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EastEnders star chats bipolar storyline & Bucks charity

Gillian Wright came to talk to us as part of our Mental Health Awareness Month.

Published by Dan Gooding at 11:25am 26th February 2020. 4-minute read.

EastEnders star chats bipolar storyline & Bucks charity

An EastEnders star has talked to us about a Wendover charity and how her character has helped get us talking about mental health.

Known to many of us as Jean Slater, Gillian Wright talked to Dan about the responsibility she feels playing someone with bipolar.

She joined us as part of our Mental Health Awareness Month.

They used to say 'Are you mad in real life?'... and now it's 'Oi Jean!'

Gillian said:

"Responsibility in an acting role is just a wonderful thing to have.

"It was a huge responsibility but also a huge privilege.

"I'll tell you what has changed over the years is that when the character of Jean Slater first went out on screens all those years ago, she was in a very bad place with her bipolar, a dark place and very, very troubled and that's how the audience met her.

"People in the street when they recognised me used to refer to me as the mad woman or make the loopy sign on their head and it was quite often the most common way to get my attention.

"They would say 'Oi are you mad in real life?' or 'It's the crazy woman!'

"Gradually over the years, she became known as Stacey's mum and now, it's Jean."

She told us that it's quite interesting that, over the years, as people have got to know her character and seen what she has been through, the language used has changed.

Listen to the full interview:

Gill has seen the impact of her character in real life.

She told us that she met a woman on the Tube who told her that a storyline with her on-screen daughter Stacey had affected them:

"They came directly over to me and she said 'I couldn't get off without coming and speaking to you'.

"There was a particular storyline which was about Jean recognising that Stacey was probably bipolar and making her confront it and the symptoms were similar to those which her son was showing.

"She hadn't realised before and she diagnosed her son, who was in hospital and they were on their way to go and visit him.

"So that was very moving and it is right that we feel responsible for what we are doing and that we do it as best we can."

Gillian and her character use gardening as therapy - just like Lindengate Mental Health Charity - which Dan asked her about:

"It's very hard to describe.

"When you walk through the gates into Lindengate, there is a qualitatively different atmosphere and it is very hard to put words to it, apart from saying it is joyfully serene.

"I do a little bit of gardening and it massages your soul."

She told us that her hope for Jean is that she can continue to portray the character as best she can and help people to realise that a mental health problem is only part of a person, not all of them, adding:

"It's about the whole person being embraced for how they are and who they are at any given moment."

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