Lindsey Coulson EastEnders

Carol Jackson has never had an easy life, but the EastEnder has endured her most harrowing scenes yet in recent weeks caused by the unexpected death of her son Billie. Actress Lindsey Coulson, who has played Albert Square's Carol on and off since 1993, feels as if she’s really been through the mill too…

You must be exhausted from playing Carol’s grief?
I am! It was almost constant for six weeks, though I had a two-week holiday to France in the middle. I came back feeling really good, and then woke up and went, ‘Oh God, I’ve got to pile all that awfulness back into my head, and go back to that horrible place!’

How did you get yourself in the right frame of mind?
When you’re doing this amount of work, you come home and learn lines all night. It means going to bed at 11.30pm, coming to work at 6am or 7am. I was reading the weekend papers the other day, and realised I hadn’t done that for ages! I’ve been living in Carol’s life. That’s when it gets a bit scary!

Did you ask for demanding storylines when you returned to EastEnders earlier this year?
I hoped that they would give them to me. I don’t ever seem to get anything too light and happy!

Has it been a satisfying storyline to act out?
Oh yes, incredibly satisfying. For them to give me that lovely storyline is a compliment, and it was wonderful. The trouble is that you need four months off afterwards and you don’t get it. It’s relentless working on a soap, and it can be exhausting.

Was it hard keeping the storyline secret from your friends and family?
I haven’t seen many people, because I’ve been working so much. I’ve just told them that I’m doing really dark stuff.

Do your daughters, Molly, 18, and Grace, 10, watch the show?
They do now, but they didn’t for quite a while. I didn’t want Grace to see it before now. This morning I’ve got to decide how much she should be allowed to see of the Billie storyline.

Who is Carol’s biggest support?
Bianca, I think. But I think there’s a bit of Bianca going, 'What about me? I’m still here.' Carol’s projected so much of her love onto Billie, because nobody else needed her.

What’s it been like having Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace back on set?
They’ve just slipped in really nicely. It’s as if they’ve always been around. I wasn’t here when they were here before, but I watched them on TV, and I loved Kat and Alfie. I think they’re great for the show, and give it a different vibrancy. Carol likes Alfie, and I’ve had a few scenes with him.

By Marie-Anne Hamilton