EastEnders' Jonny Labey: ‘Paul’s romance with Ben blossoms, but it needs to be a slow burner’

(Image credit: © BBC/Jack Barnes)

There’s a big summer of love in store for Ben Mitchell in EastEnders, but it’s not with his current girlfriend Abi.

We’ve already seen Phil’s son struggling with his sexuality and having sneaky snogs with the new boy on Albert Square, Paul Coker. But in the next few weeks the pair are set to start a full-on secret affair, as Jonny Labey, who plays handsome hairdresser Paul, recently told What’s On TV…

You must be delighted the romance between Paul and Ben really gets going this summer?

“The romance with Ben blossoms over the summer, but I think it needs to be a slow burner. Their relationship needs to work on different levels as opposed to just Ben’s desperation and him feeling fed up. They need to learn to trust each other and Paul should allow Ben to feel he’s making the right decision and that he’s comfortable with who he’s having a romance with with. Ben needs to feel safe that Paul’s going to be there for him, so I think this all can’t happen at once.”

How has it been to work on the romance with Harry Reid, who plays Ben?

“I really like working with Harry because he’s just such a nice guy. The public’s response they’re willing Ben to take that route, which is what I think Paul was brought in to develop. It’s difficult at this point for Paul anyway because he’s new to Albert Square and it wasn’t the first thing he was thinking on arriving. It was more about his grandparents and seeing Les and Claudette. That’s at the forefront of his mind."

It’s just been flirting and a few snogs so far hasn’t it?

“Paul and Ben really enjoy each other’s company and at the moment that’s what it is. It’s a flirty thing. Paul respects the fact that Ben’s got a girlfriend and he’s having a difficult time coming to grips with his sexuality. For Paul though, that was never really an issue. Ben asks him lots of questions, like ‘Did your parents kick you out when they found out you were gay?’ That’s in Ben’s mind because he thinks that’s what’s going to happen to him. It’s a massive thing for Ben.”

(Image credit: © BBC/Jack Barnes)

There’s a raunchy scene in the funeral parlour coming up soon, where Ben and Paul are caught naked together. How was that to film?

“Oh my, doing a raunchy scene with someone else as well as a fake dead body in the room was very odd. It wasn’t a doll or anything, it was an actress made up and lying there for the whole scene bless her. And Harry and I were semi naked, so we kind of forgot she was there. When I found out about this scene, I just thought, 'wow this is going to be memorable'.”

We’ve seen Paul in plenty of big scenes already. It must be great to have him do so much already?

"The first week I did I did a crying scene, an argument scene, a kissing scene, a topless scene, there was so much! Paul’s got quite a lot of layers and unexpected ones as well.”

How have you found first months on EastEnders?

“I can’t believe I’ve been filming for three months now. I started mid-March so it’s just crazy. I’ve had those two weeks when it came out and it was like feature of the week. It was crazy to watch those episodes in order and actually put two and two together and how they looked as a story. It was amazing and it’s had an amazing response luckily so far.”

Have people started to recognise you out and about?

“It’s been fine. A girl came and sat on my lap the other day to have a selfie on the Tube. That was a bit bizarre, but she was on a hen night. I was like, well if that’s something to add to her night that’s fine. But I don’t mind. It’s lovely to be recognised. I’m lucky because Paul is such a nice character, he means well and people are with him.”

You look pretty hot with your top off on screen… Do you work out a lot?

“That comes from doing 14 odd years of dancing…”

What’s your acting background?

“I trained at a dance college, for musical theatre. And I’ve done a few shows such as White Christmas. I did a film last year called Soft Lad which provided enough material for my agent to trust that I could act! From that recommendation I was lucky enough to be suggested as Paul.”

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.