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Soaperstar Mel gets pounds 130,000 pay rise to keep her in Walford.

Byline: RICK HEWETT and LUCY LAWRENCE

EASTENDERS beauty Tamzin Outhwaite has become the highest-paid British soap star after winning a huge pay rise to stop her quitting the show.

The actress's basic salary has soared by pounds 130,000 to pounds 280,000 a year - and her new contract will also let her do other lucrative film and TV work.

The 30-year-old star, who plays sexy barmaid Mel Healy, will easily be able to bank pounds 1m within the next year. She is said to be "delighted" by the deal.

The actress was on pounds 150,000 a year salary but has now leap-frogged veteran stars Wendy Richard and Barbara Windsor, who both earn pounds 160,000, as well as the rest of the cast.

Some of the other soap stars have reacted angrily to news of the massive pay increase.

"Naturally some people, especially the more established stars, have had their noses put out of joint," said one source.

"There are a lot of egos involved here and certain people are fuming.

"Tamzin is in a very strong position. She is one of the most popular characters on the show and the BBC are aware of this. They are desperate for her not to be poached - losing her would be a disaster."

Tamzin signed a new 12-month contract with the BBC on February 18 after weeks of negotiation.

Although her new salary is huge it is dwarfed by her counterparts in America. The cast of Friends, for example, take home a staggering pounds 110,000 an episode.

Tamzin's new contract is described as one of the most "flexible" the BBC have ever given to an actress.

The star is allowed to consider other acting projects if she gives BBC executives "reasonable" prior notice.

Only last week the actress's agent was, approached about a possible movie role for her, according to one source,

Mel herself has hinted that she does not plan to stay a soap actress forever and is keen to do film work.

The soap, which regularly attracts audiences of 13million, is currently screened three times a week. But BBC chiefs have announced that four episodes will be screened each week later this year.

"I will be in Walford for a bit longer yet, but after a while you begin to want to play a different character," she has said "It's nice if you can do other things. "

A separate clause in the contract gives her the chance to choose clothes to give her a sexier image.

Last year ITV bosses tried to poach Tamzin in another Ross Kemp-style coup and offered her a variety of drama projects.

The approach worked in the actress's favour and resulted in the BBC offering the more flexible contract and the substantial pay rise.

Last week 17million TV viewers watched as Tamzin wed screen fiance Steve Owen, played by Martin Kemp. Later they saw her on-off lover Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) shot in the back by a mystery gunman.

In real life, Tamzin split from Glaswegian TV producer Marty Benson, 31, before Christmas. She was then linked to handsome young musician Steven Ellington but claims to be single at the moment. However, in recent weeks she has become close to another musician, Johnny Amobi.

Johnny, 31, says he has been helping Tamzin come to terms with the break- up of her engagement to Benson. The singer has known Tamzin for 12 years since they studied together at drama school. Johnny said last night: "Tamzin is one of my best friends. I love her and we're really close."

Since coming to Albert Square her character Mel has developed into something of a temptress, but Tamzin, an ex-convent schoolgirl born in London's East End, would hate to be classed as a bimbo. She said recently: "I don't like being stereotyped.

"It upsets me that I can be regarded as a dumb blonde just because of my hair colour and as I'm reasonably attractive."

Ian Dewar, head of acting at prestigious stage school London Studio Centre, taught Tamzin.

He said: "I've never known anybody with such confidence. I watched her transform from a duckling into a swan."

But he wasn't optimistic about Tamzin's chances of moving into serious film work. He said: "If you look at Pat Phoenix of Coronation Street, she was in it for such a long time nobody imagined her doing anything else. I think Tamzin is heading that way. It could be too late."

Comment: Page 6

...AND WHAT THE OTHERS EARN

STEVE MCFADDEN

pounds 250,000

BARBARA KNOX

pounds 172,000

BILL ROACHE

pounds 166,684

JOHNNY BRIGGS

pounds 165,624

SUE NICHOLLS

pounds 150,000

JOHN BOWE

pounds 150,000

LIZ DAWN

pounds 145,464

KEVIN KENNEDY

pounds 98,491

MICHAEL

LE VELL

pounds 98,491

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?

DOES Tamzin Outhwaite deserve to be the highest-paid soap star in Britain? Give us your verdict...

YES...call 0901 5607816

NO...call 0901 5607817

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JUST MARRIED: But the future doesn't look too rosy for Steve and Mel
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 4, 2001
Words:853
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