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pounds 180,000 SQUARE DEAL FOR TAMZIN; BLONDE AMBITION: EASTENDERS BEAUTY IS HIGHEST-PAID SOAP STAR.

EASTENDERS star Tamzin Outhwaite has become Britain's highest-paid soap star after signing a pounds 180,000-a-year deal to stay in Albert Square.

The blonde actress, who plays Melanie Healy, had been tapped by ITV, who tried to lure her away from Walford with a variety of projects.

But Tamzin is staying put and last night she was said to be "thrilled and delighted" with her big-money BBC deal.

A programme source said: "This will guarantee Tamzin stays at EastEnders for at least the next 18 months.

"The viewers absolutely love her and there are plans for lots more fantastic storylines for Mel.

"Of course she's had lots of offers but everone's ecstatic that she decided not to quit. It just shows how committed she is to the BBC and to the show."

Until now Barbara Knox, who plays Rita Sullivan in Coronation Street, was the top-earning female soap star with an annual deal worth pounds 172,000.

The highest-paid EastEnders actress was Wendy Richard - Pauline Fowler - on pounds 160,000.

But now 29-year-old Tamzin has leapfrogged them both.

In just two years with the soap, she has become one of its most popular characters.

When Tamzin first turned up in Walford, she was known as mysterious Melanie - it took a while to discover she was the long-lost sister of trendy vicar Alex Healy.

And during her time on the show, Tamzin has had her fair share of sizzling storylines.

While engaged to slimy businessman Ian Beale - Adam Woodyatt - she slept with nightclub owner Steve Owen - Martin Kemp. She finally wed Ian but the marriage was over within hours in the soap's millennium special.

Then barmaid Mel had a fling with desperate Dan - Craig Fairbrass - and now she's trying to throw off Steve once more.

But Tamzin, who was born in the East End and spent years performing in West End musicals, would hate to be classed as a bimbo.

The actress, who is due to marry long-term Scots boyfriend Marty Benson next year, once said: "I don't like being stereotyped. It upsets me that I can be regared as a dumb blonde just because that is the colour of my hair and I'm reasonably attractive."

The Top Earners In Britain's Soaps

2 Barbara Knox Coronation Street pounds 172,000

3 Bill Roache Coronation Street pounds 167,000

4 Johnny Briggs Coronation Street pounds 166,000

5 Wendy Richard EastEnders pounds 160,000

6 Mike Reid Eastenders pounds 160,000

7 Barbara Windsor Eastenders pounds 150,000
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Author:Methven, Nicola
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 12, 2000
Words:416
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