Brian Beacom

CHARLIE Brooks is a little distracted during our chat, putting in her rollers.

But it’s nothing to do conspicuous vanity.

The former, but ever-returning Eastenders star has set aside the award-winning role of Janine for the time-being to play a very different character.

Right now, Charlie is rollering-up in her dressing room, about to appear in a matinee of Alan Ayckbourn’s theatre comedy How the Other Half Loves.

The play, which has been a west end success, is a relationship comedy, about affairs, breaking up and making up.

“It’s a great challenge,” says Charlie of the play. “You can’t take your eye off the ball for a second. And it has dark elements, but it’s also witty and clever.”

Charlie plays Teressa, who is married to Bob, who happens to be working class. But Bob has been having an affair with the decidedly posh Fiona.

Somehow Teressa remains unaware of the affair but becomes caught up in another couple’s (non-existent) marital problems.

Teressa and Bob have “an explosive relationship.”

Is this a situation Charlie, now single after a marriage, can relate to?

“Love and hate are quit closely connected,” she says, smiling.“I think in any relationship you have moments of heat and moments of anger.

But are there elements of Teressa in her own character?

“Well, I’ve fought and then made-up,” she says, laughing.

Charlie is enjoying touring with the play. Does it feel like she’s escaped from Eastenders, the almost constant crying and torment that came from playing Janine?

“It’s great to be out and meet new people, but leaving Eastenders wasn’t an escape.

“It was more about taking myself out of my comfort zone, which I quite enjoy. I needed to have new challenges.”

Charlie isn’t the type to take the easier route in life.

“I’ve loved drama since I was seven and appeared in lots of amateur plays. At twelve I wanted to go to drama school. My parents tried to put me off at first.

“It seemed such a precarious path to take. But when I was thirteen I really hammered them. I was so determined I wrote a 16-page essay on why I wanted to do drama. They backed me 100 per cent after that.”

Charlie landed a place at drama college in London. But it meant she had and her brother Ben, who also landed a place, had to relocate from her home in Wales.

“We were little Welsh children and didn’t know anything outside the mountains.

“I was homesick and the family we boarded with weren’t very nice. They liked Ben, but not me.

“Soon after we arrived the woman said, `He’ll work and she won’t’. It was incredibly tough and made me grow up quickly”.

Charlie’s mother moved to London but her dad stayed behind in Wales to work with his building company.

But for Charlie to make the break at a young age reveals a real determination?

“That’s a completely fair character trait,” she says.

“I don’t think much has changed about me, in terms of my enjoying a challenge. I love to travel, to meet new people. That’s what has always floated my boat.”

Is acting fulfilling enough? “As I’ve gotten older I’ve been looking at different ideas, but still within the industry.

“Yet, acting is what I love and I feel incredibly blessed to be doing a job I’ve always dreamed off.”

Acting also offered the opportunity to adventure, as was the case when Charlie took part in - and won - I’m A Celebrity in 2013.

“It wasn’t a fun experience, but it was an experience,” she says, in soft voice. “And with hindsight I’d say it was a good one. I’m glad I did it.”

Was it character forming? “Character affirming,” she says.

“I told myself I was brave and I could adapt to situations and people, but I worried in the first week I wouldn’t be able to do that.”

Why worry? After all this was a young lady who had left home to become an actress?

“I was nervous about the impact reality TV may have on my career, and that I’d be away from my daughter.

“Plus, you have a lot of time on your hands to think, which isn’t always a great thing.

“But if I were going to do one reality TV show, that was the one because I love the outdoors.”

The profile of Eastenders creates its own problems, such as a problem with typecasting.

“Yes, I will always be Janine to lots of people. Yet, I don’t really want to shake her off.

“And I have to be massively thankful for what she’s giving me. But I just want to leave her behind for a while.”

The public attention that comes with the profile now “fills her with dread.”

Do people pre-judge her?

“Yes, they do. But in a funny way that probably helped me win I’m a celebrity. The got the unexpected.”

Charlie is enjoying touring and problems with the Ayckbourn farce.

“My daughter is now at a school in which she boards during the week, so thatt isn’t a problem,” she says.

“And she’s coming to visit me on tour.

“There’s her dad, of course, whom I’m still very close to.”

But does she fear for the future without Janine?

“After about six months of not working things can get a bit scary,” she admits, “but you have to hang in there and not let it get you down.

“And when get the chance to test yourself in a play like this it’s really fantastic.”

How The Other Half Loves,