The soap has been exploring the issue of domestic abuse with the two characters since July 2019.
As EastEnders returns to screens after 3 months, the storyline picks up with Chantelle (Jessica Plummer) resolving to divorce Gray (Toby-Alexander Smith) whose behaviour worsened during lockdown.
Chantelle’s efforts to extricate herself from her abusive marriage will have “ultimately fatal consequences”, the BBC have said.
“Chantelle’s story is such an important one to tell accurately and upon both character’s inception we planned her tragic ending with the intention of embedding the stark reality of domestic abuse at the heart of the Atkins family. Being able to shed light on the realities of what goes on behind closed doors has never been more crucial given the harrowing statistics as a result of the current pandemic and hopefully Chantelle’s story will encourage people to speak out to someone they trust and get the support that they need. Jessica’s performance is nothing short of extraordinary and even in her final scenes, the audience will be moved by Chantelle’s strength. We’re very sorry so see Jessica go but hope that her impact on viewers is long-lasting.” – Jon Sen, EastEnders Executive Producer
The East End based soap opera has worked closely with Refuge and Women’s Aid on Chantelle and Gray’s storyline, which has been running on screen since July 2019.
Refuge has noted a spike in calls to its 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline since the pandemic.
Women’s Aid has released startling statistics that show over two-thirds of survivors reported their domestic abuse escalating in lockdown. More research revealed over three quarters of women living with an abuser said they felt they could not leave or get away because of the pandemic.
“It has been a pleasure to work so closely with the team at EastEnders during the development of this storyline, and they have really listened to the real life experiences of survivors of domestic abuse to ensure that the scripts have been as realistic as possible. At the beginning of the storyline, we visited the studios with a survivor of abuse who spoke to Jessica, which was very emotional and had a huge impact on how she has played the character of Chantelle. At Women’s Aid we know only too well how horrific Covid-19 has been for those living with abusive partners, and this will be reflected over the coming weeks as Chantelle’s story comes to an end – tragically her death reflects the reality of many women living with abusers, and many more women than usual were killed at the hands of their current or former partners during the first weeks of lockdown. I know that this storyline will help to save lives by raising huge awareness of domestic abuse, signposting to the support that is available and starting an important conversation about domestic abuse in the UK and beyond.” – Teresa Parker, Head of Communications at Women’s Aid
In the first week of July, as lockdown lifted, Refuge saw a 54% rise in women contacting its helpline seeking refuge emergency accommodation, when compared with the last week in June.
Viewers will see this mirrored on screen as Chantelle has been isolating with her husband and as the saga picks up she makes the big decision to file for divorce.
After attempting to escape, devastatingly Chantelle doesn’t make it and is killed at the hand of her abuser.
“Refuge is delighted to have worked closely with EastEnders over many months on this important storyline. The Covid-19 crisis has magnified the reality that many survivors like Chantelle face every day. Domestic abuse is the biggest issue affecting our society and millions of women and girls remain trapped with an abusive partner. Sadly, Chantelle’s murder is not an isolated incident – on average, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. We urge anyone who has been affected by Chantelle’s story to contact Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline (0808 2000 247, www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk). No one should live in fear – you are not alone.” – Lisa King, Director of Communications at Refuge
Jessica Plummer said: “It has been such a privilege to play Chantelle and to be able to tell her story. I have known it wasn’t going to end well for Chantelle for a while now and although it was a shock to find out her fate, far too many men and women suffer in silence so I hope that by raising awareness we can ultimately save lives.”
Plummer’s final scenes as Chantelle will air later this month.