She was adored by millions as EastEnders landlady Angie Watts and, on Christmas Day, actress Anita Dobson stars in ITV’s feature-length Christmas Day drama Torvill & Dean. Here, Anita tells us more...
Best known as Queen Vic landlady Angie Watts, Anita Dobson can lay claim to starring in the most-watched ever episode of EastEnders. A staggering 30.2 million people tuned in on Christmas Day 1986 to see Angie’s husband Den (played by the late Leslie Grantham) reveal that he had filed a petition for divorce.
Since then, Anita has gone on to enjoy a successful career on stage and screen and, this Christmas, Anita’s taking on a role of a different kind, as she stars in Torvill & Dean, ITV’s biopic about the legendary ice-dancing duo.
TV Times caught up with Anita, 69, to chat about her new role and life after soap…
What can you tell us about Miss Perry, your character in Torvill and Dean?
"Miss Perry is lovely. She's Jayne Torvill's first tutor to from when she was aged seven to about 17 and she’s the sort of woman little girls would like to grow up and be. Very kind, very supportive, very much in favour of Jayne developing the best way she can. She was very nice to play."
Do we see you ice-skate in this?
"I haven't really done anything on ice. I’ve done one little bit when Miss Perry tells Jayne she’s ready for a competition with her first partner but that’s all I’ve done. I haven’t had any experience of ice-skating and I was very upfront at the interview. They said do you skate and I said categorically no! They could have stood me up on the skates and I could have balanced on the side or I could have been on a low loader and just moved my arms. But that's it."
What are your own memories of Torvill and Dean from back in the day?
"I remember watching Torvill and Dean doing the Bolero back in 1984 and the fluidity of their movement made it look like one person. They are truly beautiful dancers and their relationship is what still makes them special. This drama is the story of two people who come from a poor background, which I do, having a dream and making that dream come true. It’s a huge inspiration for anybody who wants to make something of their lives."
Your most iconic role as Angie Watts in EastEnders came in 1985. Do people still talk to you about the soap?
"Yes, people still ask me about EastEnders and I don't mind at all. I think if you achieve anything in your life that you can hold up and be proud of and that people still want to talk about, you should be very grateful. We were very lucky. The writers were excellent at the beginning and there was a great through-line to the soap in those early days, that helped a great deal for the characters and allowed them to bed in. Perhaps now, things have to hit the ratings quite quickly, so there's a lot of pressure there. There's not as much time given for things to settle. Those days are gone. We were very lucky, it was an amazing time."
How did you take the news that Leslie Grantham – who played your on-screen husband Den Watts – had died earlier this year?
"It was a real shock to hear about Leslie. I don't think anybody realised he was that ill. He was in Bulgaria, so nobody realised what his life had become in those later years. For me, because we were a very close partnership suddenly when one half is gone it is a bit of a shock. You look at your mortality even closer. It’s a great loss. It was big door shutting on that part of my life."
Aside from Torvill & Dean what are you up to next?
"At my age people say there are no parts for older women, well, I'm doing alright so I'm very grateful and blessed. I've just turned down a job because I figured I wanted to have a bit of time off. I want to see hubby [Queen’s Brian May] play and I'm on tour at the beginning of next year playing Miss Hannigan in Annie. Then I'm doing a play next autumn. I'm very lucky that I've got lots of nice things to look forward to. And maybe some nice bits of TV will come up like this, which I will gleefully grab onto."
You turn 70 in 2019. Knowing what you know now about showbusiness, what advice would you give to your younger self?
"The biggest piece of advice I'd give to my younger self is to be more proud of myself and to not think I was not worthy. As a youngster I thought I wasn't tall enough, thin enough, pretty enough, talented enough, clever enough – I always felt I was starting at a disadvantage because I didn’t have as much as everybody else. So I think I'd say to myself: ‘Look at the things you do have and polish them, and be proud of them and learn to do the other things and be proud of who you are and where you come from’. I have a voice now, which I didn’t have when I was younger, I was afraid to use my voice. I’m much braver now. I like being where I am now. I feel very lucky to have got to the age I’ve got to and be where I am."
Why should people watch Torvill & Dean?
"It's very uplifting and I'd like to see more of that on TV. The world is a hard place now and, with technology moving so fast, it brings a lot of good stuff but it brings a lot of bad stuff too. If you watch the news and read the papers it's very doom-laden or at least it seems as though that is being picked out and we need more balance. We need to see the wonderful things people do and the achievements of people in the world who are good people and who do amazing things for society, like Jayne and Chris. I think people will love this drama and be very moved by it and I think Jayne and Chris deserve it. They deserve this to be held up and their careers to be made history."
Torvill & Dean can be seen on Christmas Day at 9.15pm on ITV.
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