Charlie Brooks on returning to EastEnders and why giving up booze was the best decision she ever made

QUITE frankly, it would be a worry if Charlie Brooks had much in common with her notorious plotting, scheming, husband-murdering- super-bitch alter ego.

But she is so far removed from EastEnders’ arch villain Janine Butcher that they might as well be from different planets.

As the nation saw when they crowned her queen of the I’m A Celebrity! jungle in 2012, Charlie is warm, open, without ego and certainly not someone you’d have any qualms about joining for a clifftop stroll.

“People love to hate her, don’t they?” she says of Janine.

“Or maybe they just hate her! But she’s so much fun to play, and I often think about where she might be and what she might be up to…”

We may soon find out precisely that, if reports are true that she’s about to return to Albert Square seven years after Janine was last seen heading to Paris, having escaped yet another murder charge.

Charlie, 40, remains coy about her comeback, insisting she can’t confirm or deny the rumours, but there’s a knowing smile on her face that suggests Walford had better brace itself.

“What was amazing [when the story broke] was to see all the love from the fans.

"Going back is always something I think about, of course. And people still want to talk about me pushing Barry off the cliff, nearly 20 years later.

“The beautiful thing about Janine is, she’s very layered, so you can take her off in any direction. So never say never.

“I feel in such a fortunate position with EastEnders and the BBC, and with a character we can always explore and have fun with.”

The news comes at a time when everything feels like it’s finally going right for Charlie.

Just two years ago, a lull in acting work had left her confidence at rock-bottom.

She was also at constant loggerheads with her teenage daughter Kiki and, most unsettling of all, was approaching her milestone 40th with no clear idea about where her future lay.


“My life was standing still,” she says, simply.

“I’d done some really nice theatre, but it’s hard to work continuously in this industry and there’s a lot of rejection.

“I felt like there must be something more – I just didn’t know what it was… I wanted to get back to the determined little girl I was at 13 before life kind of got in the way.

“It’s so easy to lose who you are and lose sight of what your passions are.”

Fast-forward to today and Charlie is in a totally different place.

Being sober means I feel awake now, like I’m listening and paying attention

She’s rediscovered her confidence, her relationship with 16-year-old Kiki is stronger than ever, and she’s also turned entrepreneur after raising the investment for her new online drama training platform Iampro, which offers young hopefuls a way into an often inaccessible industry.

The business venture has given Charlie a renewed sense of purpose – and a key part of the turnaround has been giving up drinking.

Charlie quit the booze just over a year ago and says the clarity she’s gained in the last 12 months would not have been possible without sobriety.

“I’d felt for a few years that alcohol wasn’t serving me any more. It had been niggling away for a while, and finally I’ve cracked it.

“It’s been a wobbly road, because I love to drink! I’m very sociable.

“But it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Drinking stopped being worth it for me. It made me eat s**t food and the hangovers were taking forever to recover from.

“I have quite an overactive mind and it was easy for insecurities to creep in.

“Being sober means I feel awake now, like I’m listening and paying attention.

“And when opportunities present themselves, I’m not afraid to follow them and to be brave, because I believe in myself and I know that it’s all going to be OK. My confidence has come back in bucketloads.

“So, yeah, no more dancing on the podiums at [London night club] Freedom at 3am for me. Or maybe I will, but I’ll do it at 7pm instead!”

Though, Charlie admits that going teetotal during lockdown perhaps means her resolve hasn’t been truly tested yet.

“Yeah, getting back out into the world and the lovely dinners when everyone’s enjoying a sauvignon blanc on the streets of Soho, with the sun shining, will be a test.

“But I know that if I do that, then I’ll be back partying till 3am, so I have to go one way or the other.”

She says it’s had a transformational effect on her relationship with Kiki, too.

The last few years have been tough and punctuated by some almighty humdingers.

“Parenting teenagers is f**king hard and I was definitely the punchbag for a while.


“We’d really go at each other and I didn’t feel like I was doing that good a job.

