EastEnders Jaime Winstone says Barbara Windsor sent sign from above over Peggy role

Five years after playing the late Dame Barbara Windsor in BBC biopic Babs, Jaime Winstone has stepped into her shoes once again.

The 37-year-old actress appears as a younger version of the icon’s most famous character, Peggy Mitchell, in a flashback episode of EastEnders and says, “It’s a real honour.”

While her role in Babs covered Barbara’s childhood, early romances and rise to fame in the Carry On films in detail, Jaime felt like her “journey with Barbara” hadn’t really finished and revealed she even felt she had received a sign from the late soap favourite to accept her latest portrayal.

“When I got offered the part, I thought, ‘God, is this something I should do? Am I risking getting typecast?’" says Jaime. "So I did actually have a little word with Barbara up above and I got my sign and I felt like it was written for me. I felt like I got the go-ahead [from Barbara] and Scott [Mitchell, her widower] approved it.”

The sign that Barbara sent Jaime was “a little blonde butterfly that kept coming in my garden”, she recalls, laughing. “I kept thinking, ‘That’s strange,’ as I’ve got a little dog and we don’t normally get too many butterflies because he goes for them. So that was my sign. I thought, that’s her. You know when you know.”

“When we shot Babs, I got to work with her very closely and became great friends with her," she added.

"There were things you couldn’t study or be taught in terms of the way she worked with people, how she touched people’s shoulders when she was talking to them, or held your hands when she was advising you.

"There was stuff I could draw from naturally in my personal life. But being asked to step into Peggy’s shoes, it was the one character I didn’t get to do in Babs, so it really felt like bookending my journey with her.

Barbara, who died in December 2020, played Mitchell matriarch Peggy in EastEnders from 1994 to 2010, with brief returns between 2013 and 2016. During that time, Peggy was a widow dealing with sons Phil and Grant and daughter Samantha.

But the flashback takes place in 1979 – when Phil and Grant were kids and Peggy’s husband Eric (played by George Russo) was still alive.

Jaime spent time with EastEnders writers, producer Chris Clenshaw and director Toby Frow talking about what Peggy would have been like at this time in her life.

“In 1979, in the East End, things were tough,” Jaime says. “You’ve got Thatcher on the TV, rubbish in the streets, nurses on strike. I think for a woman, her role in her home was to keep things together. We see a softer and more vulnerable, slightly more tender Peggy.

“The kids are younger, she’s trying to be a housewife, a good wife and a good mother all in one and keeping things together. As you see, the cracks start to show with the young Phil and Grant shifting from being boys to men.

"There’s a lot of fear and a lot of love that becomes explosive.”

Part of Jaime’s transformation into a young Barbara/Peggy involved her costumes – including, of course, a bleach-blonde wig and 1970s fashion.

“I don’t know if you know this about the 70s but there is a lot of brown,” she laughs. “I kept saying, ‘Oh, I love that, but have you got it in brown?’ Brown was like the pink of today. It was such an honour to do a period piece in EastEnders. There’s not a lot of people who can say they have done that.

"We were filming it like a kitchen-sink drama, so it was really cool. I had my pinny and that became my security blanket.”

And Jaime says the 1979 setting also has some similarities with life today. “I was so blown away by the parallels in this script with Margaret Thatcher on the telly and this politician speaking to the working class and just not having a clue how these people live and how they are surviving, and how cold they are and what they’re going to eat that evening,” she says.

“I think at this time, right now, we really need to be fed some nostalgia, understand what our history is – and if that is through drama and we tell real stories through drama, that’s great.

There’s so much bulls**t politics that goes on that ultimately affects the working class.”

To get into character as the younger Peggy, Jaime revisited a few memorable episodes from the soap and chatted to some of the cast who worked with Barbara.

“I watched her first episode and a random one in the middle and her final one, just so I had an arc of her journey and I knew where to begin,” Jaime explains. “We were separated from the ‘now’ [the current cast] – we were the big secret in another studio.

“Steve McFadden [who plays Phil] came on set to see the boys, the lovely young actors playing Phil and Grant, who did an amazing job. He gave loads of advice to the actor playing Phil. And Steve and I got to talk about the journey we shared with Barbara and how magic it was.

"I had all the other actors who were filming sending messages. Danny Dyer sent one saying, ‘Oh God, you’re doing a proper bit of work here.’ It was just a nice rapport. These people are my idols, people I’ve watched for years, and they were all dead curious – because everybody wants to know how Peggy, Grant, Phil and Sam got to where they are now.”

Jaime clearly has a great deal of respect for both the character of Peggy and Barbara herself.

“When she [Barbara] finally got this role [as Peggy], she kind of became the landlord of our country. The landlord of what we know in London. She’s just safe. There’s something safe and very British about Barbara,” she says.

“We hadn’t really seen that, we’d seen all these showgirls and funny girls [she had played]. With Peggy, she was a caring mother and a tough old cookie. She had a voice and she says what she says, she’s not bothered by the airs and graces and how much money people have got, and Barbara mirrored that in her real life.

“She was that voice, she was the showgirl with a working-class voice and she was mesmerising to watch. People loved her and were scared of her as well. I think that’s just so endearing. She sort of managed to give us all a cuddle through the screen.”


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