BBC EastEnders: Real life of Jean Slater star Gillian Wright – Corrie role, marriage to famous musician and brush with death

Gillian Wright has spent years making EastEnders viewers laugh and cry with her portrayal of Jean Slater. The mother of Sean and Stacey Slater has been a fixture in the BBC One soap on and off since 2004.

Things were looking good for Jean as she met new man Harvey Monroe. But things haven’t been too good for the Walford resident, who has bipolar disorder, of late as she refuses to believe she is unwell and needs help despite her daughter’s best intervention.

Viewers have seen her proposition Rocky Cotton in the Queen Vic toilets, as well as stealing from a local jewellers amongst other things. But with her fiance distracted with his own problems surrounding his son and the far-right group he was involved in, Jean has continued to spiral.

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During Thursday’s EastEnders, fans of the soap will see Jean in a life or death situation. Stacey hears from Billy Mitchell that Jean has been spotted wearing her wedding dress, telling people she’s getting married today. With the help of her ex-husband Martin Fowler, the pair end up finding Jean in Southend.

Then, in panic Stacey races towards the sea as she spots her mum walking towards the waves, with no sign of stopping and it will be up to Stacey to convince her that she is unwell and that she can help her get the support she needs.

As things ramp up for Jean in the popular soap, we thought we’d take a look at the life of the actress who plays her. It may come as a surprise to some that Gillian was only meant to have a one-off appearance in EastEnders in 2004 but quickly became a favorite amongst fans.

Gillian Wright as Jean Slater

Before returning the following year where she was signed for four more episodes, the Bermondsey-born actress had a brief stint in rival soap Coronation Street. She played a character called Yvonne, the wife of Liz McDonald’s short-term love interest Barry, for just two episodes in 2005.

But Gillian then returned to EastEnders on a recurring basis until her character moved into Albert Square in November 2007. Since then Jean has spent time in and out of Walford with Gillian picking up a few awards along the way – including the ‘Best Actress’ gong at the Inside Soap Awards in 2012.

But Gillian’s first TV role was back in 1994 when she starred in the hit children’s programme Chucklevision with comedy duo Paul and Barry Chuckle. The episode she starred in, titled ‘Mind over Marrow’, saw the two brothers start a cement company and get hired by a Mr and Mrs Stone to fill in some potholes in their driveway with Gillan playing Mrs Stone.

Aside from EastEnders, Gillian, 61, was spotted in a 2015 episode of Holby City during a two year break from EastEnders and it was in the same year that the actress, who found her TV success after leaving her job as a drama teacher and theatre director at 33, said she had a near-death experience after being diagnosed with acute pancreatitis.

“It was touch and go,” she previously told the Mirror. “It’s no exaggeration to say I had a real brush with death.” Gillian was at a dog agility class with her lurcher, Professor Scruff, when she suddenly felt a pain in her stomach that wouldn’t go away. While she managed to make it home, a neighbour called 999 and she was rushed to hospital

“I was so ill my parents flew down from the Highlands of Scotland to look after me. And my sister, Lois, and nephew, Stanley, were frantic,” she told the publication. “The pain was unbearable. If somebody had given me the choice of living with that pain a day longer or swallowing a pill to end it all, I’d have taken the tablet.”

While little is known about Gillian’s personal life, we do know she was married to musician Steve Wright. After a few years together, the couple went their separate ways due to incompatible tour schedules. “He was touring Europe with the band Fiat Lux. I was touring the UK in theatre shows. We were lucky if we passed each other on the motorway,” she told the Mirror.

The pair never had children and Gillian revealed she did not regret the decision. “We never had children but that’s not a regret,” she said. “I don’t think like that. It just didn’t happen. But I’ve been very lucky with my career. I’m very happy and can’t believe I’m in a big West End hit. I feel very, very blessed.”