She hasn’t set foot in Walford since 1998, so it’s no wonder Michelle Collins felt apprehensive at being back on the set of EastEnders.
The 61-year-old actress has returned to the soap 25 years after her supposed death as Cindy Beale. But it seems that Cindy has been hiding in witness protection. And on leaving France to follow her son, Peter Beale [Thomas Law], she finds herself back on her old stamping ground.
“Cindy was meeting people for the first time and so was I, because I hadn’t seen some of them for a long time,” says Michelle. “The whole week of episodes is all one day when Cindy arrives.”
“It’s quite clever how it’s written because it’s like an intro to all the characters she meets along the way. The first person Cindy meets is Kathy [Beale] and you can probably imagine what that’s going to be like.
“I always thought that Gilly [Taylforth, who plays Kathy] looked far too young to be my Mother-in-law.”
The revelation that Cindy was still alive and kicking came in June. She had somehow reunited with ex-husband Ian Beale and their son, Peter. Meanwhile, her other ex, George Knight, and the two daughters she had while living under the name of Rose Knight, have moved into the Vic.
So when Peter heads home to meet his half-sisters Cindy isn’t far behind and soon discovers her other family is living in her old local. “She didn’t know George was here, or the girls, so that’s a real shocker,” she says. “I was going through all of the emotions of excitement and terror as Cindy was.
“As soon as I met Adam [Woodyatt] in the France scenes I realised it’s a bit like riding a bike, going back in the show. And yes, it’s 25 years later, but it feels like it’s all still there and I’ve gone full circle in a very nice way.”
After first joining the show, it wasn’t long before Cindy had caught the eyes of Simon Wicks and Ian. And although the men of Walford may have loved her, Cindy didn’t have many female friends.
“Women hated her, but they also wanted to be her because of the way she behaved,” she says. “She was unapologetic in a time where women on TV weren’t portrayed that way, so I think that’s why she literally got away with murder. People loved that side of her because she was the bad girl.”
So has Cindy become wiser with age?
“I’d say she’s very emotional because of the things she’s been through. I can’t say too much but there’s a lot of emotional stuff going on there,” says Michelle, “Definitely expect bits of the old Cindy to come back. I think that people would be disappointed if there weren’t elements of her old character in there."
“Cindy has been through a lot in her life. She’s been in witness protection, she’s lived a new life as a completely different person, and I’m amazed that she’s still going with the things she’s been through. She has this amazing resilience and this strength of character, but I think she also has a side to her which was kind of lacking when she was younger. Possibly more empathy than she had before.”
Fans of EastEnders have been eagerly awaiting Cindy’s reunion with the Knights – and the moment they give her a piece of their mind. In particular, her daughters Gina and Anna, who hired a private detective to track her down.
“Cindy hasn’t seen them for a long time, and it’s incredibly moving,” says Michelle. “I was quite moved in those scenes and I think they were, too. Cindy had to leave nine years ago and she’s going to have to work very hard for them to understand the reasons why she did it."
“It’s going to be an ongoing battle. Cindy’s being challenged by people all of the time, and she’s certainly not happy all of the time.
“She’s also grieving, as two of her children have died. So to take all of that on is quite a lot to deal with. It’s tough for her. She’s been through a lot and it’s not easy for her to be back.”
Catch EastEnders on Mon-Thurs, BBC One, 7.30pm
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