“It was like she was pushing me away, but that’s what happens as they try to figure out who they are away from you.

“But I learned to listen to her and to allow her space, and our relationship is so different to where we were a year ago and I’m so happy I want to shout it out from the rooftops.

“I hope that helps any parents reading this who are going through a tough time, because it’s heartbreaking.”

I’m good on my own! I actually don’t know how I’ll ever have a boyfriend again, if I’m honest

Kiki is hoping to follow in her mum’s footsteps and plans to take on New York.

“Oh, she’s gonna outdo me, for sure,” says Charlie.

“She comes alive on stage. She’s got balls and New York is where she wants to be.

“Like my parents did with me, I will support her as best I can. She is a fantastic young woman and I absolutely love being around her.”

Charlie split from Kiki’s dad, Ibiza nightclub owner Tony Truman, 53, in 2006, but the two of them have forged a close friendship since.

So much so, he lives (with his girlfriend) in the flat above Charlie’s in Surrey – an unconventional arrangement, for sure, but one that works for them all.

They spend Christmas Day as a family and have even holidayed together with new partners.

Nevertheless, Charlie says figuring it out hasn’t always been plain sailing.

“It definitely wasn’t smooth in the beginning. We’ve got an amazing relationship now, but it took us a while to learn how to do this.

“He’s always worked away a lot and I found that challenging, because I was here on my own.

“But, fundamentally, we love each other and we are each other’s families. I think it helped that we hadn’t hurt each other badly.

“We just grew apart – when I was with him, I compromised who I was slightly, so it didn’t work out romantically.

“I love him to bits and he’s been in the flat above me for five years now and I love having him up there, I have to say.

“Kiki’s bedroom is down here, but she goes between the two flats and it works brilliantly.”

Charlie has been single for four years since splitting from her long-term partner, architect Ben Hollington, 40.

And she says this time on her own has proved more valuable than she could have imagined.

“Abso-f**king-lutely! These have been the most important four years of my life.


“I’d gone from relationship to relationship, but never spent a good amount of time as an adult by myself and it has been a game-changer for me.

“I’m good on my own! I actually don’t know how I’ll ever have a boyfriend again, if I’m honest.”

She stops herself for a moment. “Having said that,” she smiles, “I do want one, by the way!

“I’m definitely ready, because I feel like I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. I have mixed feelings around marriage, because I’m not sure if the idea of being with one person your whole life is realistic.

Generally, I’ll go on a dating app, stay on it for maybe 24 hours and then come off it feeling really exposed!

“As I get older, I’m looking for companionship, but I’m also a hopeless romantic and so I’m ready for the big love and commitment as well.”

She’s “dabbled” in online dating and been on a few dates as a result, but says the process can leave her feeling vulnerable.

“Generally, I’ll go on a dating app, stay on it for maybe 24 hours and then come off it feeling really exposed!

“But I have to be brave because I’m not going to meet anyone anywhere else and, actually, surprisingly the response has always been really respectful.

“I haven’t had a lot of: ‘It’s Janine!’ which has been nice. But I’ve not actually met anyone for a long time.”

Charlie started acting at just 13 when she left the family home in Gwynedd to move to London with her younger brother Ben, now 38, as they both attended the Ravenscourt Theatre School in Hammersmith.

They spent the first year living with a host family, before their mum Rowena, 61, relocated to join them and ended up teaching at the school herself.

“I don’t know where that fire in my belly was born, but there was literally no other choice for me.

“It was hard, because I was a small-town girl in a London school and there were some massive personalities, so I built a lot of resilience through those younger years.”

It paid off when she landed EastEnders at 17 and suddenly found herself on one of the biggest shows on TV and at the heart of one of its most legendary families.

“EastEnders was a massive part of our household growing up, so walking into a show like that with Martine McCutcheon and Patsy Palmer and everyone felt huge.

