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Cover Story: So who dunnit with Laura?; Hannah Waterman on the baby mystery that is gripping Eastenders.

Byline: BILLY SLOAN

THE path of love never runs smoothly down Walford way... just ask chip shop owner Laura Beale.

Her dream of becoming a mum is shattered in an EastEnders' whodunnit with a difference.

When Laura (Hannah Waterman) gets pregnant she naturally thinks that hubby Ian is the father but what she doesn't know is that scheming Ian (Adam Woodyatt) has had a vasectomy.

The real dad is more likely to be the mystery man Laura enjoyed a one- night stand with after fireman Tom Banks' funeral.

The shock storyline has Hannah - and 18 million soap fans - on the edge of their seats and the 27-year-old actress is enjoying being the focus of such a tangled love plot.

Hannah - the daughter of former Minder star Dennis Waterman - can't wait to see how the storyline unfolds.

She told me: "Laura's spur-of-the-moment decision to stray was the result of another argument with Ian over his fling with prostitute Janine Butcher. She only took Ian back on condition that they had a child together.

"Laura is well used to Ian being a bit erratic but she just puts his behaviour down to their marriage going through a bad patch. Her real motivation is she wants a child of her own so she's prepared to put up with quite a lot.

"What she does not yet know is that Ian doesn't want any more kids and has `had the snip'.

"Viewers have already seen Laura get rip-roaringly drunk and have a quick knee- trembler with somebody. I'm not saying who for now.

"After she finds out she's pregnant Ian immediately wonders if his vasectomy operation hasn't been a 100 per cent success.

"Of course, Laura is convinced the baby is his but at the back of her mind she's worried it's the result of her little indiscretion.

"The whole affair isn't as romantic as she'd have liked and the paternity of the child is in question. Laura didn't think things would turn out this way."

Hannah is keeping her cards very close to her chest on how the storyline unfolds.

But she did reveal Ian reverts to his evil self and tries to hoodwink her into signing away her share of their home and business.

Hannah said: "Although they don't always see eye to eye, Laura trusts Ian. She doesn't have any reason to be suspicious of his motives.

"But there are times when he is particularly vile towards her.

"It's a great storyline and the writers even keep Adam and I guessing on how many twists and turns it will take. We've both been thrilled with the plot." Hannah and Adam may be at each other's throats on the EastEnders' set but when the cameras stop rolling they are firm friends.

She said: "Adam and I are close both on set and off - we've become good friends. We've been working together for nearly three years and I've learned a lot from him."

But when Adam goes into "evil Ian" overdrive, does Laura have a favourite on- screen insult she hurls at him?

"Oh yeah," laughed Hannah, "My absolute favourite is a line Tony Jordan wrote.

"It comes from a cracking row Laura and Ian have in which she says, `I'm ignoring you, weasel boy!' I quite liked that one.

"But Adam can give as good as he gets. One of Ian's favourites is, `You're a fat frump'.

"I must be the only woman in the entire country who loves being called a fat frump. It helps pay my mortgage."

There is one member of the EastEnders cast who certainly wouldn't be so cutting, Hannah's boyfriend, Ricky Groves, who plays mechanic Garry Hobbs.

"It was nice to find romance on Albert Square - even though I wasn't looking for it," said Hannah.

"I always said I'd never go out with an actor but I've had to eat my words. Ricky makes me laugh and being a former chef he's a great cook. What more could a girl want?"When the couple are out and about or go on holiday together they can't escape the success of EastEnders.

"If fans see Ricky and I it's like a double whammy," said Hannah. "If they don't spot one of us they'll recognise the other.

"We were on holiday, relaxing on a beach in the Seychelles, when we got mobbed by locals.

"I thought, `How do they know Laura Beale and Garry Hobbs'. But, of course, they all watch EastEnders on the BBC World channel."

Have Hannah and Ricky any plans to get married?

"Not at the moment, we're quite happily living in sin," Hannah told me.

