Lee MacDonald on his journey from Grange Hill to Albert Square with a guest role in EastEnders
More than 30 years after his Grange Hill character Zammo McGuire became addicted to heroin in a ground-breaking children’s TV storyline, Lee MacDonald is back on the box. As bus driver Terry, he’ll go up against Mick Carter in EastEnders next week, in a competition to win tickets for a Spice Girls gig.
Here, EastEnders guest star Lee, 50, talks about his latest role and his hopes of getting back into acting…
How did your EastEnders job come about?
Lee MacDonald: “EastEnders is something I’ve always wanted to do. When I left Grange Hill, EastEnders had just moved to the Grange Hill studios, and my one regret is that I didn’t introduce myself to the casting director. I’ve always done bits and pieces, and I met someone at an audition a few years ago who put me in touch with an agent. I said I was interested in getting back into TV, and she’s been brilliant. When she asked me to read for EastEnders, I was like, ‘Yes!’”
Did it feel like stepping back in time?
LM: “The maddest thing was when I asked the guy on security where I should park, and he said ‘Go through the Grange Hill car park.’ And in reception, there are pictures of Zammo, Roland and Kevin. So, yes, it was like going back in time!”
What are your memories of TV stardom?
LM: “When my first Grange Hill episode went out, I was boxing. I went for a run afterwards and got recognised, and it was manic from then onwards. The craziest time was when our school went on a trip to a museum. There were two girls’ schools there, and the girls kept chasing me around, so the security guard made me stand outside! Obviously Zammo’s drugs storyline was massive and we released the Just Say No single and went to the White House. It was such good fun.”
LM: Were there any egos on Grange Hill?
LM: “No, because everyone was so young and we were chaperoned everywhere. There was a bit of rivalry at first between the theatre groups. I went to Anna Scher’s, which was an after-school club, then there were the theatre schools – Sylvia Young, Italia Conti and Barbara Speake. But we all got on. I still speak to Erkan Mustafa, who played Roland, every week.”
How did you get into acting?
LM: “When I was five, my sister died. She was seven. For the next few years, I was really withdrawn, so my teacher said to my mum, ‘There’s a drama club run by Anna Scher – it might be an idea for Lee to go.’ It was fun, but I had no intention of being an actor. I wanted to be a pilot, then a boxer. When the audition for Grange Hill first came up, it was for Stewpot’s year (the year above Zammo) but my parents wouldn’t let me go because I’d just started secondary school. I said, ‘But I might not get another chance!’ But I did, and I got Zammo. It was fate!”
You now own a locksmith’s shop, but has being in EastEnders given you a taste to do more acting?
LM: “I’ve had the shop since 2000, and got it with the intention of running it while I was trying to get back into TV. But then I had my little boy, Harry, and I wanted to be around for him and my stepdaughter, Katie, and take them to and from school. Now they’re a bit older, it has freed me up to do other stuff. A longer stint in EastEnders would be the dream. I’d feel like I’d won the lottery!”