“When I first started, I was constantly apologising to everyone. And I remember Mike Reid [who played Janine’s dad Frank] put his arm around me and said: ‘I don’t want to hear you say sorry one more f**king time,’ and I was like: ‘OK… sorry!’

“I was thrown in at the deep end and you have to learn on the job – learning lines, creating the character, the hours. But there’s no other training like it.”

She’s now ploughing her experience into Iampro, a joint enterprise with her brother Ben, now a producer, and his wife Emma, who has a 15-year career in education behind her.

Users can subscribe to access performance and production courses, live workshops, Q&As, masterclasses, a weekly open mic session and the chance to be scouted by top casting agents and directors.

Charlie hopes her “passion project” will help remove some of the barriers that exclude talented people from breaking into the industry.


“There are young people all over the world who just don’t know where to start, so it’s a really good platform for opening doors in front of and behind the camera. The whole ethos is to make it affordable and accessible.

“We’ve got some of the best coaches in the UK, practitioners from Frantic Assembly and the National Youth Theatre.

“We’re also doing outreach work with all the big drama schools, where they will talk about their bursaries and how people who can’t afford drama school might be able to find other avenues in.

“The community is tight, just a really lovely little creative hub.”

I’ve definitely had quite a complicated relationship with my body, never feeling pretty enough or healthy enough

After taking advice from a business coach, Charlie came up with the idea and then summoned up the courage to go for it.

“I didn’t know the first thing about running a business, but it has shown me what happens when you really set a goal and an intention.

“There’s been a lot of learning, a lot of: ‘S**t, I don’t know how to do that!’ but I’ve surrounded myself with brilliant, supportive people and mentors.

“I was never really good at taking action, but the business coaching helped me think: ‘Well, why couldn’t I do that?’”

Because of all this, Charlie, who has just finished filming UK/Australian Channel 5 mini-series Lie With Me, celebrated her 40th birthday earlier this month without any of the trepidation she’d felt a couple of years ago.

She talks about trusting herself more and learning to like herself, although that’s still “a work in progress.”

Charlie released a critically acclaimed fitness DVD back in 2005 after losing 2st in as many months, but says today that its lasting impact on her body image was less than healthy.

“I don’t regret it, because it gave me an awareness of my body, but on the other hand, I crossed over into that kind of slightly obsessive weight loss thing. You know, always wanting to get back to ‘that’.

“I’ve definitely had quite a complicated relationship with my body, never feeling pretty enough or healthy enough, and with the DVD it was extreme.

“I went all in. I felt absolutely fantastic afterwards, but it does sort of open up a part of your brain… and I don’t think I’ve quite let go of that since.”

She reckons she’s “about 70%” of the way towards acceptance.

“I have days where I feel great, I don’t care about my weight and it’s fine. And then I have days where I feel disgusting and I really beat myself up.

“I don’t think I’m alone in that – most women have complicated relationships with their bodies.

“As I get older I’m learning to love myself more.”

She’s already excited about what her 40s have in store. There’s a self-belief that was missing a couple of years ago.

“More acting, continuing to do good TV and stage work, and maybe coming on as a producer – and I believe now that is entirely possible.

“I’d also like to take Iampro into underprivileged schools and work with kids to ignite a passion in the next writers, directors, performers.

“I’m just excited about where that journey is going to take me.

“I feel really strong and have this inherent peace about the future now.”

  • For more information, visit or follow @iampro on Instagram

In the make-up chair with Charlie

What are your skincare heroes?

Darphin Serum and Hydraskin Rich Moisturiser.

Any make-up bag essentials?

Chanel Vitalumière, a Chanel Bronzer and Lancôme Hypnôse Mascara.

What do you never leave home without?

Dr Pawpaw Tinted Peach Pink Multipurpose Balm and Aesop Resurrection Aromatique Hand Balm. My budget buy is VitaSkin Vitamin C Illuminating Oil.

Do you have a beauty splurge?

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream.

What’s your top beauty tip?

Less is more.

Describe your beauty evolution

I’ve had to up my skincare game, as I’m not getting any younger!

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