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Ricky cooks up Square deal; From a chef at The Ritz to the wide-boy hunk of Walford.


WHEN Ricky Groves couldn't stand the heat he got out of the kitchen.

And it turned out to be the best decision he has ever made.

After walking away from a promising career as a chef - Ricky tried his luck as an actor.

Now, just four years later, he's one of the hottest new stars in EastEnders as womanising mechanic Garry Hobbs.

Wide boy Garry is engaged to long- suffering Lynne Slater - played by Elaine Lordan - but strolling down the aisle is the last thing on his mind.

In a break during rehearsals on the Albert Square set at Elstree studios, Ricky, 33, said: "Garry is like so many blokes who are in a serious relationship - he gets bored and has a real roving eye.

"He's got fillet steak indoors, but still likes to nip out for a burger now and again.

"That's why he doesn't want to make a commitment to Lynne. The situation is slowly running away from him.

"Lynne's nan Mo is putting the pressure on to name the day. That's the last thing he wants. He feels trapped by being in any kind of solid, lasting relationship.

"So there's a big question mark over the wedding. And there's always the possibility that Lynne will finally get so fed up with his womanising ways she'll dump him. It could go either way."

The story of how Ricky became a star is almost too good to be true. He spent years slaving over a hot stove in some of the top restaurant kitchens in London and Paris.

He'd worked at the prestigious Ritz Hotel in Paris and also studied with culinary superstar Raymond Blanc at the internationally renowned Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons.

But, just a few months after he was a finalist in the heats for London Chef of the Year, Ricky decided he'd had enough and at the ripe old age of 29, he turned his back on a career as a chef.

He quit cooking and let his fingers do the walking in a bid to fulfil his dream of becoming an actor.

Ricky flicked through the Yellow Pages until he found drama schools and chose one at random. A few weeks later he was in a rehearsal room in King's Cross, London, reciting passages from Shakespeare and acting in French farces.

"I looked in the Yellow Pages at D for drama schools and phoned one called The Poor School," he recalled.

"They auditioned 300 people for just 32 places and I was lucky enough to get in. So even that was a major achievement."

Soon Ricky was being offered small walk- on parts on TV. He made his professional acting debut in the pilot for a BBC drama called Other Animals, alongside One Foot in the Grave star Richard Wilson.

He suddenly found himself out on location, sitting in a make-up caravan, dressed as a roadsweeper.

"I didn't actually have any lines of dialogue - but I still couldn't sleep a wink the night before the filming," laughed Ricky.

"I practised the art of roadsweeping on a stretch of pavement in Uxbridge. By the time I was done it was spotless. But it was all in vain for the drama was never screened.

"I got another part in an episode of London's Burning, which was directed by Susan Tully, who used to play Michelle Fowler in EastEnders."

Then Ricky's agent sent him to audition for EastEnders, and the producers thought he'd be perfect for the role of Garry Hobbs.

"I must admit I shed a tear or two when I got the part," admitted Ricky. "It was a dream come true."

He made his EastEnders' debut last September when the Slaters moved into Albert Square. He drove the removal van as the family arrived in Walford. "I had to steer the van - which was surrounded by cameras - into the Square, which is much smaller than it looks. It was a bit tricky.

"But I was fortunate in that I didn't have to walk on to the set on my own.

"I joined the cast as almost a fringe member of the Slater clan and the focus was fixed firmly on the girls. I think I was more nervous for them than I was for myself."

Ricky is now a regular in the EastEnders' cast and there is one character in the soap he's got a real soft spot for... Laura Beale.

She's played by Hannah Waterman - the daughter of former Minder star Dennis Waterman - and Ricky has been dating her for nine months.

"We met on the Albert Square set and I love her to pieces," confessed Ricky. "It's early days in our relationship. We're taking things slowly, but it's all going very well."

The romance with Hannah has provided a bit of stability in Ricky's life, too.

He said: "About five or six years ago I was a bit like Garry Hobbs, lost in the wilderness of being a single man.

"From a very early age I was into girls - I call them my wonder years - and I had a ball. But as a chef it was tough to maintain relationships with girls because I was always working late or working at weekends.

"That was probably the main reason I never settled down before."

Ricky is well prepared for whatever life throws at him following his success in East-Enders. For after working in the volatile atmosphere of scorching hot restaurant kitchens, he reckons he's ready for anything.

He said: "My worst moment was during an important function at Le Manoir. I missed something off the menu board for a party of 12 people and a mate had to bale me out.

"Raymond Blanc took me up to his office - I was shaking with fear - and said, 'If that ever happens again you won't be here.'

"In a funny way, I kind of respected him for that because it's the only way a kitchen can function.

"In other kitchens it was sheer mayhem sometimes. I once witnessed a really nasty fight between a Filipino breakfast chef and an East European linen porter.

"They were slugging it out in the middle of the kitchen - pots and pans flying - but nobody batted an eyelid."

During his years as a chef, Ricky tickled the taste buds of a few famous names. "At the Hampshire Hotel, I cooked at a party for the opening night of a Jeffrey Archer play, Exclusive," he said.

"I looked around the dining room and there were 350 people including Archer, John Major and half of the Government. It was like a Who's Who of British politics.

"I also cooked for Hollywood star Warren Beatty. All he wanted was a white omelette. He was easy to please."

But Ricky doesn't waste time thinking of what might have been. Although he had the talent to be the next Gary Rhodes, his heart just wasn't in the job any more. "As a youngster, I put my heart and soul into cooking and quickly moved up the ladder towards management.

"Working alongside Raymond Blanc was a real eye opener - the expectations and standards were very high indeed.

"But, on reflection, I don't think I had what it took to be as good as him. I've no regrets."

So what is more satisfying - acting a juicy scene in EastEnders or rustling up a mouth- watering meal?

"I think it's got to be nailing a scene." he admitted. "Being in EastEnders is very much the first rung on the ladder for me.

"I've yet to be in a play in the West End or appear in a movie. Acting is what I've put all my energy into. So cooking has definitely been put on the back burner."
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Title Annotation:Showbiz
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 12, 2001
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