Following the news that Danniella Westbrook is to reprise her role as Sam Mitchell in EastEnders, we take a look back at Sam’s life in Walford.
The Early Days
Sam first arrived in Walford a fresh faced teen way back in 1990 – she was the sister of already established characters Phil and Grant who had arrived a few months before her. It wasn’t long before Sam caught Ricky Butcher’s eye. and young love blossomed much to the displeasure of her two brothers who are more akin to primates than human beings. Despite Phil and Grant disapproving of her blossoming relationship with Ricky even to the extent of threatening to hurt Ricky, Sam continued to see him. The real obstacle in the course of young love was to be Sam’s mum Peggy who was notably then played by Jo Warne before the role would be taken up by Carry On star Barbara Windsor for a number of years. Sam’s mum Peggy first arrived in the show in 1991 and set about trying to split the young lovebirds up but failed miserably. Efforts to keep Sam and Ricky apart only bought them closer together and Sam and Ricky would often sneak off in Ricky’s camper van for private rendezvous together.
Peggy continued to vehemently oppose the relationship and mother and daughter locked horns. Eventually Peggy relented and agreed to have dinner with the Butcher family but, unimpressed with Ricky and her daughter’s plans to spend her days with him, Peggy left abruptly and made her feelings clear to Sam on the subject. In the summer of 1991, Sam and Ricky eloped to Gretna Green to tie the knot and despite Phil and Grant’s best efforts to track them down and stop the wedding they managed to get married. Later that month, the pair had a more official church blessing with all of the family in attendance and even Peggy eventually swallowed her pride and attended the ceremony.
Sam and Ricky were soon to discover that this marriage lark is not all it’s cracked up to be as life as a married couple wasn’t all a bed of roses for the newlyweds – in fact far from it. Right from the start their marriage was put under strain as they fought off interference from their families and money troubles. Additionally, Ricky was jealous of Sam’s excessive partying and her amateur modeling career. Sam would often fall out with best friend Hattie Tavernier over the way she treated Ricky. The series made use of Sam’s career move when in 1992, Sam won the “Miss Queen Vic” competition held at the Queen Vic but off-screen Ms Westbrook’s well documented troubles were already taking hold and she decided to quit the soap – Sam’s final appearance for now was in 1993. Away from the Elstree complex for the first time in 2 years, Westbrook maintained that her addiction did not get in the way of her work on the serial. In the show, Sam moved to Costa Del Sol to start a new life.
Sam would next be seen in the summer of 1995 during a special week of episodes set abroad in Spain in which the characters of David Wicks, Steve Elliot, Phil Mitchell, Grant Mitchell, Ricky Butcher and Bianca Jackson went on holiday. Sam is first seen in a club when a barmaid introduces David Wicks to “my friend Sam” – David who had only turned up on the square a year before was unaware who Sam was. David, like most men, thought with his nether-regions and soon set about trying to seduce Sam. The pair ended up back at the shared apartment of the Walford holiday-goers and in the shared bedroom. The episode ended with Phil and Grant walking in to find David in bed with their little sister and not just tucking her in either.
After deciding that life in Spain wasn’t working out, Sam decided to return to Walford. Life back in the square wasn’t easy for Sam as she had to put up with constant jibes from Ricky’s new girlfriend Bianca Jackson who doesn’t have a reputation for mincing her words. She also had to contend with the grimaces of brothers Phil and Grant during a brief relationship with David Wicks. Things came to a head in 1996 when Sam began lusting after her former hubby and set about trying to get him back. Ricky tried to let her down gently but Bianca was furious when she saw the pair kissing on a night out. It was supposed to be a goodbye kiss but Bianca isn’t the easiest person to explain things to and so this left Ricky and Bianca’s relationship in jeopardy. Sam decided to leave Walford again in 1996 and go back to Spain with a Spanish tourist she met in the Vic. Off camera Westbrook was axed after producers grew tired of her drug problem which by now was in full swing and affecting her performances as Sam.
