EastEnders legend Charlie Brooks reveals quitting booze led to soap return as iconic villain Janine Butcher

ACTRESS Charlie Brooks has revealed it was ditching the booze that led her to return to EastEnders as bad girl Janine Butcher, seven years after she left.

In her first interview since The Sun revealed her comeback, the 39-year-old soap icon said her “life-changing” decision to quit drinking last year made her see that her career had stalled and partying was killing her drive.

She said: “I’ve partied a lot and really enjoyed it. A glass of wine is never a glass of wine, it’s a bottle or three. I thought, ‘It’s time to change. I don’t want to do this any more’.

“I was so fed up of feeling s***, repetitive behaviour patterns, feeling like I was doing the same thing all the time and actually I felt like my life was standing still a bit.”

Speaking on pal Kate Thornton’s White Wine Question Time podcast, she continued: “The acting world is hard and I’ve done some lovely stuff but you spend most of your time unemployed and not getting jobs.

“I feel like there may have been some things I missed out on. Sometimes I feel the booze robs you of your potential.

“I suppose it was necessary for me to stop drinking in order to invent myself. I feel I’m becoming much more cemented in who I am, and creative and trusting.

“I’m not saying it’s for ever, because I f***ing love a drink and a party, but right now it’s 100 per cent one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

The character of Janine has been central to some of the BBC1 soap’s wildest storylines.

Viewers have seen her descend into prostitution, grapple with drug addiction, stab herself in order to frame love rival Stacey Branning and kill off three of her husbands, starting with Barry Evans.

In 2004 she pushed him off a cliff in Scotland in an episode watched by more than 14million viewers.

Charlie’s booze epiphany coincided with production shutting down on her first major TV role since 2018, Channel 5 marital drama Lie With Me, as Covid took hold last spring.

She said: “We were filming in Australia at the start of lockdown. It was mental. We didn’t know what was happening back then.

“It was like the whole world was going mad and suddenly no one’s touching and catering started to come in microwaveable dishes.

"The Prime Minister of Australia was like, ‘No unessential travel’ and I was like, ‘Oh s***, I think I’ve got to get back’.”

After that career blow and a lockdown marked by self-reflection, the opportunity to return as Janine was a no-brainer.

Charlie said: “She’s good fun, I love Janine. I always wonder what she’s been up to. I think it’s really important to sympathise with your characters and for me, she became so layered.

"I honestly believe she’s completely misunderstood in so many ways, although she does get more and more difficult to defend. But that is where all the juicy stuff is.”

Since her EastEnders debut in 1999 when she was just 17, Charlie and Janine have become so intertwined that she believes the role has impacted her own romantic life, as suitors fear she really is a “bitch”, as Charlie describes her character.

She said: “There’s a reason I’m single for four years — men run away.”

Before splitting from her last boyfriend, architect Ben Hollington in 2017 after five years together, Charlie had been with Ibiza club owner Tony Truman, the father of her 16-year-old daughter Kiki, from 2001 until 2006.

She said: “If I don’t like something I change it. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, whether that means I run away from commitment and I don’t work through something, I don’t know.

“I’m 40 and still single so I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not.”

Thankfully, Charlie’s relationship with her exes is a world apart from that of Janine, who was last seen fleeing Walford after beating the rap for murdering fourth hubby Michael Moon during a custody dispute.

She said: “We’ve managed to stay so tight as co-parents. When Tony and I were together we used to say, ‘We’re going to grow old together’, and we are going to grow old together, just in a very different way.

“He is absolutely my family and nothing will ever change that, no matter how much we fall out, which we have done, big time.

“He can be an a***hole sometimes, but nobody’s perfect. I love him to bits. He’s one of my best friends.”

Not just a friend, but a neighbour, as 53-year-old Tony lives in the flat above Charlie and Kiki in Surrey when he is not working in Ibiza.

Charlie joked: “I can’t get rid of him. He’s up there now, I can hear him stomping around with his girlfriend.

