EastEnders Jean Slater stars life from rival soap role to near-death experience

EastEnders favourite Gillian Wright has been entertaining the nation as Jean Slater on and off for 18 years.

Stacey and Sean's mum first appeared in 2004 and was only meant to appear in one episode.

However, BBC bosses brought her back for more episodes later in the year and she's been a regular resident in Albert Square ever since.

Gillian's acting portfolio stretches further than just Jean Slater despite not starting her acting career until she was in her thirties.

Her personal life has been filled with ups and downs as well, even including a near brush with death.

As Jean faces time in prison being arrested for drugs possession, Daily Star has taken a sneak peek into Gillian's life away from Walford.

Secret past career

Gilliam embarked on her career by starting off as a teacher and a theatre director.

She is an established theatre actress and is a visiting director and workshop leader at various drama schools universities and with young people with special needs.

The star is also a co-founder of Pilot Theatre at York's Theatre Royal.

In December 2011, she played the Fairy Godmother in the pantomime Dick Whittington and His Cat as well as in September 2013, she appeared in the world premiere of five visceral new short plays, under the collective title Religion and Anarchy.

From December 2013 to January 2014, she appeared as another Fairy Godmother in Cinderella.

Rival soap roles

Whilst Gillian hasn't been playing Jean in Eastenders she has also appeared on other programmes.

In 2005, she appeared on Coronation Street for two episodes as well as in 2006 playing characters in Silent Witness and The Bill.

She also had a brief stint on Holby City on 2015 when she appeared in one episode as Lydia Rathbone after having appeared on the programme back in 2003.

ChuckleVision stint

Gillian's big TV break was when she appeared on an episode of ChuckleVision.

She starred in an episode on 1994 called Mind over Marrow where she played Mrs Stone.

The episode sees the brothers start a cement company when they get hired by a Mr and Mrs Stone to fill in potholes in their driveway.

However, the brothers end up destroying the garden but luckily not damaging their prized marrow.

But the state of the garden sends Mr Stone into a rage and ends up with him chasing the brothers and standing on the marrow himself.

Brush with death

Gillian realised she wasn't feeling herself during a dog training class.

She turned out to have acute pancreatitis which caused her to have a sharp pain in her stomach.

Speaking to the Sunday Mirror at the time she said: "I was so ill my parents flew down from the Highlands of Scotland to look after me. And my sister, Lois, and nephew, Stanley, were frantic.

"The pain was unbearable. If somebody had given me the choice of living with that pain a day longer or swallowing a pill to end it all, I’d have taken the tablet."

Luckily Gillian made a full recovery from the illness which can sometimes lead to serious complications.

Albert Square icon

Gillian first appeared on the soap in 2004 and since then she has played Stacey Slater's mum Jean Slater on and off over the years.

In 2018, she made a long term return to Albert Square.

The character she plays has Bipolar Disorder and Gillian has previously received recognition for how well she plays the role.

In 2006, Gillian was awarded a Mental Health Media Award for her portrayal of the role.

She spoke to Eastern Daily Press at the time about the moment a stranger approached her on the tube.

Gillian said: "She told me she was on her way to hospital to visit her other son who had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attempted to take his own life and that she didn’t know anything about what he was going through until Jean’s storyline on EastEnders.

"She said she started to notice similarities and took her son to the doctors where he got diagnosed.

"I was touched and realised the huge responsibility I had playing the character and I was chuffed to win a mental health award."

EastEnders airs Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday on BBC One

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