"I've got no plans to get married, settle down and have kids. Ricky and I are coasting along, having a good laugh and I love him a lot.

"We're having such a fantastic time together so there doesn't seem any point in changing things."

Hannah has been a member of the EastEnders' cast for two and a half years. She loves playing Laura because the character has really developed from the original smiley, Mary Poppins-style nanny to a much more rounded person. Hannah said: "In the last few months there's been quite a big change in Laura's role.

"We've seen her go from being very downtrodden to somebody who's decided to get tough and stand up for herself a bit more.

"There's definitely a touch of the Lady Macbeth about her. She's discovered her manipulative side.

"I think the viewers wanted Laura to bite back but it's anybody's guess how she'll react to the paternity of her baby finally being revealed."

She added: "As a young actress it's difficult to land a long-running role you can really get your teeth into.

"So to be in the cast of such a successful TV drama is a great learning curve. I've tried to be like a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as I can.

"I think the EastEnders cast are a really talented bunch. They go through an awful lot of material which is of a very high quality at incredible speed. That's something to be tremendously proud of."

Hannah admits she is still coming to terms with the fame which comes with being beamed into 18 million living rooms each week.

"I get a lot of people stopping me in the street and asking for a bag of chips," she joked.

"And when my mum celebrated her 60th birthday recently she had a fish and chip van doing the catering.

"I had to put up with jokes all night long.

"I've not been in a real chip shop since I started on EastEnders - I'd get too many funny looks.

"At first it used to frustrate me when people couldn't differentiate between Hannah and Laura.

"I didn't want to be identified with my character because she is so different to me. Ultimately, you can't be too precious about being mistaken for a soap character when you're watched by millions each week."

Hannah grew up watching her father become one of the biggest stars on British television.

Dad Dennis shot to fame as booze-swilling, womaniser George Carter in gritty TV cop drama The Sweeney, opposite the late John Thaw, DI Jack Regan.

Then he starred as jack-the-lad Terry McCann in Minder with veteran actor George Cole as dodgy dealer `Arfur' Daley.

Hannah is close to her dad and she has enormous respect for his achievements as an actor.

She told me: "My father has never been one to take me to one side and impart pearls of wisdom. But he has given me lots of good advice since I joined EastEnders.

"He just wanted me to realise acting can often be a very tough, precarious business.

"He didn't want me to look at things through rose-tinted glasses."

Hannah says she would leap at the chance to act opposite her dad.

She said: "If I met somebody like George Carter or Terry McCann, I'd don't think I'd want anything to do with them.

"But they're the characters ... that's not my dad.

"I think he's a fabulous actor. I'd love to work with him now. It would be an honour.

"When I joined EastEnders I was determined to do it on my own merits and make my own mark.

"I'm glad I didn't have to rely on my father's reputation to be a success."

THE SUSPECTS

PHIL MITCHELL (STEVE McFADDEN) He's got enough kids to worry about already and having just got back from Port- ugal he was probably too jetlagged to get down to business. Then again, any chance to get one over on Ian Beale... Odds: 66-1

RICKY BUTCHER (SID OWEN) Grease monkey Rickaaay! hasn't had his troubles to seek and has his hands full with wayward sister Janine - so a night of drunken passion with Laura might have been just the tonic. He was certainly enjoying her company at the party. Odds: 20-1.

GARRY HOBBS (RICKY GROVES) Garry might be married to Lynn Slater but the hapless mech-anic can't hold his drink. Would he cheat on his wife and face the wrath of her family? A definite contender and second favourite to be the dad. Odds: 5-1

PAUL TRUEMAN (GARY BEADLE) He's a little bit of a geezer, with an eye for the ladies. A married woman who had knocked back too much booze would be a big opportunity for wide boy Paul. Odds: 2-1 favourite.

GUS SMITH (M. GEORGE) Poetry-loving Gus may be the sensitive type but a man's got needs and having been rejected by Sonia who knows what he would be capable of. Odds: 16-1.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 1, 2002
Words:1597
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