Eastenders actress Emma Barton on life after Strictly

PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 August 2020 | UPDATED: 11:09 11 August 2020

Emma with Graziano di Prima at The Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour Photocall at Arena Birmingham earlier this year. Image: Stephen Searle / Alamy

Emma with Graziano di Prima at The Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour Photocall at Arena Birmingham earlier this year. Image: Stephen Searle / Alamy

Credit: stephen searle / Alamy Stock Photo

The actress chats with Angela Sara West about life on Albert Square and how she’s hopelessly devoted to scenic Surrey

Emma with some of her family taking part in the Alzheimer's Society Memory Walk at Painshill Park. Image: Emma BartonEmma with some of her family taking part in the Alzheimer's Society Memory Walk at Painshill Park. Image: Emma Barton

Emma Barton says her swanky singing, dancing and acting skills are all down to the stars. “I’m a typical Leo, I guess… A bit of a show off!” reveals multi-talented actress and singer Emma Barton, who discovered her passion for performing at an early age. “I loved singing to my nan and grandad, and making up dance routines to show them. I knew all the words to any Nolans or Bucks Fizz number!”

Starring in her school production of Smike, the pop musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1839 novel Nicholas Nickleby, was her seminal moment, at just seven years-old. “That’s when I first got the bug for acting,” she tells me. “Even at that age I knew I wanted to act when I grew up.” At 18, her wish came true when she was accepted at the Guildford School Of Acting, whose notable graduates include Surreyite Bill Nighy and Joanna Sawyer. “I was accepted at a few drama schools,

but not only was GSA my first choice for training, I also wanted to live in Guildford, nearer to my family in Hampshire. I came to this county to study musical theatre, and haven’t left!”

Having moved around Surrey somewhat, she’s now happily settled. “I loved living in Guildford, and for a short time I lived in Compton and Godalming, but I’m now further out in the Surrey Hills and have been here for 15 years,” she says.

Home, for Emma, is her period property with “gorgeous high ceilings” and lots of light. “I fell in love with it the minute I saw it… I have horses as neighbours and, sometimes, when I’m sitting at the table, I can see the sheep huddled around a beautiful oak tree with a nearby lake. I tend to sit there with a cup of coffee and my scripts.” When not learning her lines or sipping her favourite tipple in The Queen Vic on set in the Square, she heads outside to the open countryside and “endless footpaths” that attracted the actress to the area.

“I love the countryside, the walks, pubs, village life, the people… and there’s a sense of calm, which I love. Walking is my hobby, with my beautiful Parsons Russell Terrier ‘Poppy Dog!’”

Emma with her dog Poppy. Image: Emma BartonEmma with her dog Poppy. Image: Emma Barton

The singing actress says she struggled initially during lockdown. “It took me a long time to adjust. I like to be organised, have an agenda, a focus… and I felt lost for a few weeks. Walking was my onehour outdoor exercise a day, and that’s when I started to change my mindset; walking is great for thinking and planning new ideas. So, I would write myself a schedule every day (with breaks, too) and that worked, for me.”

A free-to-access online community, devised by Strictly’s professional dancers Karen Hauer, David Webb, Oti Mabuse and Oti’s husband Marius lepure, also came to the rescue. “I was invited to take part in @homefestivalfun, full of different activities for others to get involved with.” From fitness classes and baking, to dancing for kids and adults, the challenges offered fun for all ages, with Emma reading magical bedtime stories. “I loved it! Reading my favourite children’s classics. It had some wonderful feedback and it was lovely to all keep each other happy and busy through that crazy time.”

Square secrets

Emma starred in the BBC’s cult spy show Spooks and long-running soap Doctors before being cast as Honey Mitchell in multi-award-winning BBC soap EastEnders. Welcomed to Walford in 2005, high drama ensued… from her failed marriage to Billy Mitchell, to being knocked down by a car just before giving birth to a daughter with Down’s syndrome, her tough cookie character’s had some hard-hitting storylines. “I just adore my character, Honey Mitchell,” says Emma. “Sweet by name, sweet by nature. She’s had some brilliant storylines.”

How does it feel to be a part of the EastEnders family? “I’ve watched the soap since the very beginning... I was eight years-old when it started, and I even kept a scrapbook of paper and magazine cuttings about it. So, to get told you would be playing a regular character was a real ‘pinch me’ moment.”

Actress Emma Barton at the EastEnders Meet and Greet event at BBC Elstree Centre. Picture: AnemoneProjectors/WikimediaActress Emma Barton at the EastEnders Meet and Greet event at BBC Elstree Centre. Picture: AnemoneProjectors/Wikimedia

Following a three-month suspension of production of the phenomenally-popular programme due to the pandemic, Emma divulges further dramatic goings-on lie ahead for Honey (no spoiler alerts!) “I’m very excited about EastEnders coming back to our screens. They’ve been working really hard and have some incredible stuff for everyone to look forward to. Great to be getting my teeth into some juicy scenes!”

Emma is a proud patron of the Queen Elizabeth foundation for Disabled People, in Leatherhead, and a supporter of Dementia UK, for which she completed the 2019 London Marathon with a few of her EastEnders co-stars, including Adam Woodyatt and Natalie Cassidy, in support of their colleague and close friend Barbara Windsor, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014.

