Anita Dobson: ‘Just call me Mystic Meg!’

Former EastEnders legend Anita Dobson talks about playing a dowdy psychic called Cora in Casualty

What can you tell us about Cora?

“I loved her and I loved the whole idea of her. She’s a dear little old lady who says she has the psychic ‘gift’. She has a website and you can get a reading from that or go to meet her for a reading. She’s a down-to-earth woman who involuntarily gets involved in something which is bigger than it seems.”

What brings her into the A&E ward in Casualty this week?

“A young teenager called Joel comes to her after seeing her website. He’s desperate to find out something about his dead mother. He’s come an awful long way and is terribly stressed and upset and she gives him a cup of tea, but she can’t pick anything up from his dead mother. But he’s so upset, she tells him what she thinks he wants to hear – that she’s happy and in a safe place and watching over him – and he decides he wants to be with his mum, so rushes out onto the street and deliberately gets knocked over. I go with him to the hospital.”

Is she really a psychic?

“You don’t know at the beginning if she’s a cheat or not. You do find out later she is the real thing. She bumps into Jordan and ‘reads’ his illness. It’s a wonderful episode – a brilliant story and great director and cast. It was a joy to do.”

Michael French, who plays Jordan, famously played David Wicks in EastEnders. Did you two talk about your time on the soap?

“I didn’t work with him in EastEnders – I’d left before he started – but we had lots to chat about. He’s such a laugh, delightful and fun. It was a shame it was a short stint really.”

Did you have to dress up or down to play Cora?

“Down! I’m in flat shoes, wear no makeup, hair back, have roots showing, a little old cardigan on, tweed skirt – the works! It was wonderful playing someone in that kind of age group – which I am now! You can play glamour and stuff like that but to play a dear little old lady it was such fun. I had a ball.”

Cora’s got a website – are you web savvy and good with gadgets?

“I read emails but I’m not one of those people who carry a computer around with them. I don’t want to either. Brian (May from Queen, her husband) goes everywhere with one; I will have to have it surgically removed one day. I read emails – but I always tell people don’t wait for a reply as I have taken two years to answer an email! I do text a lot. I also use Bluetooth for my phone. Brian hates it. He says he can’t tell if I’m talking on the phone or not. I still carry a diary too – my version of a computer.”

People still remember you fondly as EastEnders’ Angie Watts – what are your abiding memories of your time in the show?

“I look at her and see clips when I go on chat shows and it’s a bit like looking at a distant cousin. I think, ‘Gosh that’s me!” I loved the hair, and the blue makeup and jewellery and I’ve still got a couple of her tops. I often have a little look and think ‘Bless’!

Do you wish she hadn’t been killed off?

“No, there were so many other things I wanted to do but I did miss playing her. People ask would I go back if there was a way. I couldn’t go back to the soap, but if there was some other way of bringing her back… People tell me they missed her when she left and she was a like a friend who moved away or died. I feel a bit like that.”

You sang on Top Of The Pops in 1986 when Anyone Can Fall In Love – a version of the EastEnders theme tune with lyrics – got to No.4 in the charts? Did you have to pinch yourself?

“Yes! I was about 37 and there I was on TOTP thinking, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing? Am I Anita Dobson, am I Angie Watts – who am I?’ It was a great experience. When you watched TOTP it looked as though there were loads of people in the audience, in fact there was just a little clutch of people and they kept moving them around.”

Do you watch EastEnders now?

“No, I don’t watch much TV. I don’t like all the reality TV and it’s hard to get into a soap as I can’t be there the same time each day or week. I dip in and out of TV. I loved Ally McBeal, I was glued to that, then I got hooked on Stargate. I love Medium, Poirot and I liked Lark Rise To Candleford. I’m more of a film buff.”

Do you keep in contact with any of the EastEnders cast?

“I am going to be working with June Brown (Dot Cotton) again soon on a new stage production of Calendars Girls. I keep in touch with Letitia Dean and Gillian Taylforth too.”

So how are you feeling about having to strip off?

“I am practising getting my bra off under my top again without any mishaps – like we used to do at school! I just thought at my age if someone’s asking me to take my clothes off now I should grab the moment. It’s my last kind of blooming before I find the petals have dropped forever!”

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