In Ackley Bridge, Jo Joyner’s character is a headteacher who doesn’t want children.
In reality, though, the 43-year-old actress was desperate to start a family, and tried for a long time with her husband of 13 years, Neil Madden.
The couple eventually welcomed twins Edie and Fred, who are now 10, and, when our sister publication Woman’s Own chatted to her, it was clear how grateful she is to be a mum.
Jo, who played Tanya Branning on EastEnders on and off from 2006 to 2018, also opened up about her dear friend Dame Barbara Windsor, and how Barbara’s husband Scott Mitchell is doing, after he recently had to make the difficult decision to move her into a care home due to her advancing dementia.
Lockdown is easing now, but how did you cope, Jo?
I’ve been on the blessed side of it. I work away from home a lot, so it’s been really great to be at home with the kids. I’m lucky that my husband’s a teacher, too, so we still had some income!
How did you keep busy?
Routine. Being an actor, I’m quite used to being in and out of work, and the instability that comes with that. I’ve been homeschooling the kids, so I let them come up with a timetable that we stuck to Monday to Friday, so that when the weekend was here, we could really relax and celebrate it.
You’re taking part in a Memory Walk to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. Who will you be walking for?
I’ll be walking for my nana, who passed away from dementia when I was younger, and for Dame Barbara Windsor. I sprained my ankle quite badly recently, so I’m waiting to do my six-mile walk with friends and family towards the end of the summer.
How do you remember your nana?
She was just a joy. She was living with us when she had dementia, and it’s such a cruel kind of grief, as you’re slowly losing the person, but they’re not actually gone. It was possibly a godsend she passed away when she did, because she had declined so much. As a carer, there is only so much that one person can do, and you do need help – no one should feel bad about that.
Have you spoken to Barbara’s husband Scott?
A bit, and I went to see Barbara in February. I’m very fond of them. Scott’s got an incredible sense of humour and loyalty, and these things get you through hard times like this.
What’s the best thing about being a mum?
I couldn’t choose one thing! I feel like the luckiest person alive and, genuinely, we have days where I feel like they’re just my best buddies. They make me laugh, they’ve got such great positive energy and I feel blessed to be around them.
Do you see them following in your footsteps?
I don’t think so. Edie is the only 10-year-old girl I know who genuinely would like a drill for Christmas, so whatever she goes into will be some kind of design and creating area. Fred loves maths and business, but is 100% about football, and that is his life. So hopefully they might have something a bit more stable than acting!
Have you ever felt pressure to look a certain way?
If I had made my career out of my looks, then possibly I would find it a struggle getting older. But when you start out in theatre, you do it because you love it, so I don’t feel worried. I love the fact that as an actor, you can work until you’re 90. What’s to stop you going till you drop?
By taking part in a Memory Walk or donating to the Alzheimer’s Society’s Emergency Appeal, your contribution will provide vital support to people affected by dementia. See how you can help at alzheimers.org.uk