“I do love to use my platform of working in telly to raise awareness of many charities,” Emma explains. “My big one last year was running the Marathon for the Dementia Revolution campaign, a charity very close to my heart. I lost my beloved uncle to vascular dementia over a year ago.”

The all-star squad, dubbed ‘Barbara’s Revolutionaries’, was formed by Barbara’s husband. “My dear friend Scott Mitchell organised a team, and we were all non-runners, so it was a real challenge for us, but the outcome was incredible; we raised over £150k for the charity, which was so overwhelming.Barbara was thrilled for us all, too.”

Emma also loved singing solo live on a previous BBC Children in Need night. “I felt like a pop star! Singing live on one of the biggest nights of television with eight backing dancers… Box ticked!”

As an accomplished stage actress, Emma has razzle dazzled and belted out hit songs such as Funny Honey as Roxie Hart in the West End production of Chicago while, clearly born to hand jive, she’s also played Marty Maraschino in Grease. “Roxie Hart is one of the best female leads in a musical. I loved starring in that show alongside the wonderful Jimmy Osmond, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I was also very lucky to have played opposite Gary Wilmot and Marti Pellow. To repeat it again one day would be amazing. Maybe Broadway. That would be a dream come true!”

Alongside All That Jazz, she’s adored treading the boards with Dame Joan Collins. “I’ve played in a variety of different plays, musicals and venues, with one of my favourites being a farce directed by the legend Ray Cooney at The Old Vic, London, where I starred alongside Dame Joan Collins. She is simply wonderful... I used to sometimes just sit in her dressing room, watching her apply her makeup and listening to her stories of Hollywood… I was mesmerised…” The show actually opened at the Yvonne Arnold Theatre in Guildford, before transferring to the West End. “I love that theatre, and I’ve played Richmond a few times, too.”

READ MORE: 10 minutes with former Union J star Josh Cuthbert

From Mastermind to Masterchef and Strictly

Following a star turn on Mastermind, the knives were out in 2014, when Emma cooked up a storm in the kitchen alongside famous contestants/fellow soap actors Ken Morley and Amanda Burton, former JLS singer JB Gill and ITV’s This Morning presenter Alison Hammond on BBC One’s Celebrity Masterchef. “I thought I could cook until I went on Masterchef!” she reveals. Donning her chef’s whites, Emma felt way out of her comfort zone, with time constraints, plus judges John and Gregg, putting on the pressure. “I really need to improve... I love cooking and entertaining and would like to look into a cookery course, maybe somewhere local. I love a farm shop and I’m lucky to have a great one near me – Secretts.”

Emma loves being a part of the local community of Surrey. “Surrey County Show is a must, plus events at Loseley House, especially the Decorative Home & Salvage Show. I love local firework displays and will play a part in local Whitstock Fair in September.”

Giving another dream a whirl, Emma swapped Honey’s ‘Minute Mart’ tabard for the glitz’n’glamour of the ballroom for the BBC’s sparkling Strictly Come Dancing instalment last year. A massive fan of the show, paired up with Strictly stalwart pro Anton du Beke, she had the most marvelous time, grateful for the opportunity to learn all the different dance styles from the very best in the business. “I couldn’t believe it…. The King of Ballroom!! I knew my mum would be thrilled. Anton and I laughed a lot in rehearsals, and enjoyed lots of tea and cake!”

A natural on the dancefloor, mover and shaker Emma excelled during the fabulous, frolicking experience. How did it feel to reach the final? “Well, I thought we were leaving in week 5, and then we just went from strength-to-strength. I think because we were loving every minute dancing together, that shone through to the gorgeous public who voted for us. To get to the final was a definite ‘is this actually happening’ moment. So, thank you to all who voted.”

Having wowed the judges and public week-after-week with her magical moves, joint runner-up Emma was just pipped at the post to the Glitterball Trophy by Kelvin Fletcher. “It was more than what I ever could have hoped for, and I have such fond memories which will be with me forever…”

For the subsequent live tour, Emma was also pleased to be partnered with dashing pro dancer Graziano Di Prima. “The tour was such fun! We got to dance alongside the pros in the group numbers, which made you feel like a proper dancer… and to get the chance to dance with another talented man like Graz was the icing on the cake!”

Emma can’t wait for the 2020 series to start. “Although, I will get jealous and want to take part again! Hopefully, I’ll be able to make a visit, but who knows what the rules will be.”

The highlight of Emma’s colourful career so far? “Being asked to sing at Buckingham Palace for the 75th VE Day celebration. I still can’t believe it now! My nan would have been so proud of me.”

Should those famous “doof doofs” ever sound a permanent farewell for EastEnders’ Honey, what dreams would Emma then strive to fulfil? “Maybe a stint on Broadway, and a period drama or film,” she says. I’ve always wanted to play Eliza Doolittle, although I think I’m a bit too old now. But I do love my home in Albert Square so I’m happy to stay there for now. After this year, my focus is hope, happiness and health!”

- Watch Emma in EastEnders on BBC One: bbc.co.uk/eastenders. Emma is supporting the QEF ‘Survive and Thrive Appeal’. To find out more visit qef.org.uk/surviveandthrive. She’s also a patron of Down’s Syndrome Association: .downs-syndrome.org.uk and Portsmouth Down Syndrome Association: https://portsmouthdsa.org. This summer she took part in the #twentyfoursevenchallenge to raise funds for Admiral Nurses, who support families facing dementia. More at.dementiauk.org

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