Jessie Wallace (person)
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Early lifeJessie was born on September 25, 1971 in Enfield in north London, England. She left school aged 15, and spend the next few years drifting between jobs. Aged 21, she moved to Portugal where she worked in bars for seven months, preparation for her later duties as barmaid in the Queen Vic in EastEnders.
She returned to England, with the intention of becoming a professional make-up artist. To reach this goal, she completed a two-year course at the College of East London, and found work at the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, this contact with the world of showbusiness made her realise she wanted to be the person wearing the make-up, not the one putting it on. (And playing Kat Slater definitely means wearing a lot of make-up.)
Wanting to train as an actor, she auditioned for RADA, but didn't get in. Instead she took evening classes at the Poor School, which despite its name is not a Dickensian workhouse but a drama college in north London. However, that meant she had to give up working as a theatrical make-up artist; while studying she made ends meet by making wigs. After finishing the two year course at the Poor School, she auditioned for a minor role in EastEnders. She didn't get that part, but she stuck in the minds of the show's producers, and when they chose to introduce a new family, the Slaters, in 2000, they approached her to play one of the daughters.
Kat SlaterKat is one of the most memorable characters on EastEnders: on the outside she's a girl who's always looking out for a good time, promiscuous and hard-drinking, dressed in short skirts, animal prints and far too much make-up, reluctant to have any relationship last longer than a one night stand. Most of her adult life has been spent drifting from one low-paid job to another, or when she can manage it sponging off her family. She seems happiest in bed, whether with a man or a bacon sarnie.
However, behind the shallow facade, Kat has been through more than most, with ever more shocking stories about her past being revealed during her time on the show. First we found out that Zoe Slater (played by Michelle Ryan), who was introduced as her sister was in fact Kat's daughter, born when she was only 13. Kat's parents had forced her to let them raise Zoe as their child, and most of the family were unaware of the truth. Then came the disturbing identification of Zoe's father. He turned out to be Kat's uncle Harry (played by Michael Elphick). Unsurprising Kat took the news very badly, falling into depression, heavier-than-usual drinking, and a suicide attempt.
Despite this hardship, she has proved herself a very tough and resilient woman, able to get through all her trials. She is fiercely protective of her daughter Zoe, and has been even before Zoe knew the truth about their relationship. She also leapt to the defence of her sister Little Mo (Kacey Ainsworth) when she thought she had murdered her abusive husband Trevor Morgan (Alex Ferns).
Her one true love on the show is Dr Anthony Trueman, the quiet and well-mannered local GP, but he complicated matters by getting engaged to her daughter Zoe. She has also got passionate with Garry Hobbs (Ricky Groves), now the husband of her sister Lynne, and with Paul Trueman (Gary Beadle), Anthony's brother.
Her performanceJessie Wallace's portrayal of Kat has become one of the most entertaining and interesting elements of EastEnders. A genuinely complex character behind a brassy front, Kat seemed easy to dismiss, but has become an icon to many people (including my little sister) for her no-nonsense attitude and bravery. Although the character has occasionally slipped close to parody, and has sometimes lapsed into ill-advised attempts at the poetic by the EastEnders writers (notably Kat's obsession with the moon) Jessie's performance has been excellent throughout.
Before EastEnders, she played a police constable on The Bill, but has had no other roles of any importance, except for a few appearances on chat shows and the like. It is uncertain whether she would be able to play a different sort of character, or if her audience would let her. But Kat is constantly evolving as a character, and seems to offer scope for many years to come: will she and Dr Trueman manage a lasting relationship, and what would she be like as a wife or raising children?
Sources: Internet Movie Database, BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/eastenders).