Soap stars stun Saturday shoppers

By Dave GooderhamSHOPPERS looking for a Hallowe'en treat or an early Christmas gift got more than they bargained for when they rubbed shoulders with two soap stars on the streets of a East Anglian town.

By Dave Gooderham

SHOPPERS looking for a Hallowe'en treat or an early Christmas gift got more than they bargained for when they rubbed shoulders with two soap stars on the streets of a East Anglian town.

Heartthrob Joe Swash, better known as loveable rogue Mickey Miller in EastEnders, and his real-life and on-screen sister Shana, gymslip mother Demi in the BBC soap, were mobbed by fans as they enjoyed a Saturday afternoon shopping in Bury St Edmunds.

But displaying a similar down-to-earth character to their screen roles, the pair patiently signed autographs, posed for pictures and chatted to fans.


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Joe, who was in the region over the weekend visiting his grandmother, Frances O'Connor, who lives in Thetford, said he was still getting accustomed to the adulation, especially among women fans.

"It is nice to go out in Bury and do some shopping and have something to eat. Everyone was really nice and polite - you have to take it on the chin and give everyone five minutes," he added.

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"We did try to buy a hat to disguise ourselves, but it didn't really work. It is a hard thing to get used to and it is all part of the learning process, but you get more used to it, the more it goes on."

The 22-year-old has had a meteoric rise to fame since first appearing in the soap in April 2003.

During an uneasy time when the future of the show has come under the spotlight and ratings have plummeted, Joe's wheeler-dealer antics and ladies' man image has proved a rare shining point and wowed the women viewers.

Meanwhile Shana, 14, came into her own last week when her schoolgirl character gave birth to a baby girl.

But Joe admitted the pair kept their feet on the ground by visiting East Anglia at every opportunity - and have fond memories of the area.

"I used to love going to the Cattle Market in Bury and seeing all the pigs and sheep - it is a real shame that it has now gone," he said.

"All my family live in Norfolk and I try to come here as much as I can. It can sometimes be hard with the work schedules, but when I have a little gap, I try to visit my family."

Joe added: "It is a nice going back to Thetford. It is a good reality check where I can be Joe and not somebody off EastEnders.

"It is always nice when the whole family can get together and it is lovely coming back and having a chance to refresh and recharge."

Joe was turned down for the parts of Dennis Rickman and Spencer Moon before finally landing the role of Mickey Miller last year.

As his character became more popular and in an effort to spice up the show, Mickey was joined by his entire, and notorious, family - including his younger sister, on and off-screen, in September.

Joe said: "The bosses were looking for a young girl - but they didn't know it was my sister. She did all the work off her own back and she got the part on merit.

"It is lovely working with her, I would much rather have her as my on-screen sister and she loves being on the show."

Their proud grandmother, Frances, said she was delighted her grandchildren were working on the set of one of the country's most popular programmes.

"It is quite strange seeing your grandchildren on television. They have become quite famous because of the soap and people often stop me on the street and ask if they are my grandchildren," she added.

"But now they are both in EastEnders, I do feel exceptionally proud. They are absolutely normal, I just see them as my grandchildren - they are praised when they are good and told off when they are naughty.

"They haven't changed one bit since they went into EastEnders. Joe was mobbed in Bury on Saturday, but he signed everyone's autographs and posed for photos.

"But this is what is like the whole time. They are not really like their characters in the programme, they are just normal, ordinary people."

The pair, whose mother Kiffy went to St Benedict's School in Bury St Edmunds, are regular visitors to the area to see their grandmother, who has 19 grandchildren.

The large and close family spent Saturday night at the Taste of China in Thetford before Joe and Shana resumed their now-regular heavy schedule on set today.

dave.gooderham@eadt.co.uk

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