NOT YOUR TYPICAL MUM - The Carol Harrison Interview

by Tim Wilson

NEW YORK-When the time rolled around for my local PBS station (WLIW) to begin the process of bringing over a performer from EastEnders for their pledge drive I opted once again to give them a helping hand.

I took a look at the show as it was currently airing on WLIW and quickly realised that one character was beginning to stand out as a Walfordian focal point: "Tiffany" and "Simon Raymond's" flashy yet damaged mum, "Louise."

This very attractive redhead, whose hard-edged surface often betrays the total mess underneath, has made an impact on the show from the moment she crashed her husband "Terry's" "wedding" to Irene to anounce that she was still married to the creep.

She's been in the midst of a few more disasters since then, that's for sure. It was good news indeed that the actress who plays her, Carol Harrison, was available to appear on WLIW for its pledge drive night in early December. We met the night before in her comfy NYC hotel room to discuss the various aspects of "Louise" and Carol, including her changing hair colour.

Walford Gazette: Welcome to New York, Carol. Have you ever been here before? Carol Harrison: Oh, yeah, a few times. I've been all over the U.S., actually. Atlanta, LA, New Orleans-LOVED New Orleans! I visited Graceland-Elvis Presley's manor-in Nashville just a few years ago with my sister and it was fab. Really good.

WG: Did you get settled in all right here?

CH: Just fine, thanks. Me and my pal Monique, who's along for the ride, went to a sports bar a few blocks away from here after we settled in our rooms. We had a few drinks with a couple of lovely firemen, we did! (laughs)

WG: Did you end up dancing on a tabletop as "Louise" did in the night cafe?

CH: (laughs) No, no, no. I managed to restrain meself. The firemen were great company. It got a bit sad, of course, when we got around to discussing September 11 but there you go. It's only been a few months and they need to talk about it, don't they? They lost a few of their brothers at the station on that day. Still, it was a good night out. A nice way to get acclimated.

WG: You live in London, right?

CH: Yes, in the East End, actually.

WG: You're from the East End, aren't you?

CH: Oh, yes. I didn't have to put on an accent for EastEnders, darling! I'm from West Ham (Hampstead), right by a large football stadium. When I was growing up it was a really, really poor neighbourhood. Quite grim, actually.

WG: Do you live there now that it's apparently gone a bit upmarket?

CH: No, my son and I live in a lovely area called Victoria Park, named so because it was this great big green park given by Queen Victoria herself to the poor of London to settle in.

WG: Wow. Sounds like a royal equivalent of our Fresh Air Fund-where young inner city kids get the opportunity to spend the summer amongst actual trees and stuff.

CH: At least our folks got to live there! But, as I said, I grew up in West Ham, which was horrible compared to Victoria Park. My cousin had TB, as so many people did in the East End in those days, and I remember visiting him at the London Chest Hospital often because I loved where it was...Victoria Park. I dreamed of living there and now I do-in a big lovely house and all!

WG: Ahhh, a childhood fixation which you've managed to make an adult reality. Well done!

CH: Thank you. My son and I are very happy there.

WG: You don't call it "The House That EastEnders Built," do you?

CH: Are you joking? Not on that salary, darling! (laughs) No, I acquired it from a good many years of good hard slogging my guts out at work. I was actually quite well known going into EastEnders, you know. I'd been on this popular sitcom called Brush Strokes for six years. I was already something of a fixture in the viewers' minds from that. Oh, wait. I'm just reminding myself that my son and I will actually be moving early next year to an even lovelier house in an even lovelier area with lots of trees. Essex, out further east. (flirtatiously) I'm going to be an Essex Girl, darling!

WG: Essex Girls. Oh, right. The stereotype for that is they're blonde, ditzy and named either Sharon or Tracy.

CH: Got it! Very good. Fortunately that sterotype has moved on a bit. That was very 1980s/1990s.

WG: What's your son's name?

CH: Alfie. He's 10-and gorgeous. Uh-huh. (sings) "What's it all about...Alfie?" I've got a piccie of him in my locket. (she took the locket off her neck, opened it up and showed me his photo) Here he is-the love of my life.

WG: What a nice-looking lad. He looks scrappy.

CH: Scrappy? I beg your pardon?

WG: Hey, it's meant to be a compliment!

CH: Well, if by scrappy do you mean he's a tough little guy-well, he is. He's such a good kid, too. Makes his mum proud.

WG: I'm sure. Which brings us to "Louise." Do you think she's been a good mother to "Tiffany" and "Simon"?

CH: What a loaded question! Well, obviously she's made some horrendous mistakes. She walked out on them when they were very young, for a start. But she was trapped in an extremely bad marriage-completely, totally trapped. She was desperately unhappy, she was being physically abused by Terry and ultimately lost all confidence in herself and her ability to look after the kids so she scarpered. She's got enormous guilt because of that, of course, even though she re-entered their lives and has become quite close to them again, especially "Tiff." That feeling of guilt hasn't gone away. Not really. How could it? When I took the role on I was very concerned that the viewers would just loathe "Louise" for what she'd done and find it hard to accept her much less like her when she finally appeared in the flesh. Thank God I was wrong.

WG: Hey, "Irene" walked out on her kids, too. They seem to have glossed over that fact a lot more.

CH: I know! Irene and Louise have a lot in common in that respect, don't they? They should have an understanding of each other. I don't think her husband knocked her about though-he was just terminally boring! (laughs) And then Irene married that awful "Terry"-she can have "Louise's" sloppy seconds!

WG: The storylines for Louise have been huge.

CH: Yes, huge, that's a good word for them. When I was hired they told me they'd put "Louise" through the wringer storyline-wise and they weren't half-right! Let's see-she showed up to wreck her husband's wedding, she danced on a tabletop at the night cafe and jumped on a copper's back when there was a bust of some kind, she managed to become close again with the two children she'd deserted and she had a thing with one of the "di Marco" brothers ("Gianni"). And, of course, there's "Grant."

WG: Oh. Right. "Grant." Talk about a mistake-WHAT WAS "LOUISE" THINKING? For one thing, what did she see in him?

CH: That's an easy one to answer. They're both damaged goods, she and "Grant"-and damaged souls. Him because of his childhood upbringing at the hands of an abusive dad as well as his Falklands experience. And her because of, well we just discussed that. Both of them are quite profoundly damaged. They find themselves in each other's orbits and are drawn to each other like moths to a flame-they're helplessly drawn to each other. It certainly wasn't a malicious alliance intended to hurt anyone. And yeah, it may have seemed on the surface to be a perfect soap melodrama triangle-woman sleeping with her daughter's husband-but I told the producers I wanted this storyline to be sensational, not sensationalistic, and I think by and large we succeeded.

WG: Sounds like a Jerry Springer show to me.

CH: Yes, but it was grounded in a psychological semblance to reality, really. It was like a self fulfilling prophecy to "Louise," I think, sleeping with "Grant." She believed herself to be a bad person-a bad mother. He was all of a sudden THERE in front of her. And so she made that awful, awful mistake.

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