For 26 years Pam St Clement played the bold, brash and much-loved Pat Butcher in BBC1’s EastEnders. Now her recent autobiography sheds light on the real woman behind those earrings…
Was it a tough decision to write your autobiography knowing you’d have to be open about very personal elements of your life, such as your mother’s death, your tough upbringing, your bisexuality…?
I didn’t have to be open about anything; I’m sure there are a lot of autobiographies that are complete fiction! Frankly it didn’t start as an autobiography, but a few people told me, ‘You should write your life story because it’s so far from what people know you for.’ And I felt it might give other people a bit of hope if, like mine, their lives hadn’t been what one would ideally want.
Is it true that the only quality you shared with Pat Butcher is your vulnerability?
Yes, I look big and brave but I think an actor has to have a vulnerability. If you’re like a brick wall you can’t really take anything on board. It’s a strange contradiction that you have to be very ‘out there’ when you’re an actor. You don’t have to be a show-off but you have to make your presence felt. On the other hand, you also have to have that core that is vulnerable.
Is there anything you still miss about Eastenders?
Obviously I miss everybody like mad and miss being within a group of people that are creating together and getting on with the job – that is very exciting. Yes there’s tremendous pressure, but it amazes me that the programme has gone on so long and still retained its integrity, in terms of the production values and the loyalty of the people who work there. I’m thinking of the staff (the camera people, make-up artists and so on), rather than the cast because, as we all know, the actors don’t have any choice!
Do you still feel let down that Pat was killed off?
No, I’m a grown up. I’m sure somebody would have listened to me if I’d said, ‘Don’t do it,’ and if I’d been a BBC boss I’d have probably done exactly the same in their position, so there’s no culpability. That’s another thread throughout my autobiography, that blame is a waste of energy.
So is there a role that you’ve never played so that you’d still love to?
Well I’m open to anything, but I suppose it would be too much to expect people to accept me ‘upstairs’ rather than ‘downstairs’. The loveliest thing, and I’m too old now, would be to do something really physically active like a programme about a woman vet, or exploring Africa – things that are my passions anyway.
Your book signings have been so successful – have you been surprised by the reaction?
I don’t know – I’ve got nothing to compare it with! What surprises me is whenever I go out there’s still barely a time when somebody doesn’t come up and say, ‘Can I have a photo?’ and sometimes I think ‘Goodness, I wouldn’t have thought you’d watch ‘Enders!’ I find it pleasing that I have time to devote to them, which I didn’t always before, and I can stop and chat and get to know people in a different way. Life is much more relaxed.