Since winning Celebrity MasterChef in 2010, Lisa Faulkner’s career as a celebrity cook has rocketed. But this week she returns to her first love, acting, with a role in EastEnders as Fi Browning, her first dramatic part in five years. Here, the former Spooks and Holby City star tells TV Choice about her new life in Albert Square, and her dreams of owning a restaurant…
So, you weren’t planning to return to acting but this opportunity was too good to turn down?
Yes. I’ve always said that I’m an actress as well as a cook. I’ve always thought that if something came up that really interested me, then I’d look at it. EastEnders got in touch out of the blue and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll go in and meet them.’ And then when they told me about Fi Browning, I thought, ‘She sounds really interesting, I think I’d be a fool to turn her down.’
Have you settled in to the show?
I used to be based at BBC Elstree when I worked onHolby City so I kind of know where everything is. So it’s a bit like putting on my favourite pyjamas. And the cast have been lovely. Having been an actor since I was 19 (and I’m now 45) I’ve crossed paths with most of them. For example, Bonnie Langford [who plays Carmel Kazemi] and Natalie Cassidy [Sonia Fowler] were guests on my old Channel 4 food show What’s Cooking?
Didn’t you enlist the help of your puppy to charm your new work mates?
Yes, I did! My dog minder had an emergency so I had to take my puppy to work with me on my second day of filming which isn’t really allowed! She’s a miniature Schnauzer called Rory. She’s named after one of the characters from Gilmore Girls. My 10-year-old daughter Billie and I are obsessed with that show. The whole EastEnders cast made a massive fuss of Rory and that got everyone chatting to me. So a bit of advice – when you start a new job – take a puppy with you!
Which cast members have you particularly clicked with?
Luisa Bradshaw White [Tina Carter] is like my NBF. She’s lovely and we hit it off straight away. She joined Holby just after I left and I remember the producer Mal Young remarking that her character Lisa Fox shared my initials! Linda Henry [Shirley Carter] has been just lovely as well.
Will Billie be watching you on screen in EastEnders?
Previously, I’d always banned her from watching the show because I thought she was too young. But now I’ve decided she can watch it. The show obviously addresses some very hard subjects but often the best way is to tackle them head on.
Do you still see a lot of your old Holby pals Angela Griffin and Nicola Stephenson?
Oh yes. They are the best mates in the land! I’m godmother to their children, they’re godmothers to mine and they’ve always been so supportive of me. When I told them I was going back to acting, Angela said, ‘That’s brilliant, that’s what you should be doing!’ I said, ‘What do you mean? You think I shouldn’t be cooking?’ to which she replied, ‘No, we love you cooking but acting is what you do! Somewhere I think, you’d forgotten you had this other thing that you really love.’
Talking of cooking, have any of the EastEnders cast asked you for tips?
Tameka Empson [Kim Fox] pounced on me as soon as I was through the door. This ball of energy came up to me and said, ‘I’ve just got so much to talk to you about. You make cakes, I make cakes – we need to talk about cakes!’ And Adam Woodyatt [Ian Beale] is obsessed with food and cooking so we had a good chat.
We understand your boyfriend, MasterChef’s John Torode, is a massive EastEnders fan. Has he pestered you to arrange a cameo for him?
(Laughs) Not yet but I think it might only be a matter of time! He keeps pestering me to let him meet for lunch at Elstree. The canteen staff would be nervous knowing they would be cooking for John!
You’ve suffered your share of violent deaths in your acting career (Spooks’ Helen Flynn having her head shoved in a deep fat fryer and Victoria Merrick being stabbed to death in Holby City), so have you had it written in to yourEastEnders contract that nothing so gruesome happens to you as Fi Browning?
No I haven’t! Talking of Holby, I remember saying to the producers, ‘Please can I have one of those deaths that are really gruesome and really exciting?’ So I got my wish, I was really excited but then I spent most of filming lying lifeless on the floor with everyone stepping over me. As I lay there I thought, ‘This is actually pretty annoying and I can never go back to Holby.’ Death is not all it’s cracked up to be!
And do you own a deep fat fryer?
I do but it’s only small – you can’t fit my head in it!
Finally, having established yourself as a successful cook, do you have any plans to open your own restaurant?
I would love to open a 30-cover restaurant and John says, ‘But they don’t make any money!’ but I'm not bothered about making money, I just want to feed people. You’d have a choice of two starters, two mains and two desserts and you just come in, eat and have a nice time. Simple!
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