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Jessie and me mates? After that party slap - NEVER; EXCLUSIVE: ENDERS HANNAH ON THAT ROW.

Byline: LOUISE HANCOCK

EASTENDERS star Hannah Waterman says she will never be real-life friends with her on-screen sparring partner Jessie Wallace.

The women, who play dowdy Laura Beale and mouthy Kat Slater in the BBC soap, fell out at a showbiz party after Jessie slapped Hannah.

And while Jessie, who returned to Albert Square last week after a two- month suspension for her headline-hitting party lifestyle, claims the pair "now get on" Hannah isn't convinced.

"Me and Jessie best mates? Er, no, never," she says. "This was a personal argument which, unfortunately, has gone on and on. The reality is that working at EastEnders is no different to any office environment. You can never get on with every body 100 per cent of the time.

"Although thinking about it, the EastEnders set is more like being at school than the office."

It's the first time Hannah, 27, has spoken about their very public scrap at a glitzy BBC party last March to celebrate BBC1's 2001 TV Moments.

Jessie, 30, was arguing with an unknown guest at the do when Hannah stepped in to defuse the situation - and Jessie turned on her and slapped her across the face. The other celebrity guests watched open-mouthed, as the pair had to be separated by bouncers.

Jessie has denied the slap but for Hannah the wedge between them is permanent. "However," she adds. "It's irrelevant to our daily lives these days. I'm just so embarrassed about what happened." For those of us used to seeing her as dowdy Laura, Hannah is a revelation. Bouncy and easygoing. But then fame is nothing new to Hannah - mum is actress Patricia Maynard and dad is Dennis Waterman, of Minder fame.

Unlike Laura, Hannah is settled in domestic bliss. She lives with EastEnders co-star Ricky Groves, who plays mechanic Garry Hobbs and has just bought a dog, Ernie. She admits she sometimes worries she and Ricky spend too much time together, but adds: "I watched us on TV together recently and there was no chemistry between us which is great because it shows we're doing our jobs properly!" So is she happy staying in EastEnders or does she fancy heading off, say to Hollywood?

"At the moment I'm having the time of my life. Hollywood eats girls alive, and anyway there's such a lot of emphasis on looks there," she says. "If I looked like Kelly Brooks, I`d think more seriously about it. But there's hope for me yet - look at Judi Dench. She's a great actress, who has won loads of awards, but she's no great beauty!"

For those not up to speed on the soap's plots, Laura is pregnant after a brief fling with Garry and is nervously waiting to find out if she has to give birth in front of 16 million viewers. "I'm dreading it," she says. "I asked some midwives for some tips."

Hannah is not ready to have kids of her own. "God no," she says. "I've made a pact with Ricky that the only way I'll get pregnant is if I can take the belly off at night like I can now."

Instead she's turning her energy to supporting the children's charity Sparks, of which her dad Dennis is president. They are involved in a mass office golf putting event with whisky makers Glenlivet. More than 250 companies are taking part and the grand final will be in London on May 15. Hannah says: "I'll be there with Dad, cheering them all on. He's a great example of someone who tries to help other people. I hate it when people say they use their celebrity for good, but that's what he does and I'm grateful that I can do it too.

"EastEnders gave me that - and a fantastic boyfriend, too. What more can a girl ask for?"

IF you want to make a donation check out www. theglenlivet.com or ring the Glenlivet Office Putting line on 020 7731 8794.

CAPTION(S):

EARLY DAYS: Hannah, dad Dennis and her mum in 1977
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 4, 2003
Words:672
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