SHE is the ultimate screen queen who has played a regular character on every major British soap.

Debbie Arnold has starred in Coronation Street twice, played the original member of EastEnders’ Branning clan, a con-woman in Emmerdale and even had a stint on Hollyoaks. 

The Sunderland-born star, now in her 60s, started off as an impressionist before bagging her first soapland job as Sylvia Hicks in Corrie back in 1981.

Debbie claims bombarding a producer with poems led to her getting her first audition, and was told: “If I give you the part will you please never write me another poem ever again?”

From there she ticked off the rest of the soaps – including appearing in both EastEnders and Hollyoaks at the same time in 1995 – over a 30 year window.

While she loved every minute, Debbie says her worst experience was on Hollyoaks – where she claims she was so cold filming a scene her lips went blue!


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Here Debbie reveals behind-the-scenes secrets from the nation’s favourite soaps – and the surprising differences between them. 

Most boring scenes to film 

Contrary to how it looks on screen, Debbie says filming weddings and parties are “the most awful and boring” to do because they “go on forever”.

She tells it's worse if you are not featured but you have to be in the scene, adding: "You can imagine it takes forever and of course, the booze isn’t real.

“When we filmed my wedding in EastEnders, when I played April Branning, that went on for nearly two days. Filming soaps can be very strange.”

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Party atmosphere

Debbie played April Branning in EastEnders, who was jilted at the altar

Debbie also says there’s a sneaky trick employed to create realistic party scenes while filming – but it doesn’t always go to plan.

She says: “When they film you talking over a soundtrack for instance, in a pub, they play the music really, really loud at first so that everyone is dancing in the same way but then they cut the music.

“Everyone is still dancing behind you but there’s no music and it’s very easy to end up screaming at each other because it was so loud before.” 

Worst changing rooms 

While many would assume life on set for a soap star is filled with glamour and luxury, Debbie says that is not always the case. 

She tells us: “When I played Janice Bolton on Hollyoaks, I remember being a bit shocked because I was used to the lovely dressing rooms we had at Emmerdale and Coronation Street.

“At Hollyoaks, there wasn’t even a green room and everyone had to change in the same room. I think we each got a locker but that was about it. Oh, the glamour.”

Freezing sets

And that’s not all – Debbie says she was so cold filming her Hollyoaks scenes her lips went blue and her teeth were chattering.

"I remember it was so cold and my character Janice worked in a garden centre. “The crew had these great big hats, gloves and huge boots and there I was standing there in a mini skirt and a tiny little top," she recalls.

“I remember being told by the director, ‘Debbie could you act a little warmer?’

“I went, ‘Can you tell me how to do that? If you can make the weather better then I can act warmer.’ They could have at least given us a swig of whiskey to get the blood going.

“I remember looking at the director while he was talking to me and he had a big icicle hanging from the end of his nose.” 

Secret comfort

While soap stars appear immaculate on our TV screens, that isn’t always the case according to Debbie. 

She says the cast often wear more comfortable clothing and shoes if they know it won’t be seen on camera.

Debbie tell us: “When April was jilted at the altar on EastEnders, I was wearing this absolutely gorgeous dress but underneath it I had Ugg boots on.

“It happens a lot in the soaps. If you work behind a bar at the Rovers Return or The Vic, you’re usually there wearing furry slippers.

“It makes it more comfortable while you’re standing at the bar for hours and it can’t be seen by the cameras.”

Weird schedules

Debbie explains that some soap stars may never get to know the rest of the cast due to the unusual filming schedules.

She says: “If you’re doing a triple bank, which is where you film three lots of shows at the same time, you work in specific sections, so you may film in the pub and then the launderette and then the cafe. 

“That’s why some people may not know other members of the cast. If they are not part of your family group you may never meet them.

“It’s weird that you can be in the same soap as someone else but never meet the rest of the cast.”

Hazards of the job

Debbie, who played April on EastEnders between 1995 and 1996, says actresses should be particularly wary when filming with fake nails on.

She tells us: “I was working in the cafe and had to serve someone an egg on toast for breakfast.

“My character had very, very long false nails and when they gave me the plate it was so hot that the nails melted. I couldn’t get the plate off my hand. 

“It was hilarious but a bit annoying for the crew because they have everything meticulously planned and can’t spend 15 minutes trying to wrench a plate from someone’s hand.”

Show differences

Debbie says EastEnders has a different acting style to the other soaps and claims at times it’s like being “in a film”.

She recalls: “During my first day on set, I was chasing Steve McFadden (who plays Phil Mitchell) down the street. I remember it all being so quiet and so low.

“In Coronation Street, Hollyoaks and Emmerdale the characters are all out there and there’s a lot of projection, but with EastEnders, there isn’t.

“I remember [soap critic] Jaci Stephen saying my character was like Marilyn in The Munsters because everyone else was so miserable and she was the only one who smiled.

“It was such a different style of acting. EastEnders is very naturalistic and it’s almost like making a film. It’s a war horse.” 

Most recognised

From all of her soapland stints, Debbie says it was while playing April on EastEnders that she felt she was most regularly recognised on the street, probably because she was filming in London.

Throughout her career she has had encounters with fans all over the country – including during her first stint on Corrie.

Her character Sylvia Hicks was the 20-something love interest of Mike Baldwin’s father Frank, who was in his 70s.

After her first episode aired she remembers feeling like “the whole of Manchester was looking at me” while she walked to the studio each morning. 

Debbie says: “It made me think, ‘Wow, this is the power of the show’. At first, I thought walked out without knickers on or something. It was very weird.

“Once I remember walking through Marks & Spencer and kept seeing a woman walking behind me. I turned around and said, ‘Are you following me?’ She said, ‘Yes, I just wanted to see what knickers you buy'.”

Accent juggling

Debbie appeared on TV in two soaps at the same time in 1995 when she played Janice Bolton in Hollyoaks and April Branning in EastEnders.

However, filming back to back in such a short amount of time led to an amusing gaffe when she returned to Walford. 

Debbie tells us: “My EastEnders’ character was a cockney and my Hollyoaks character had a northern accent.

“It was the funniest thing when I came back to EastEnders after four weeks filming with Hollyoaks. 

“I went to do a scene with Paul Nichols but I kept speaking in a northern accent. He told me, ‘I think you’re in the wrong soap’. It was brilliant.”

Hair drama

Debbie also revealed there can be drama when it comes to a soap star's hair.

When she joined Emmerdale as Debbie Wilson in 1990, she claims she dyed hers red after being told there were "too many blondes" in the show.

Debbie said: "That was very strange but I didn't mind because I wanted to be different."

Ahead of bagging her second stint on Corie in 2012, when she played landlady Carole Evans, Debbie claims there was a hair dilemma at the auditions.

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She said: "They were looking for an overweight woman with red hair for the role and I was blonde.

"It was one of those things where I was the wildcard and the wildcard won because I got the part."

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