Denise Welch: When I did my first EastEnders scene, I thought 'Oh my god! I'm in Walford!'
Nothing quite prepared Denise Welch for the reaction she had when she filmed her first scene in Albert Square, playing transgender character Kyle's mum Alison.
The ex Corrie and Waterloo Road star Denise is only in the BBC1 soap for one episode, but it was a high-point in her career, she revealed...
What brings Alison to the Square?
"Alison was married to the bigamist [who] was Stacey’s dad. Kyle’s with Stacey at the minute, but she’s a little bit worried about him. She can see how much he needs his family so makes the decision to call Alison. Alison hasn’t seen Kyle since he transitioned, and she’s never met Stacey so this is a massive deal for all of them."
Can you tell us a little bit about Alison and the sort of woman she is?
"We don’t know too much about her except that she runs a B&B in Blackpool, we know that much. I think she’s been a good mother, and she’s someone who keeps her emotions close to her chest."
What’s Kyle and Alison’s relationship like at this point?
"I don’t think they really have a relationship any more. They haven’t seen each other in five years and Kyle left when he realised Alison wouldn’t accept his decision to transition. That being said, they’re still mother and child, and Kyle needs his mum. I think he’s hopeful Alison will return and open her arms to Kyle, but it’s just not as simple as that."
How does Alison feel about being contacted by Stacey, given the history with Brian and his double life?
"She knows that it’s going to be awkward for them both. When they meet, Alison is straight to the point and jumps right in and talks to Stacey about it. I think they both know deep down it’s neither of their faults, but that doesn’t stop the uncomfortableness of it all!"
This is the first time Alison is going to see Sarah as Kyle, how is she feeling?
"It’s a tricky one. I don’t think Alison really knows what to expect. She knows what’s happened and the choices Kyle has made, but when Alison last saw him, he was Sarah. I think she’s very nervous about seeing him. This is a big deal for both of them."
Do you think Alison can rebuild her relationship with Kyle?
"I hope so! I think that’s what they both want, but there are a lot more layers to it. The meeting is going to be very difficult for both of them. It’s very emotional. It’s a brief meeting between them so I hope that Alison leaves on better terms with her son."
How did the role come about?
"I was delighted to be offered the role; it came out of the blue. The next week I found myself on a train down to film EastEnders. It was very quick and I was excited to be offered the role. It was a nice surprise."
What was it like being on set? Did you know any of the cast?
"It was a lovely reception at Elstree! It wasn’t until I was there that I realised just how many people I knew in the cast. It was like a reunion of old friends. I saw Barbara and I saw Natalie, Bonnie and a few of my northern friends too like Poppy Rush. There was like a little northern corner going on. It was lovely to meet Riley, who plays Kyle. He said he’d watched me on screen since he was little so that was lovely. I felt like I’d been there for ages."
What did you think when you heard about Kyle’s story, and the dimension that your character would bring to that?
"It was interesting for me because I’ve recently played the mother of someone who is dating a transgender character, played by the amazing Rebecca Root in Boy Meets Girl. So I was fascinated to hear about the role in EastEnders because it represents a different attitude to what I played in Boy Meets Girl. It’s a community I’ve got to know really well over the past few years. Boy Meets Girl has helped bring a further awareness to issues in that community so I feel very proud and honoured to now be part of this storyline in EastEnders."
Do you watch EastEnders as a viewer? Can you pick any favourite characters?
"I dip in and out of EastEnders, as I do with all of the soaps. I’m a huge fan of Gillian Taylforth, I’ve known her for years so am thrilled to see Kathy back. I’m a huge fan of Dot Cotton and spent an hour in make-up with June which was brilliant. I’m a great fan of the iconic strong female characters. I was very honoured to work alongside them."
How did it feel stepping foot onto Albert Square for the first time?
"No matter how long in the tooth you get it’s always exciting to become part of something that you’ve watched for years. As soon as I arrived I did a scene in the Square and I remember thinking 'Oh my god! I’m in Walford!' It was so bizarre. I felt very proud to be part of it. I couldn’t quite believe I was there after having watched it for years."
Not many actors can say they’ve appeared in EastEnders AND Corrie. How does that feel?
"Corrie was quite a while ago now, but I feel very proud to have been part of two British institutions."
Are there any characters in Walford you’d love to share a scene with?
"Well, I’m only in the one episode, but I’d love to share a scene with Dot. But there are so many wonderful actors in that show and EastEnders should be very proud. I’d be honoured to share the stage with any of them."
You can see Denise Welch's EastEnders episode on BBC1 on Tuesday, May 3
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Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix.
An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.