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Eastenders 20 Explosive Years: The fall and fall of an EastEnders star; HOW TIME HAS CHANGED SUE OSMAN.

Byline: TONY BONNICI

SHE cuts a tragic figure as she shuffles along a run-down London street on the way to her local pub.

Her once svelte figure has given way to the heavy set gait of a woman to whom the years have not been kind.

In her prime she was famously cast as "The face of the 70s" by royal photographer Lord Snowdon.

And even as her youthful beauty began to fade she was still a strikingly attractive addition to the cast of a fledgling BBC soap opera called EastEnders.

Fame and fortune followed for Sandy Ratcliff, who became a household name as Albert Square's Sue Osman - the long suffering wife of highly-strung cafe owner and mini-cab boss Ali.

But now - 16 years after her final appearance in the hit soap - Sandy has left the glamorous world of showbusiness behind her.

There is no prospect of a return to the limelight for a forgotten star who now survives on a meagre pounds 70 a week disability allowance and lives alone in her quarter of a Victorian house converted into four flats.

At 56, Sandy wants no part of the festivities as EastEnders - a show she did so much to help establish as a major success - celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Of the special occasion which many ex cast members are only too happy to mark, a decidedly grumpy Ms Ratcliff grudgingly remarked: "I know it's EastEnders' 20th anniversary - but I really have nothing to say about it."

W ITH the Queen Vic a distant memory, she can now be found at the Brownswood Park Tavern - a short walk from her home and where not too long ago she worked as a barmaid.

She has confided to regulars that she retains a lasting affection for her old co-star June Brown, who still plays the Square's legendary Dot Branning (formerly Dot Cotton).

During her four years in Walford, Sandy's troubled character Sue contended with cot death, breast cancer and finally insanity.

That however was as nothing to the off screen traumas - a result of her heroin addiction - that were to end her TV and film career.

Although they too soon became few and far between. Her last TV appearance in 1992 was in a one off episode of Maigret.

These days in her favourite bar in Finsbury Park, North London, she is reluctant to discuss her glittering past - apart from the odd compliment for the redoubtable Ms Brown. If there is any silver lining to this otherwise depressing tale it is that is that Sandy is now off the heroin that destroyed her once sparkling career.

But the legacy of her drug abuse is plain to see in her puffy, saggy face - a world away from the youthful, well-defined features and piercing blue eyes that captured a small army of male admirers.

A T 23 she was married, had made a big impression as a model and was an acclaimed actress after starring in Ken Loach's Family Life.

Stardom beckoned but Sandy - born Alexandria, the precocious daughter of an insurance salesman - was far from conventional.

She was expelled at 12 from her grammar school. And within two years she was smoking cannabis.

Sandy drifted in and out of jobs before marrying photographer Peter Wright in the late 60s. They broke up and by 1973 she had her only son, William, to theatre director Terence Palmer.

She served time for selling cannabis before joining EastEnders - until drugs once again proved her downfall.

Sandy left the show and was later devastated when her boyfriend Michael Shorey was jailed for life after the murder of two flatmates.

Sadly, his court case was to be her last public appearance.

CAPTION(S):

HARD TO RECOGNISE: Sandy as she looks today; BIG NAME: As Sue with Ali in EastEnders
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 17, 2005
Words:631
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