Natalie Cassidy: ‘I feel very proud of my trumpet’

The ’Enders legend celebrates her three-decade soap career with Kay Ribeiro

natalie cassidy heat magazine

by Kay Ribeiro |
Published on

Sometimes a heat shoot creative strikes a note and just works, and it’s safe to say from the excitable reaction of our star interviewee Natalie Cassidy, this is one of those times. As she tells us, “This is the collaboration I’ve been waiting for, because I love Only Fools And Horses. I’m dressing as Del Boy Trotter and I love my market stall. This is literally the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s meant to be!”

Natalie, 40, is in good spirits on the day of our interview, and it’s not just because we’re making all her Del Boy dreams come true. You see, we’re here to commemorate the small fact that it’s 30 years since the then ten-year-old actress made her EastEnders debut, stepping foot in Albert Square as cherubic little Sonia Jackson, and she’s understandably very proud of her achievement.

In that time, Sonia has gone through a lot – a teen pregnancy! A stint in prison! Ending up naked in Phil Mitchell’s bed! – and cemented herself as a Walford stalwart. She may not be as loud or brassy as some other legendary EastEnders matriarchs, but Son and her trumpet are absolutely iconic, and we’re here for them both…

natalie cassidy heat magazine
in the market for some sonia tats? ©Marco Vittur

What do you remember from your first day on the ’Enders set?

I remember it being freezing cold and going up there with my mum, doing a scene in the market and spraying graffiti on the laundrette shutters. That was really the only thing that Sonia ever did that was naughty. But I remember meeting Barbara [Windsor], and obviously meeting Dean [Gaffney], Lindsey [Coulson] and the Jacksons – we met beforehand and did some pictures. I just remember thinking everything was such an adventure – not being at school, being on a TV set, and having fun.

Where would you like Sonia to be in another 30 years?

I would hope that she’s still in the same house. Maybe she’s given it a lick of paint…

Let’s not push the boat out…

Don’t go mad! We don’t like change and the house is so lovely because it reminds me of June [Brown, who played Dot Branning] and all of that, it’s fantastic. But in 30 years, hopefully she’ll still be with Reiss [Jonny Freeman], hopefully still working in the GP surgery. I don’t want much to change for her. I think that’s what people love about her, that she’s the normal one, you know? She’s there, she goes to work, she’s never going to murder someone…

sonia and martin fowler
sonia and martin together ©BBC

You say she’s normal, but she’s had her fair share of drama, such as a surprise teen pregnancy, being taken hostage, and her boyfriend being killed by her baby daddy…

Well, yeah, I suppose she has done a few things over the years.

She’s in a good place with sensible Reiss now. What’s that like?

I think she’s got a lovely relationship now. It’s really gone down so, so well. I think it’s a really clever move putting them together. This is a very big statement, but what I see in Sonia and Reiss is just a tiny percentage of what Roy and Hayley had in Corrie – and I thought they were amazing. That sort of partnership of light, but they also go through serious things.

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sonia and reiss are loved up ©BBC

Which storylines have had the biggest impact on you?

I think the biggest impact was giving birth. That was the biggest one really, because I was given an opportunity for a very important storyline at a very young age, and I took it with both hands and really worked on it and won awards for it. I really feel it cemented me in the show as someone that you could give storylines to.

Jamie Mitchell [played by Jack Ryder]’s death must’ve been another big one…

Yeah, that was an amazing story to do. I’d lost my mum that May, and filmed that in October, so it was very cathartic and raw. But doing the Christmas Day episode, where he died, I rememberd putting everything into it – that was all very real. I think we got about 24million viewers that day.

Sonia and Jamie’s relationship was very special…

I have to say that was another huge point for me, because Sonia was a normal teenager who wasn’t much to look at, who got with Jamie. It wasn’t the leggy blonde, the young, pretty girl who got the handsome guy – and Jack was the heartthrob at the time. It was lovely. I remember getting all my fan letters, as we used to get back in the day – not DMs! – and people saying, “Look what Sonia’s got. I could have that!”

Jack Ryder And Natalie Cassidy
EastEnders stars Jack Ryder and Natalie Cassidy together ©John Rogers/Getty Images

She’s had her share of fit men. Who’s been your favourite?