“Ben, who is an amazing human being, was just really accepting. Tony absolutely adored him. We woke up on Christmas Day together, all of us.

“Tony would come down and we’d all get into bed and open the presents with Kiki. Tony cried when me and Ben broke up, he actually cried.

"I think he prefers it when he can palm me off on someone else.”

However, Charlie has questioned whether her continued closeness with Tony could be doing more harm to Kiki than good.

She said: “You question everything, don’t you? Especially when you’re going through a really hard time with a teenager.

“‘Oh, what have I done? Is it my fault? Have I been a s*** mum? Did I do this wrong? Should we have done that? Maybe separating completely is much better’.

"There’s no such thing as normal and all you can do is do the best you can.

"There was no way we weren’t going to be in each other’s lives.”

Charlie’s devotion to the family unit comes from her own parents, whose support of her childhood ambition to be an actress cost them their marriage.

Charlie, who grew up in North Wales, said: “I actually moved out of home when I was 13, moved to London and boarded with a family. My little brother came along for the ride.

“It wasn’t a nice experience, I have to say.

"We had some good times but she wasn’t a particularly nurturing woman, which is why my mum came up kicking and screaming, dragging us out, and we were lucky enough to get a little flat.

“My mum was thrilled and excited at the opportunity of another life in London and didn’t want to go back to Wales, and my dad felt very settled and loves Wales and wanted to stay there.

“It actually ended up finishing their marriage after about five years. I think, ultimately, if they’d loved each other enough it would have survived.

“People change and want different things out of life, and they grew in different ways, and that’s OK.

"I think that probably would have happened anyway.

“We all go on holiday together, my mum and her new husband and my dad and his wife. That’s definitely had an impact on my relationship with Tony.”

Recalling the story of her first acting role, Charlie said: “I didn’t work at all. I didn’t get anything.

“We got back to Wales one weekend and the agent had told my mum I’d got this job to be a fairy on top of the Christmas tree for B&Q.

My dad went, ‘It’s a five-hour trip, it’s £50 she’ll get, it’s going to cost £150 in petrol, she can’t do it’. He came home and there I was in my bedroom like, ‘I just want to have a chance’.

“My dad bent down and he went, ‘I’ve made a very f***ing big mistake. If I have to carry you to London on my shoulders, you will go’.

“I look back at that young girl and I’m just like, ‘God, what a f***ing fighter’. I really went for it and knew what I wanted.”

As well as her highly-anticipated return as Janine, Charlie was able to finish filming Lie With Me at the start of this year and launch her business, iampro, an online coaching platform for aspiring young actors.

She said: “If you’re open to things that are happening in front of you they can take you to the most incredible destinations in life. This is a new chapter, for sure.”

  • Charlie was speaking on Kate Thornton’s White Wine Question Time podcast

14 years of death and mayhem

JANINE, daughter of Frank Butcher, sister of Ricky and step-daughter of Pat, has been in the soap since 1989, played by three actresses.

Here is her story since Charlie began as her:

1999: Arrives in Albert Square.

2002: Turns to prostitution under the psuedonym Blonde Bombshell to fund her drug addiction. Ian Beale is one of her clients, pictured.

2004: Cements her status as an all-time great villain, pushing husband Barry Evans off a cliff on their honeymoon.

2008: Poses as a Jewish orphan to marry a wealthy old Jewish man, who collapses and dies on their wedding day after Pat Butcher bursts in to declare her a fraud.

2009: Accidentally runs over and kills barmaid Danielle Jones just after Ronnie Mitchell learns Danielle is her long-lost daughter.

2010: Tries to poison husband Ryan Malloy for his affair with Stacey Branning. Names Stacey as Archie Mitchell’s killer and stabs herself to frame Stacey for attempted murder.

2011: Becomes a millionaire from grandmother Lydia’s inheritance.

2012: Falls for slimy villain Michael Moon and has daughter Scarlett.

2013: Murders Moon over a custody dispute. Is found not guilty and leaves Albert Square.

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