HOW many women do you know that would make themselves look fatter on purpose?
The answer is probably none. But actress Jessie Wallace has done just that for her latest stage role — and the best bit is she doesn’t mind!
The ex EastEnders star was cast to play a curvy, weight-obsessed character called Sylvia in touring musical Stepping Out but, after losing two stone, she no longer quite looks the part.
“I was going to wear a fat suit,” explained Jessie, laughing her trademark laugh.
“But that didn’t work so now I wear these big boobs. It’s funny,” she said.
“Sylvia is overweight, you see, but since we’ve been rehearsing I’ve lost weight. I like her. She’s funny. She has a lot of dry one-liners.
“She’s always talking about her Tel, her husband Terry. I think she’s a bit of a girl. She’s a real character. Everybody in it is. It’s a very clever piece if comedy,” says Jessie of her latest alter ego.
Since leaving Albert Square in 2005 Jessie, who played the voluptuous Kat Slater, has slimmed down from a size 16 to a toned size 8. These days the 37-year-old mum-of-one has become a gym addict and says she is happier than ever.
“I go to the gym every day. I did this morning for an hour and a half,” she said. “I am just addicted. I’ve never felt so good and never looked so toned. I’m really enjoying it. I’ve got a healthy diet and I'm feeling energetic and I love it.
“It makes me feel happy. I can wear what I want. Before I used to cover up and get slated for being overweight. Now I get slated for being too toned. You can never win!”
And it’s not just her new image that is making Jessie smile, it’s the return to her first love — the theatre, where she started out behind the scenes as a make-up artist before EastEnders.
“Some people I know have worked years in the theatre before doing TV but I did it back to front. I came out of drama school and straight into soap.
“I’ve learned a lot doing theatre. It's very different. I don't think a day goes by where I don't learn something.”
And it seems the judges on Strictly Come Dancing might have to eat their words after Jessie landed her most recent theatre role in Stepping Out, which centres on a members of a dance class.
After her quickstep routine on last year’s show, Arlene Phillips told Jessie: "You looked like you were on the football field when you were doing the kicks."
But the actress dons tap shoes for the role of Sylvia and can be seen ‘shuffle springing’ and ‘ball changing’ across the stage every night next week at Preston’s Charter Theatre.
“I’ve never danced before in my life that’s why I was out of Strictly in four weeks,” said Jessie. “I have no dancing experience except Strictly but I am picking up these tap numbers. I’m just an actor but I’ve had to learn these steps quickly and tap is not easy.”
Along with her co-star Brian Capron, better known as Corrie’s Richard Hillman, Jessie says soap fans will be shocked by their performances.
“When they see that it’s me and Brian in this play they expect to see Richard Hillman and Kat Slater, but it’s a million miles away from them. Sometimes I’m on stage and I look over to Brian and he looks so vulnerable and he’s brilliant. I think people are going to be really surprised.”
The show, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is set in a dusty church hall where an ex-professional dancer leads a weekly dance class for her well-intentioned but not overly talented troupe, who face the challenge of pulling off the performance of a lifetime.
“People really do love it,” explained Jessie. “When I’m in my dressing room at the end of a show you can hear people coming out the theatre on a real high. I’m so happy to be part of it. I’ve never done comedy before and I’m really enjoying it.”
The stage has become Jessie’s new home and she has ambitions to perform the lead in Educating Rita and Nancy in Oliver. But what we really want to know is will Kat ever come back?
“I left four years ago now and people are constantly asking me if I'm going back,” said Jessie. “I’ve done a lot since but I do miss her. Other people tell me they miss her too. She was a great character to play and I do miss working with Mo because I love her dearly.
“I don’t have any plans as yet to go back. But yesterday someone came to the stage door saying they’d heard on the radio that Kat and Alfie were coming back. I said that’s news to me!
“Every day people still call me Kat. I cant really get away from it, no matter how many characters I play, but I was in people’s living room four times a week. I’m flattered that people still remember her.”
l Stepping Out — at Manchester Opera House from October 5 until 10. For tickets contact 0844 847 2295.