Laila Morse rules out full-time return to EastEnders

Laila Morse rules out full-time return to EastEnders

December 6, 2021

The ex-EastEnder, 76, on having no fear of stripping off, how Wendy Richard saved her life and why Brexit wrecked her Spanish plans.

We’re about to see you in Strictly The Real Full Monty. Were you worried about stripping off in front of millions?

I wasn’t fazed by that. I always go topless when I’m on holiday. I just make sure there’s no English there because they’ll go ‘click, click’ and I’ll be on the front of the paper! ‘The beached whale’s up!’

But I’ve taken my clothes off on holiday from when I was 16. I wasn’t self-conscious about my body then and I’m not now. I’m 76 and I’ve got no inhibitions.

What did your family think about you taking part?

They don’t really take much notice of what I do. They just go, ‘Good on you, Nan,’ or ‘Good on you, Mum.’ I think they’ll watch it. They’ve seen me with no clothes on before. They’re not bothered.

Why are you doing it?

I had breast cancer 21 years ago. I’d just started EastEnders and I found this lump. I went into work and I told Wendy Richard, and she said, ‘Go to the doctor, I don’t like the sound of that.’ I said, ‘Yeah, alright.’

She said, ‘I’m going on holiday so when I come back, the first thing I’m going to do is ring you up and find out if you went.’ Anyway, I didn’t go because I thought it might not be anything. She phoned me the day she got back and said, ‘Have you been to the doctor’s?’ and I went, ‘Yeah, but it’s nothing.’

After I put the phone down I thought I ought to go, so I made an appointment. Within two weeks I’d had the test done, a mammogram and a biopsy. They called me up and said it was breast cancer so I was in hospital the following week. I had a lumpectomy and they took the lymph nodes out.

Then my sister got it and a few friends have had it, and then Wendy died from the second lot of cancer she had.

If it hadn’t been for her, I don’t think I would be here today. I’m doing this so everybody — women and men — knows that if they find a lump, they should get it checked.

Presumably the other celebrities were a bit nervous about getting naked…

I think so. I took my top off on the first day of rehearsals when we met host Ashley Banjo and the others said, ‘I wish I was like you.’

They wouldn’t do it, even the men – they were all petrified! But when it was over they were all glad they’d done it.

Did you enjoy it?

I’m the oldest person who’s ever done it. I like a challenge and I enjoyed every bit of it. In fact, I did say that if they have another one next year, I’ll do it again.

Every single person involved was wonderful — the celebrities, Ashley and his dance group, Diversity. I’ve never met a nicer crowd in all my life.

You’ve done I’m A Celebrity… and Dancing On Ice…

I like to have a go. Whether I’m in something for ten minutes or longer, I don’t mind. But I don’t think I’d do Strictly. It’s too energetic for me. Strictly The Real Full Monty was bad enough because we’re keeping up with Diversity and dancing as fast as they were.

Surprisingly, it only made the top of my legs ache, nothing else, it didn’t tire me out. At the start I thought we’d never do the dance that they do but we trained so much and all of a sudden it just clicked.

Will you return to EastEnders?

I left in April. If they wanted me to go back for a one-off thing or a storyline lasting a couple of weeks I would, but I wouldn’t go back full-time. I’m a bit too old for that.

I want to do other things, whether that’s travelling somewhere or riding around a country on a bike. I wouldn’t even mind learning how to ride a motorbike if somebody wants to teach me.

Weren’t you planning to move to Spain?

I was, that was one of the reasons why I left EastEnders. I handed in my notice in September 2019. Little did I know Brexit would stop you from living there. You can only go for three months — three months off and three months back, and, well, that’s no good to me.

What will you do now?

I don’t know, I’m just having a good rest. I’ll wait until Christmas is over — that’s bad enough, isn’t it? Out buying presents and this, that and the other. So I’ll wait for the new year. Then I’ll get my thinking cap on and see what pages turn on the book.

Do you miss EastEnders?

I miss playing Mo and I miss the people but I don’t miss the travelling there and the long journey home again at night — it was a bit of a trek.

I keep in touch with Jessie Wallace and Lacey Turner — I’ll give them a ring — and I’m still in touch with Derek Martin, who played my son-in-law, Charlie Slater. We talk quite a bit.

Are you and Mo alike?

I suppose we are a bit, family-wise. I wouldn’t let anyone take liberties with the family. She can stand her ground and I can too. I wouldn’t copy her dodgy dealings but I wouldn’t say no if something came my way and I liked it!

Strictly The Real Full Monty is on ITV at 9pm on December 13 and 14

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