Entertainment reunions have always had unspoken tiers to them, made up of those taking part as a form of obligation, something squeezed into their packed schedules, and those who seem to have been sat waiting by the phone for that illusive call since the release of the original project.
But while the likes of Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor have gone from relative unknowns to Oscar-nominated A-listers in the interim years, their respective journeys run parallel to that of Martine McCutcheon, who was one of the original film's biggest names. A national sweetheart as a result of her long-running role as Tiffany on EastEnders, McCutcheon appeared to tick all the right boxes on the post-soap opera checklist, from a hit pop career to an award-winning stage debut to a role in a blockbuster movie.
But as a result of dodgy headlines, some ill-fated choices and a bit of bad luck, McCutcheon struggled in that crucial third act, never managing to parlay her initial buzz into the acclaimed work that has seen the likes of Suranne Jones, Jenna Coleman and Sarah Lancashire morph their soap opera beginnings into mere footnotes on their CVs. At the same time, however, she's never become a TV punchline, someone along the lines of an Adam Woodyatt or a Toadfish off Neighbours.
McCutcheon instead exists in a sort of celebrity limbo, trying out different guises here and there, all accompanied by a baying mob of tabloid journalists that seem to have provided chorus to every one of her personal and professional woes.
Despite only appearing on EastEnders for four years, Tiffany was one of the soap's most iconic Nineties characters, a feisty but vulnerable Queen Vic barmaid stuck in a perpetually abusive relationship with Grant Mitchell. Her accidental death in Christmas 1998 drew 22 million viewers, along with an outpouring of grief that drew slightly hysterical comparisons to the death of Princess Diana, a mood that eclipsed the tabloid speculation over McCutcheon's departure.
She claimed to have been killed off as punishment for requesting time away to launch a music career, and that she only found out about her character's death in a tabloid newspaper ("Tiff's a Stiff" ran the headline).
But McCutcheon's UK popularity powered her to immediate singing success, a rarity in a decade where it seemed Wellard the Dog was the only soap regular to not try and launch their own musical side project. In April of 1999, it felt like the UK was divided into two camps: one that would immediately switch over whenever McCutcheon's misty pop debut Perfect Moment screeched onto TV screens, and one that would be entirely captivated by the primed-for-wedding-and-funerals ditty.
There is no doubt Martine is part of the reason why the show was so phenomenally successful, but we never knew if she was going to turn up and the cast who they were going to be playing opposite. You can't run a show like this.
Perfect Moment was the UK's number one single for two weeks, while her debut album You, Me & Us was a minor hit later that year. But McCutcheon's second album, featuring an energetic cover of Donna Summer's On the Radio, was less successful. A last-ditch pop effort, a covers album titled Musicality, was released in 2002. But the record bombed, and McCutcheon was subsequently dropped by her record company.
While her music career dwindled, McCutcheon's acting career was looking up... until it suddenly wasn't. Assuming the role of Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady seemed like a particularly comfy glove: the tale of a hands-on-hips Cockney broad initiated into the higher echelons of society, something that mirrored McCutcheon's own journey from inner city Hackney to late-Nineties national treasure. Her ability to garner a massive £5 million in advance ticket sales similarly put her money-making ability in good stead. But it became quickly apparent that McCutcheon's West End debut was in fact a poisoned chalice.
On press night, McCutcheon was struck down by a "mystery bug", leaving her unable to perform for six weeks. Over the course of three months, the cast and crew were left uncertain on a daily basis whether McCutcheon would show up, leaving Eliza in the hands of understudies. She would ultimately quit the show after three months, following intermittent performances. By the end of the run, costar Jonathan Pryce had trained four different Elizas to become elegant ladies.
"There is no doubt Martine is part of the reason why the show was so phenomenally successful, but we never knew if she was going to turn up and the cast who they were going to be playing opposite," said theatrical super-producer Cameron Mackintosh in 2003 (via Daily Mail). "And the public, who had booked months and months in advance, didn't know who they were going to come and see. So however wonderful she was on the occasions she would deign to come on, you can't run a show like this".
