being on set at that age can be intimidating, there can be pressure and you might get shouted at by an angry director or be around someone who isn’t very good with children. But it made me a behaved, disciplined actor.”
Bissix had another bite of TV fame in Hollyoaks as cruel (almost) namesake Clare Devine who she played initially between 2006 and 2007. With her profile sky high again, she provoked something of a soap bidding war…
“I won Villain of the Year at the British Soap Awards in 2007 and EastEnders producer at the time, Diedrick Santer, was having banter with Hollyoaks boss Bryan Kirkwood about how I really belonged to EastEnders!”
Eager to take advantage of her new wave of popularity, Santer tempted Clare Bates home to Albert Square the following year, although she was a far cry from the innocent girl next door we used to know. In fact, she had more than just a first name in common with her gold-digging Hollyoaks alter ego…
“When I left she was this sweet little girl making Nigel cups of tea, all of a sudden she was a money-grabbing minx!” laughs Bissix. “She tries to fleece rich men after and seemed to love a red-head – Sean Slater, Max Branning, Bradley Branning.
“In one scene I had to drop my towel in front of Ian Beale to try and seduce him! Adam Woodyatt didn’t know where to look, the last time he’d seen my I was about 13! Claire was very raunchy the second time around.”
The change in Claire’s character proved somewhat jarring and Bissix left after six months in the summer of 2008 when her manipulative scheming was exposed, and she ended up returning to Hollyoaks several times over the next few years to continue Clare Devine’s devilish work.
“I enjoyed going back to EastEnders and had fun, but maybe the reason it didn’t work and I didn’t stay that long is because you can’t be so heightened or as ‘out of the box’ as a character, you have to be quite realistic,” she recalls, candidly. “Most characters who stay around are settled and a bit more normal!
“I think it would’ve been good to explore her background a bit and found out what happened to her and Nigel since they’d left.”
With stints in two continuing dramas under her belt, Bissix is still recognised by soap fans – but which Cla(i)re do they remember the most?
“I’d say it’s usually Clare Devine. But then their grandmother might recognise me as a kid from EastEnders!”