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Ex EastEnders heartthrob Paul Nicholls joins exciting new BBC drama

Paul Nicholls as Joe Wicks in EastEnders
Paul Nicholls played EastEnders heartthrob Joe Wicks. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Former EastEnders star Paul Nicholls, who played heartthrob Joe Wicks in the soap, has been cast in new children’s drama Phoenix Rise.

Paul is well-known for playing EastEnders pin-up Joe Wicks from 1996 to 1997 and was praised for his character’s portrayal of schizophrenia.

He first arrived in the Square from Bolton looking for his father David Wicks (Michael French) and was the brother of iconic soap character Bianca Jackson (Patsy Palmer).

In Phoenix Rise, Paul, who made his TV debut in 1990 in the children’s drama Children’s Ward, will be playing the role of Carl. 

The character is dad to 15-year-old Billy (Alex Draper) and 11-year-old Rihanna (Orla McDonagh) and left them alone for months on end after never returning home from a lorry driving job in Europe.

Phoenix Rise is set in a West Midlands school and follows a diverse group of teenagers who are taking their first steps back into mainstream education after being excluded.

Paul Nicholls on the phone

Paul has starred in Ackley Bridge and Law & Order: UK. (Image credit: Getty Images)

According to the BBC, the premise of the exciting new series is: “Phoenix Rise is the opportunity for these six misfit heroes to prove that sometimes being an outsider means belonging to the best club of all, as their unlikely friendships bond them and fuel their determination not to be side-lined. 

“Each episode will follow one of the characters as the optimism and fun of teen life is set against the challenges they face in and out of the classroom.”

The young cast playing the six outsiders are: Alex Draper as Billy, Luca Alves as Darcy, Lauren Corah as Summer, Tara Webb as Rani, Krish Bassi as Khaled, Imogen Baker as Leila and Orla McDonagh as Rihanna.

Tyler Fayose joins the cast as head teacher Jamie Stewart, who fights to give the kids a second chance and ease them back into regular school life.

Helen Bullough, Head of Kids & Family Productions at BBC Studios, said: “We’re thrilled to have Paul joining the talented cast and crew on Phoenix Rise as this contemporary new school drama gets underway in its Coventry production base.”

Grace Morris
Grace Morris

Grace is a digital writer with WhatToWatch.com, where she writes series guides for must-watch shows and the latest TV news. She graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in 2020 with a degree in Writing and Film Studies, which only made her love for creative writing, film and TV grow stronger.


You'll usually find her watching the drama unfold in the latest reality series and much-loved soaps (usually with chocolate by her side!). Grace also likes to explore new places with her friends and family and, of course, watch and read about the latest films and TV series.