In a strange twist of fate, McCutcheon still won an Olivier Award for her work in the musical, despite playing the role less times than her numerous understudies. In an awards show moment that has gone down in theatrical circle infamy, Pryce is seen grimacing behind McCutcheon as her name is called.
The My Fair Lady debacle was speculated to have soured McCutcheon's reputation in the theatre world -- a devastating blow for former stars of soaps and singing competitions. The negative press was also something of a disaster, particularly reports that she was seen on nights out while she was supposed to be recuperating.
It only added to McCutcheon's reputation as something of a tabloid fixture. Speculation ran rife about her love life, not helped when an ex sold a kiss-and-tell story to a Sunday newspaper, while her relationship with a man later convicted of drug smuggling naturally created headlines, particularly when she paid his £75,000 bail.
Her yo-yo dieting was also a major story for the star, resulting in mocking headlines and a fixation on her physique. "People spoke about me like I was a piece of meat," she told The Mirror last year.
Then there was her colourful social life, never more notorious than in a long-standing urban myth that she vomited all over Mick Hucknall's dreadlocks in 1996, McCutcheon comparing herself at the time to Regan in The Exorcist. Hucknall tweeted a sternly-worded denial that it ever happened nearly two decades later. In effect, McCutcheon had officially become more famous for her personal life than anything she did on-screen or on-stage.
But she soon rebounded, bagging a key role in the Richard Curtis romantic comedy Love Actually. Her character, a Cockney tea lady to Hugh Grant's Prime Minister, played to the same qualities of McCutcheon's previous two roles, only with a sliver of slightly baffling misogyny.
Now a Christmas classic, Love Actually seemed to cement McCutcheon as an up-and-coming movie star. She won Best Newcomer at the 2004 Empire Magazine Awards, and later spoke to the press of the buzz she'd created in Hollywood: "They said I'm England's answer to Jennifer Lopez," she claimed. As a result, McCutcheon tried her hand stateside.
While she drove from audition to audition in Los Angeles, an overt undercurrent of nastiness entered British coverage about McCutcheon's overseas travails. The Australians call it "tall poppy syndrome", wherein audiences and the media anoint a star, but eventually decide to cut them down once they seem to get too big for their boots.
Tabloids claimed McCutcheon got drunk at Elton John's Oscar party in 2004 and staggered in the way of an agent for the prestigious William Morris Agency, spoiling her nascent reputation in the US. There was also a claim that a sloshed McCutcheon berated a fellow party-goer with the immortal line, "Oi, get orf my flaming dress!"
McCutcheon spent two years in Los Angeles, auditioning for pilots in the hopes of bagging a role in a TV series. Only one bit, an NBC sitcom called Lies and Wives, which kept McCutcheon under contract for a year, forcing her to reportedly miss out on other opportunities. NBC ended up abandoning Lies and Wives anyway, and the pilot wasn't picked up to series. In late 2005, she was reportedly dropped by her American management and returned to the UK.
They said I'm England's answer to Jennifer Lopez!
A fitness DVD and a stint as a judge on the ITV singing contest Soapstar Superstar followed, before McCutcheon launched a TV comeback on ITV's Echo Beach -- a soap opera with a twist. The Cornwall-based soap would screen at 9pm, followed at 9.30pm by the broadcast of Moving Wallpaper, a sitcom about the team of writers scripting Echo Beach. Ben Miller was the star of the latter. But the experimental double bill confused audiences, primarily because Echo Beach was mostly played straight.
While it seemed on paper that Echo Beach would operate as a send-up of soap opera tropes, its behind-the-scenes sister series then working in tandem with its satire, it quickly became apparent that it was in fact just a regular soap opera, with the same tedious love triangles and badly-acted melodrama as McCutcheon's star-making serial. ITV ultimately axed Echo Beach, before picking up Moving Wallpaper for a second series.