Sam was re-introduced in 1999 by then Executive Producer Matthew Robinson who had considered recasting the role until the BBC’s Controller of Continuing Drama Series Mal Young recommended that Westbrook was given another chance. Sam first stepped back into Walford that summer and became friends with barmaid Nina Harris. She was quick to ruffle her brother’s feathers once more when she embarked on romances with her brothers’ sworn enemies Beppe di Marco and Steve Owen. This time her storylines were rather more low key than in previous stints but she would later be used with the character Beppe in a storyline surrounding Ross Kemp’s departure as Grant.
Off screen Westbrook still hadn’t got her house in order as her addiction to the drug cocaine continued to affect her performances as Sam. It was reported that she had to undergo constant drug tests in order to keep her job but at this time, her excessive use of the drug has completely eroded away her nasal septum. In a bid to hide this from the audience, Sam would only be filmed in ways that would keep her septum hidden from view. Following more press speculation into her private life, the BBC announced in January 2000 that she was being axed from the soap and Sam made her final appearance that month. Westbrook initially claimed that it was her decision not to return because she was getting married and wanted to spend time with her new husband – she even suggested that she would soon return to the soap but this was not to be. On camera, Sam left the big smoke and returned to her second home of Spain once more. Later that year, the full extent of the damage Westbrook’s cocaine addiction had done to her nose was revealed when the actress was papped at the British Soap Awards minus a nasal septum – the press had a field day and any future returns for Westbrook as Sam Mitchell looked well and truly put out to pasture.
Third Return – Kim Medcalf takes on the role
In 2001 Executive Producer John Yorke wanted to bring back the character of Sam to the Mitchell fold but decided against using Westbrook and instead opted to recast the role. It is unclear whether bosses ever thought about bringing Westbrook back to fill the role but since she’d seemed to have given up on acting by this point it was likely they hadn’t. Actresses began auditioning for the role that year but the role they were auditioning for was kept a closely guarded secret in order to avoid leaks to the press – the actresses were initially fooled into thinking they were auditioning for an altogether new character. Finally an actress Kim Medcalf was awarded the role of playing the new Sam. Medcalf was a relative newcomer to acting and had no TV experience but EastEnders producer Paul Annett who would be working on the episodes where the character returned revealed he knew straight away that she was the right person for the job. Bosses decided to feature the character of Sam away from Walford initially in order to help audiences adjust to Medcalf in the role and so a second week in Spain featuring the character was devised.
They came up with a plot involving Mike Reid’s character of Frank Butcher. Reid had left the serial a year earlier due to exhaustion but was tempted back for the episodes filmed in Spain. In January and February of 2002 viewers saw Peggy head out to Spain to attend Frank’s funeral but Frank wasn’t really dead and had managed to fake his own death. Upon discovering her former husband who was supposed to be brown bread was actually alive and well, Peggy was horrified but she had another reason for being in Spain and she switched her attentions to that – she wanted to find her daughter Sam.
Peggy enlisted the help of a former police detective called Alistair whom she met in a bar and together they eventually tracked Samantha down. Peggy was horrified to find her daughter working in a poledancing club and immeadiately managed to get her the sack by causing a fuss. Sam was furious and mother and daughter came to blows. Eventually Sam calmed down and later agreed to return to Walford with Peggy. Back in Walford, Sam began an affair with her former lover Steve Owen who was now married to blonde bombshell Mel Healy but Steve was just using Sam in order to get at her brother Phil with whom he had a long running feud. Sam later began a romance with wife-beater Trevor Morgan but this soon fizzled out as he was fixated with getting his wife Little Mo back. Sam had a breast cancer scare later that year when she found a lump on her breast. She confided in her friend Zoe Slater and feared the worst because mother Peggy had already suffered two bouts of the illness but, fortunately for Sam, the lump turned out not to be cancerous.
In 2004, Sam began a relationship with the suited and booted but equally unsavoury Andy Hunter. Sam had been left in charge of the Mitchell empire following Phil’s arrest and Peggy’s departure to Brazil to look after her brother Grant who had been hurt in a car accident. Andy sensing an opportunity to get rich quick proposed to Sam – she accepted and married him in September of that year despite her cousin Billy and Phil’s friend Minty’s best efforts to stop her going through with it. Just before Christmas Sam lost everything when bent solicitor Marcus Christie fleeced the Mitchell empire with the help of Den Watts. Andy threw Sam out of what was by then his house and Sam had lost everything.
