EastEnders' Emma Barton: 'Celebrity MasterChef has put me off food!'

(Image credit: BBC/Shine TV)

EastEnders star Emma Barton is back filming in Albert Square as Honey Mitchell, but she says that's not half as nerve-wracking as her stint on Celebrity MasterChef (BBC1, Thurs-Fri, June 19-20).

"Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my whole life walking into the MasterChef kitchen. At least on EastEnders you’re given a script. With this I’m in costume – my chef’s whites – but don’t have any lines to say! I’m totally out of my comfort zone," she told TV Times magazine.

Emma competes this week against fellow actors Ken Morley and Amanda Burton, former JLS singer JB Gill and This Morning presenter Alison Hammond. She tells us more...

Emma, we salute you for being so brave!

"Oh don’t. It’s mental. On the first day of filming every one of us had a moment going, what are we doing here? I panicked when I was asked to take part. I said no way. But then I thought it’d be cool to learn how to fillet a fish properly and a good friend said I’d regret not grabbing the opportunity so I went for it. It’s good to scare yourself in life sometimes. I certainly do that!"

What kind of cook are you?

"I live on my own, and tour in theatre a lot so I don’t get much time to cook. I like to chuck stuff in a pasta dish on a day off. I do love food though and remember growing up with my mum’s apple crumble, rice pudding and Sunday roasts every week. I wouldn’t say I’m accomplished, but as soon as I knew I was doing this – boy, did I start practising! It was like revising for exams again. Of course my mind went blank and I forgot everything on the first Mystery Box Test."

What do you have to cook?

"A burger – which sounds easy, but if you’ve never made one before, it’s not. Add to that the time constraints, the cameras and John and Gregg walking around – I was very relieved when it was over. It didn’t look pretty, but the boys liked the taste so I consider that a good start."

How do you find judges John and Gregg?

"I thought they’d come and meet us and we’d all have a bit of a giggle before filming, but no – it’s just like the programme: you walk through the doors and see them for the first time staring at you, not smiling. I’m quite a warm person so any coldness makes me nervous. I kept smiling at John as he walked around, but he wouldn’t give anything away! They’re honest, there’s no messing about, but that’s why it’s such a good show – it’s not fake."

Any scary moments in the professional restaurant kitchen?

"I get put on the deep fat fryer and, as I’ve never used one before, I’m worried. I’m pretty clumsy so I thought it was A&E for me! We go to a Spanish restaurant, Iberica, in London, and I’m asked to make quorn fritters. The first few look awful as you’ll see. I’ll never complain about restaurant food again. The pressure chefs are under is incredible."

How competitive are the five of you?

"Not very! Amanda and I are more bothered about holding onto one another. She’s a lovely lady, I call her my big sister. Alison is very loud and funny; JB is a real gentleman and I was in pantomime with Ken last Christmas so he’s a great friend and helps me feel relaxed. Sort of."

How much do you want it to make it through to semi-finals week?

"Badly! Once you start you want to keep learning – despite worrying if you can cope with another round! I’m obsessed with cooking; I’m constantly studying and practising at home, which ironically has put me off my food. I can’t eat a thing."

Did the EastEnders gang know you were taking part?

"No, it’s all top secret – you’re not allowed to tell anyone. Many of them didn’t even know I was going back to Albert Square because we’d kept that a secret too. I walked on set the first day and Diane Parish went, ‘Morning’ before doing a double take, ‘WHAT? Emma?!’ It was so nice being back; it was like going home. Especially working again with Perry Fenwick who plays Billy – he’s like my big brother. He was a happy boy to have me back. Probably because I haven’t cooked for him yet!"

Patrick McLennan

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.