That’s a really hard question! But if you’re going to push me for an answer, I would have to say Jack, because we had the most fun. He used to stay at my house with my mum and dad, you know? We were like brother and sister and got on so, so well. I miss him dearly, but we still talk.

Then she moved swiftly on to Martin Fowler…

Yeah, she had Jamie ripped away from her and then she married his killer! But James Alexandrou and James Bye [the actors who played Martin] have both been amazing. I’ve been very, very lucky and kept in touch with everybody – and now I’ve got lovely Jonny to work with. It’s really good.

Tell us a surprising fact about another one of your castmates…

Colin [Salmon, who plays George Knight] is an amazing trumpet player.

What? This could be the ultimate collab!

[Laughs.] He did Notting Hill Carnival this year with his band – he’s great.

natalie cassidy
natalie being iconic with heat ©Marco Vittur

What do people say most to you in the street? Is it always about your trumpet?

I still get shouts from lorries, usually, “Aaaay, where’s your trumpet?” “Aaaay, get your trumpet out!” It’s still there, it’s a staple. I feel very proud of my trumpet.

Are you tempted to release a trumpet-based festive single?

 No, but watch this space. The Mighty Hoopla [pop festival] got in touch and asked if I would come on stage. [Laughs.] It would be good, wouldn’t it? It would be next summer, but I don’t know if I’m allowed to or not – but it would be hilarious. It’s lovely because it’s always tongue in cheek. People really like it, and for some reason, it’s become this iconic thing.

You should do Hoopla and then release the single afterwards…

Sounds good. I could do it for Children In Need!

We need to talk about the big Christmas whodunnit storyline and your theories. Who do you think the dead body belongs to and who do you think did it?

 You know who you want to be talking to – my daughter [Eliza]. Oh my goodness me, she’s got theories, she’s got screenshots, she’s got notes on her phone – she’s driving me mad!

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eastenders' christmas episode is set to be juicy ©BBC

But what do you think?

I don’t know, it could be anyone, couldn’t it? You’ve got Nish [Navin Chowdhry] and all that stuff with Suki [Balvinder Sopal], but you’ve also got Rocky [Brian Conley] and the Kathy [Gillian Taylforth] stuff. Rocky lies very easily – maybe she finds out what’s happened and kills him. That’s my theory.

EastEnders has had a brilliant year. How did it feel to win the NTA for Best Serial Drama?

It’s amazing – we’ve had a really good year. I’m just so proud, especially of Danielle [Harold], Jamie [Borthwick] and Perry [Fenwick] – those Mitchells – because they’ve carried the year. They’ve done amazingly well and they deserve all of it. And it’s all down to Chris [Clenshaw, the exec producer]. He’s got the Midas touch and is amazing at his job, because he loves it so much.

How big was the hangover afterwards?

I didn’t have one. I had a couple of drinks and was at home with a cheeseboard by 12.

Channelling your inner Sonia…

Yeah. I think there were a few people with hangovers, but I wasn’t one of them. Those years are done – I had a few years of doing that, trust me.

Did you give Bobby Brazier [who plays Freddie Slater] any advice for Strictly after your turn in 2009?

No. I just said, “Go enjoy yourself. It’s the best thing you’ll ever do.” It’s such a great thing to take part in and he’s so confident in some ways, but he wants to learn continuously from people. He’s such a lovely lad and really great role model for young boys.

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Would you ever do the jungle?

Never say never to anything. You won’t ever hear me say no, because you never know what position you’re going to be in. It’s a great line-up this year, and Danielle is doing so well. I can’t wait to watch it tonight, I’m hooked, especially because it’s my Dan.

If you were in there, what would freak you out the most?

Heights are bad for me. During that first rooftop challenge, I would freeze and still be up there. Even on a walk in Cornwall, when I’m by a cliff, my legs go. It’s that bad.

So, you’d rather chow down on kangaroo bits?

Yeah, it’d be alright. You’ve just got to get on with it.

Finally, would you be mates with Sonia?

No, she’s a bit boring for me. Although, you know what? She’d be the one you go to for advice. Maybe I’d be her mate and just try and get her out a bit more, get her to stay in the pub a bit longer and really let her hair down.

EastEnders airs Mon-Thu on BBC One and from 6am on BBC iPlayer

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