In early 2005, Chrissie Watts discovered that her husband Den had been unfaithful to her with Zoe Slater. Sick of Den manipulating everyone she devised a plan to force Den to sign over his share of the Vic to her and Sam and Zoe who Den had also screwed over had to be there but Den wasn’t about to play ball. Chrissie had a trump card up her sleeve when she exposed Den’s lies and best efforts to keep his adoptive daughter Sharon away from the love of her life his son Dennis in front of Sharon whom she’d invited back to Walford under the pretence that Den was ill and needed to see her. Sharon quickly scarpered having heard all she needed to but Chrissie didn’t get off lightly when Den went back to the pub and attacked her. Zoe Slater hit Den over the head with a iron doorstep in the shape of a dog in order to diffuse the attack and the women thought Den was dead. Sam was in for the shock of her life when she later witnessed Chrissie finishing Den – who wasn’t dead – off with the doorstep. The three women buried Den alive in the cellar of the pub which conveniently for them was undergoing drain maintenance.
Over the coming months, Sam decided to use this knowledge of what Chrissie had done in order to blackmail her into signing back her mother’s beloved pub – the Queen Vic – which Chrissie’s husband Den had conned her out of. Chrissie wouldn’t budge so instead Sam would help herself to the till. A truce was called for a little while and Sam returned to work behind the bar but the truce wasn’t to last long and it wasn’t long before it was all out war between Sam and Chrissie once more. Eventually Sam did the decent thing and revealed to Zoe that she wasn’t the one who killed Den – it was Chrissie who finished him off. After a tense encounter with Zoe, a furious Chrissie confronted Sam and violently threatened to take her down with her if the truth ever came out. Sam’s life began to spiral out of control with nothing working out for her but things were about to get much worse.
In August 2005 after a bitter fight with Chrissie in the Vic, Sam decided she would expose Chrissie for what she was – a murderer – once and for all. She got drunk and then proceeded to dig Den’s body up from under the Vic’s cellar floor while the Queen Vic regulars including Chrissie were all out attending the wedding of Dennis and Sharon. Sam was arrested on suspicion of murder and criminal damage while Chrissie denied all knowledge of the body under the pub least of all it being that of her husband. In September of that year Sam’s mother Peggy returned to London and was later followed by her brothers Phil and Grant after Phil was released from prison. The trio immeadiately set about trying to prove Sam’s innocence and that Chrissie was the one who killed Den. Chrissie’s lies were eventually exposed and she was caught trying to flee the country. Sam was released from prison and allowed to return home on police bail but the Mitchell’s solicitor Ritchie Scott was quick to warn them that Sam could still be facing time inside for being an accessory to the murder. Deciding she couldn’t face going back to prison, Sam decided to go on the run with brother Phil’s help. Phil arranged a false passport and Sam swanned off for a new life in Brazil with Grant.
That final appearance in November 2005 was to be the last time Sam Mitchell would be seen for a number of years however the character has often featured in the narrative of the programme since then. In March 2006, Sam was notably mentioned when Grant returned to Walford and revealed she was seeing a bloke out in Brazil and the character was last mentioned on Christmas Day 2008 when she called up the Vic to give everyone Christmas well wishes. Since leaving the series, Medcalf has said she would consider a possible return to EastEnders in the future but that call would never beckon and a shock announcement was made in April 2009.
Fourth Return – Westbrook Returns
In April 2009 it was confirmed that Walford’s original come back kid Sam would be returning to the soap and in a shock move bosses had given the role back to the original actress Danniella Westbrook.
The character is expected to be back on screens in the Autumn. Speaking of her return Westbrook commented that she was really happy to be returning to the show.
Now that Westbrook has finally put her drug fuelled past behind her, will this be a more successful return than her other attempts? Only time will tell but good luck to her we say!