Suzanne Packer makes a shock return to Casualty as Tess Bateman - but why is Charlie Fairhead furious with her?
Most people would be overjoyed to see their best friend during a time of crisis. But, shockingly, Casualty favourite Charlie Fairhead has no seasonal goodwill for Tess Bateman, when she makes a surprise return to the ED for a two-part special set on Christmas Day 2020.
Suzanne Packer played the iconic nurse from 2003 until Tess left in 2015 to spend more time with her son, Sam, and grandson, Charlie - named after you-know-who!
Since leaving the medical drama the talented Welsh actor has gone on to star in Stella, Vera, Doctor Who, In My Skin, The Pembrokeshire Murders, and Keeping Faith.
Here, in an exclusive interview, Suzanne Packer, 59, reveals what brings Tess back, and why the BBC1 medical drama holds a special place in her heart...
Suzanne Packer interview: It’s great to see you in 'Casualty' again! What brings Tess back?
Suzanne Packer: "There is a nursing shortage in the department because of the Covid crisis. And of course Tess is always keen to see her old friends - especially Charlie.
"I was delighted and very flattered to be asked back!"
Is she shocked when Charlie gives her the cold shoulder?
SP: "She’s deeply hurt. Life has been very challenging for Tess since leaving. Her son’s mental health has deteriorated and that’s put an incredible strain on her well-being. She’s been drowning and surviving, and is only now starting to get her mojo back.
"I think Charlie’s conflicted when he sees her because he is still grieving his wife Duffy’s death and his anger is directed at Tess."
Charlie is also secretly battling a health scare and needs brain scans for a suspected tumour…
SP: "Yes, and Tess hasn’t been aware of Charlie’s health - to her deep regret - as she has been so overwhelmed with her own situation.
"Their deep respect and love for each other helps them to realise that no amount of resentment or misunderstandings can destroy their friendship."
What does playing Tess mean to you?
SP: "Tess has a special place in my character backpack. She’s a legacy character. She connects me with my mother’s profession too. My Mum was involved in the NHS for nearly 40 years.
"Also, joining Casualty came when I was in a difficult time in my personal life – going through a divorce, a new mother, and feeling very displaced.
"It sounds very dramatic, but Casualty was a life-saver! It gave me security and I became part of a loving family."
Which storylines have been your favourites to work on?
SP: "My favourite has to be working on the assisted suicide storyline with [original cast members] Derek and Brenda Fricker [who played the iconic Megan Roach].
"A close second were the hard-hitting episodes around the devastation of female genital mutilation.
"And, I have to confess, it was fun playing her affair storyline with Fletch, played by Alex Walkinshaw!"
What did it mean to you to be working closely with Derek on this two-part Christmas special?
SP: "It’s an absolute joy that most of my guest appearance is with Derek. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
"He’s the special ingredient. He’s a wonderful company member and so kind and generous."
Are you a fan of Christmas?
SP: "I am. The last two have been tinged with sadness, as they have been without my wonderful Dad. I’m trying to find the pleasure of Christmas in a new way; appreciating the people who are still around.
"We still hold onto the Jamaican tradition of rice and peas for Christmas dinner. I’m lucky to have excellent cooks in my family, so I never have to do Christmas dinner... to my shame - and delight!"
Have you stayed in touch with any of the 'Casualty' cast and crew?
SP: "Yes, I’ve stayed close to quite a lot of my Casualty cohorts! We’ve become really good friends.
"Martina Laird [paramedic Comfort Jones 2001 - 2016] and Kwame Kwei-Armah [Holby paramedic Finlay 'Fin' Newton 1999 - 2004]. Azuka Oforka [nurse Louise Tyler 2011 - 2019, who is a neighbour. Jane Hazlegrove [paramedic Kathleen 'Dixie' Dixon 2006 - 2016 with a guest return in 2019], who I knew long before our Casualty days - we’ll find time to have a mega catch up when we can.
"Amanda Mealing [ED clinical lead Connie Beauchamp 2014 - 2021] and Sunetra Sarker [ED consultant Zoe Hanna 2007 - 2016, with a guest return in 2018] are only a text away.
"Derek [nurse Charlie Fairhead 1986 - present] was an amazing guest on my radio show in the Summer!
"I always have a wonderful giggle with Tony Marshall [receptionist Noel Garcia 2008 - 2021] and James Redmond [nurse John 'Abs' Denham 2003 - 2016]. I’m looking forward to catching up with him for his ‘special’ birthday!
"Michael Stevenson [paramedic Iain Dean 2012 - present], who is also a producer, has employed me recently. We hope to work together on more of his projects in the future.
"The best thing about Casualty being in Cardiff is that you can always turn a corner and there’s an old ‘work colleague’. That includes crew members, not just the actors. My closest friend is Susan Cookson [doctor Maggie Coldwell 2005 - 2008, with guest appearances in 2009 and 2015]. No word of a lie. We have regular catch ups and, if they are not in person, we average four hours a phone call! I love her dearly."
And finally, would you consider a return to 'Casualty'?
SP: "Yes, if I was asked and it fitted in with other stuff.
"I’m currently working on a podcast version of some BiBi Crew shows, presenting on BBC Radio Wales over the Christmas period and am lecturing in Acting at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.
"Casualty, like the NHS, is a comfort blanket. It’s irreplaceable."
Watch Suzanne in ‘Remember Me - Part 1’ on BBC1 at 9.15pm on Saturday 04 December 2021. The thrilling two-part special, also starring Holly Aird and Molly Wright, concludes on Saturday 11 December 2021 on BBC1.
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With twenty years of experience as an entertainment journalist, Elaine writes for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and www.whattowatch.com covering a variety of programs from gardening and wildlife to documentaries and drama.
As well as active involvement in the WTW family’s social media accounts, she has been known to get chatty on the red carpet and wander into the odd podcast.
After a day of previewing TV, writing about TV and interviewing TV stars, Elaine likes nothing than to relax… by watching TV.