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How could you do this, Nadia; Suicide husband's sister hits out at EastEnder Annie for her 'callous' affair with star.

EASTENDERS star Nadia Sawalha has been condemned as "callous and stupid" by her late husband's family following his Christmas Day suicide.

His grieving sister Louisa says Nadia - Annie Palmer in the BBC soap - never even bothered to read the note tormented musician Justin Mildwater wrote to her before he took his life.

"My brother was so desperately in love he couldn't cope with losing her.

"The tragedy was that he never showed that despair - not to me or anyone else close to him."

Nadia's decision that they should split was heartbreak enough, Louisa goes on. When she then began an affair with her 26-year-old TV co-star Marc Bannerman, Justin, 31, could take no more and, only days later, hanged himself at their home.

"Since then, she has behaved selfishly, rudely and senselessly," Louisa claims.

Justin's body was found by his brother Lucian, 29 and her father, Gerd. But the family have refused to release any further details, including the contents of Justin's two suicide notes - one to Nadia and the other to his family.

Louisa says: "Justin had placed their wedding rings on top of Nadia's note. We found them on Boxing Day, but she has never read what he wrote or collected the rings.

"I don't understand how any wife wouldn't want to read her husband's last words to her."

The pair married five years ago in a private ceremony in Jordan, where the actress's father Nadim grew up.

They'd met through Nadia's sister, Julia, best known as Saffy in hit comedy Absolutely Fabulous.

"As soon as I saw him," Nadia recalled recently, "I thought, 'Yes please'. He was so beautiful."

Her new husband did all he could to help the struggling actress to find fame. "He loved Nadia," Louisa says, "absolutely loved and adored her.

"When Nadia got the job in EastEnders he was so delighted for her, he was jumping up and down.

"He'd drive her to and from work. The other members of the cast used to say how lucky she was to have him."

THEIR lives had changed and they were now moving in different circles.

"In August, Justin went to Barbara Windsor's 60th birthday party and met all the big names there.

"They loved him. Babs kept telling Nadia how lucky she was to have him."

Nadia did her bit, too. As recently as last October, a month before they separated, she was a big hit with Justin's brother Lucian and Louisa's children at a Halloween party.

"They were getting on extremely well. They were a very loving couple even then.

"But he was spending a lot of time with Nadia. More than he should have been. He was a musician, but he wasn't doing as much of his own thing as he should have been.

"So Nadia said to him, 'We'll have a separation. You can get on with your projects, and then we'll get back together'.

"He was upset, but he thought that she was just being strong for the two of them and that after he had finished writing and recording some of his own songs everything would be back to normal.

"But then she moved out - supposedly to stay in a friend's flat." Louisa pauses. She now has no doubt where Nadia really went. "I believe she went to live with Marc Bannerman."

Nadia met her new love when he joined the cast of the hit soap.

Their first scene together, filmed in early December and screened last Thursday, was in a graveyard where Bannerman's character, Gianni di Marco, was burying his father.

The sexual tension between them is clear, as it was revealed how the older, wiser Annie Palmer had once seduced Gianni when they were both teenagers.

It was about this time that Justin's suspicions were aroused. "He and Nadia met a couple of times in December," Louisa says. Once, she stayed the night. But when he got up at 7.30 she was gone again."

He told Louisa of his worries. I said 'No, there's nothing going on', because if there was I would know. We confided in each other.

"But he just knew. She had changed. What he didn't know was where she was. Nobody did.

"For the week and a half before he died, Justin never heard from Nadia.

"He used to come round to my house. I'd say, 'We'll eat and watch a film'.

"But he was forever nipping home to see if she'd left a message."

ON CHRISTMAS Eve, Justin went out for a drink with the friend Nadia had told him she was staying with.

When they went on to the flat where she was supposed to be, there was no Nadia - and no sign that she'd ever been there.

He returned to his sister's, heartbroken. The next day he took his life.

Even now, Louisa cannot take in that her brother's misery should have driven him to that.

"He was meant to stay Christmas Eve at my house, but left his car outside and went home in a taxi.

"On Christmas Day we were all expected to go round to my mother's.

"So my father went to his house and knocked on the door. When there was no answer, he just assumed Justin was out.

"When he never showed up for Christmas dinner, mother phoned him but could get no reply.

"She became very worried, as you can imagine. It was Christmas and she hadn't heard from her son.

"When I got up on Boxing Day morning and saw Justin's car still outside my house, I burst into tears. I just knew something must have happened.

"I called Nadia's parents. It was awkward, we hadn't spoken for days.

"Nadia wasn't there. Nobody had seen him.

"So my brother and my father and my boyfriend went to Justin's house with the police. And that was when he was found.

Nadia, contacted by police, came round to Louisa's home that evening.

"There were a lot of tears," Louisa remembers. "We were all highly emotional.

"I remember saying to her 'He's left you a note.' She replied, 'Did he?' and burst into tears. I told her my mum had it.

"She stayed for about an hour. No one talked about why Justin had committed suicide. The notes had made that clear enough."

Nadia spent some time on the phone. The family now suspect that at least one of the people she spoke to was Marc Bannerman.

The funeral - it was to be a woodlands burial because Justin wasn't a believer - was arranged by Louisa's father and by Nadia.

Then, Louisa says, Nadia again disappeared. She wasn't seen for a week.

"We didn't even know whether she was going to be at the funeral. But she turned up with her family."

Louisa shared a car with Nadia at one point. "But we didn't have a real conversation. "To be honest, I found it hard enough just holding myself together for the sake of my brother.

"She didn't say sorry for not being in touch. Everyone put that down to shock.

"There were no recriminations against her. It was a very weepy day.

"But by then we knew she was seeing someone."

Then Nadia was pictured in the paper on Marc Bannerman's arm on a night out with other EastEnders stars, including Martine McCutcheon and Barbara Windsor.

"That," says Louisa, "was when we realised who it was."

SHE remembers her family's reaction. "We didn't feel angry that Nadia had found a new partner.

"We just found it hard to believe that she could go out on the town so soon after my brother's death."

The EastEnders' night at London's trendy Cafe de Paris was January 17 - just ten days after Justin was buried.

"The whole family was really shocked," Louisa says. "It was just so cynical.

"A bit like the character she plays, Annie Palmer, Nadia doesn't seem capable of hurt. How could she be so insensitive to the hundreds of people who knew Justin and who loved Justin?

"If she had to have an affair, at least she should have kept it private."

Louisa is also astonished that Nadia went back to work before Justin's funeral - "even though the BBC told her she could have as much time off as she wanted".

Nadia and Bannerman were reported this week to have told pals they have been dating since early January.

Bannerman is said to have been very supportive, helping Nadia grieve for Justin.

When she saw the story, a distraught Louisa rang Nadia's parents, asking the EastEnders actress to be more discreet about her new man, if only for the sake of her family's feelings. Since Justin's death, the Mildwaters have come across several newspaper stories about their famous in-law.

And Nadia herself has been dogged by other tragedies.

An old pal of Justin's, Reme Johnson, committed suicide. The deaths were entirely unconnected, Louisa says.

"Reme had his own problems. Nadia didn't even know Reme, and Justin hadn't seen him in years.

Then, this week, Marc Bannerman lost his stepfather. Terence Noronha , 41, was found dead after an apparent overdose.

As the actress struggles to come to terms with her troubled life, Louisa insists: "There has been no anger targeted at Nadia - not from the day Justin died.

"I felt sad for my brother, and that's all I've said to her.

"Nadia's famous. Her life is news.

"All I want for my brother Justin is that he can finally rest in peace."
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Author:Quinn, Thomas
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 10, 1998
Words:1577
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