"I have to admit I didn't read the reviews," McCutcheon told the News of the World (via Digital Spy). "I felt depressed because I was playing a character who'd let herself go, and that state of mind affected me. I could feel myself getting down."
Next up was an attempt at another C-list mainstay: the celebrity novel. 2009's The Mistress is a special kind of overworked genius, the sort of vanity project so staggeringly awful that it couldn't possibly have passed through the hands of a discreetly-credited ghost writer.
McCutcheon's alter-ego is the very, very beautiful Mandy Sanderson, who might be beautiful and successful and beautiful, but is also sad, as she doesn't have a man. Even worse luck befalls poor Mandy when she starts sleeping with a very handsome and successful and handsome advertising executive, who turns out to be married with children.
Martine's a very sweet lady, but have you read the book? It's a load of c---. She'll have a lot of publicity, but it's the biggest load of rubbish.
Lynda La Plante
The Mistress is filled with endearing McCutcheon-isms, with the one-novel-wonder bringing her literary skill to the subjects of London ("Such a fast place, full of different nationalities, different religions"), fashion ("She grabbed her Moncler padded ski jacket, and as she snuggled into it she felt warm and cosy, like an exotic Eskimo"), Noughties girl bands ("'Cheryl's the best, not Kimberley!' said a little voice from behind the bush"), and inspiring affirmations ("She'd read a greeting on a card once in Paperchase on the King's Road that had truly stuck with her: Reach for the moon, and even if you miss, you'll land among the stars").
In the weeks running up to the book's release, Prime Suspect creator Lynda La Plante cited McCutcheon as one of the celebrities responsible for the death of the publishing industry.
"Martine's a very sweet lady, but have you read the book?" La Plante said. "It's a load of c---. She'll have a lot of publicity, but it's the biggest load of rubbish. Meanwhile, I've seen great young writers struggle to get a deal."
In response, McCutcheon insisted she wasn't affected by the criticism: "I'm not out there to win any prizes or competitions. I just want to do a book that will be a bit of entertainment for Joe Public."
Despite signing a three-book deal with Pan Macmillan, only one novel materialised. She would instead embark on a lucrative deal with Danone to become the face of their Activia range of yogurts, and in 2013 was killed with a block of cheese on an episode of Midsomer Murders. She was also diagnosed with ME and depression, which prevented her from working and ended up forcing her into bankruptcy.
She's admitted to being a flashy spender in the past ("I love nice things, and I consider Ralph Lauren sheets to be a necessity, not a luxury"), being one of the first major British celebrities to flaunt an £11,000 Birkin bag at the turn of the 21st century, and ended up owing £149,000 in back taxes to HM Revenue and Customs.
Undeterred, she's gradually returned to the limelight in recent years, appearing in a recurring basis on the daytime panel show Loose Women and finding stability in her personal life. She's been involved with the musician Jack McManus since 2009, marrying him in a flamboyant speedboat-filled Lake Como wedding in 2012, and the pair have a young son, Rafferty.
But with the arrival of Red Nose Day Actually, McCutcheon will be granted her most high-profile role in close to a decade, and she'd be good to try and capitalise on its attention. McCutcheon has an undeniable charm, and a life full of drama, gossip and awkward giggles.
Soap opera actors are often accused of uncomfortably merging with the characters they create on-screen, where the line separating truth and fiction becomes somewhat blurred. While McCutcheon isn't exclusively synonymous with Tiffany Mitchell, her life has often resembled its own BBC soap, the star having already cycled through the feuds, romances, public embarrassments and financial woes of even the most ludicrous of TV characters.
It leaves just one last unexpected plot twist left unturned: the surprise comeback. And there's nothing more soap opera appropriate than that.
READ MORE ABOUT:
- West End
- Jonathan Pryce
- Keira Knightley
- Hugh Grant
- Love Actually
- Red Nose Day
- Princess Diana
- Jenna Coleman
- Jennifer Lopez
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