Anne Hailes: Gwen Taylor's lips are sealed about Vi's EastEnders storylines

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

Gwen Taylor as Vi Highway
Gwen Taylor as Vi Highway

GWEN Taylor is sitting on a bundle of state secrets. In a box in her bedroom in London are papers that millions would like to lay hands on.

“Weeks of material,” she tells me, “so I know a lot of the inside story but, sorry, my lips are sealed.”

What are these papers? Scripts for forthcoming episodes of EastEnders. She knows what happens in The Queen Vic next week, what Phil gets up to, the future life of Mick and Linda.

Her character, Vi Highway, arrived in the London borough of Watford earlier this month in a cloud of colour and a voice dripping with sarcasm. Already she has become very fond of her grandson Callum (Tony Clay) and his husband Ben Mitchell (Max Bowden) and the public have become very fond of Vi.

“The writing is so professional and the actors so good that I was genuinely moved as they exchanged vows at their wedding,” she says.

At the wedding she scolded her grandson: “I see being a hoo-moo-sex-ual hasn’t stopped you slouching.”

The sharp sarcastic tongue has become a cult figure with a growing fan club.

“I love my script, everyone knows a woman like Vi, a rude woman with no filter.”

She has a next-door neighbour who apparently has a wonderful turn of phrase. “Lynette next door promised the second coming last year and all we got was Covid.”

No stranger to television sitcoms, Coronation Street as Anne Foster, and well known for ITV long-running programme Duty Free with Keith Barron, Gwen joined the cast of EastEnders at the start of this month and in a matter of weeks has established Vi Highway of the platinum hair and the horn-rimmed glasses – thoughtfully fitted with her own prescription lenses by the producer so she can check any last-minute adjustments while on set.

“Sometimes there are cuts and sometimes if I feel the words don’t fit the character we discuss changes,” Gwen tells me.

Tanya Franks (Rainie Highway) has become a good friend and Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell) made her welcome.

“I was aware of the challenge ahead of me but he told me, ‘Once they get to know you they’ll love you’. He put me at ease and assured me I’d settle and he was right – I feel comfortable with the support of all the cast and crew."

It’s strange how many people will tell you they wouldn’t watch a soap opera. Strange, as this is where you’ll see the very best scripting, acting and current topics being aired.

“Yes, some people said that to me when I told them my news of getting this part; I have to admit it brought me down,” says Gwen.

I bet they do watch and when they do they will soon be engaged with Vi and her family.

:: Romance on air

Gwen has a special love for Northern Ireland. She met, fell in love with and married Belfast playwright Graham Reid after appearing in his BBC Billy plays.

More recently she hit the headlines when she appeared in the Grand Opera House as Shirley Valentine and again in the Opera House three years ago when she played a feisty Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Ernest.

“Graham admits he has some issues living with a bob-cut platinum blond instead of the dark haired beauty he was used to! I was more Veronica Lake but my mother was salt and pepper and, as I was heading that way, I decided to see what would happen if I just went au naturel. When I joined the cast of EastEnders Linda cut it into a good shape and when I have an outside shot in the Square she’s always around to comb it into position.”

Gwen, a respected stage actress, says a theatre experience helps with discipline but it’s nothing like television where scenes can be recorded out of sequence rather than in beginning, middle and end form.

“At the moment there are the additional restrictions because of Covid. For instance, everything is measured to make sure of distancing, I can’t hug my dear ‘soap’ grandsons and when talking to someone across a small table I’m actually not talking to a fellow actor but to a tennis ball on the end of a stick.”

It’s a very busy life for a lady in her early 80s. Her husband insisted on a car to call for her each morning and returning at night – otherwise it would be a tube.

“When I get up at 6.15am Graham is already downstairs and has prepared me boiled egg and toast so I go out on a full tummy.”

Her six-month contract looks like being extended as Vi has already told her grandsons Stuart (Ricky Champ) and Callum she’s not going home after all and certainly she’s a shot of colour in the Square which has been a bit grey recently.

And talk about a back story... I understand there is a lot more to Vi than meets the eye – but that’s all in the box in Gwen’s bedroom.

:: Dara McAnulty has done it again.

THIS 16-year-old schoolboy, who is autistic, has been announced winner of the prestigious Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing British Book Awards 2020 with his Diary of a Young Naturalist.

His comment is worth reading and remembering: “So very proud! This is for every autistic kid who has been isolated and marginalised. Every kid who was/is bullied because they are different, because they are filled with wonder and joy for what fascinates them.

"Never hold back your true self. Never lose your joy. The youngest ever winner of a British Book Award (and I accepted it in my Shimna Integrated College school uniform) – this is for you guys too.”