WOMAN'S OWN, 10 January 1987
Minutes earlier she'd had the troubles of the world on her shoulders. What with Michelle becoming an unmarried mum, then jilting Lofty at the alter, her teenage son in a detention centre, her husband Arthur still out of work, and pinching the Christmas Club money, and, finally, the strain of trying to hold down four jobs, life hasn't exactly been a bowl of cherries for poor old Pauline. To cap it all, she's a mum again at a time when most women are looking forward to the kids leaving home.
But there's a spring in Wendy Richard's step and a sparkle in her eyes as she greets you straight from Albert Square. As fed-up, hard-up Pauline Fowler she hasn't got much to laugh about, even if Michelle did finally do right by Lofty. But when the cameras stop rolling it's a different story.
Yes, Wendy Richard is in love and her smiles are for real. "I've found the love of my life. At last it's my turn to have some luck," she grins. "I've never been so happy. It's wonderful."
The luck she's talking about is the handsome Irishman she's shared her life with since March last year. "Paul has made me feel like a different person. He's given the confidence I always lacked, the love I'd always dreamed of. He's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Before they met she'd given up looking for Mr. Right. After two divorces and an acrimonious parting with a live-in boyfriend she admits: "I was resigned to being on my own for the rest of my life."
Paul Glorney, 36, who is in the carpet business, is six years younger than Wendy. "The age gap doesn't worry him so it doesn't worry me," she says. In fact, with Paul she has no worries. "He doesn't even have to tell me he loves me. I just know -- and I've never had that feeling, that reassurance with a man before. Anyone in this business is insecure, and I'm no exception, but now all that's changing. Knowing that Paul loves me gives me security."
Before EastEnders there had been triumphs on film, stage and television, including her role as the busty Miss Brahms in Are You Being Served?, but often no-one at home to share them with.
When she moved into Albert Square, her four-year affair with a salesman began to sour as grueling work schedules and fame came between them. After they parted he gave his story to the Press. His life with Wendy was spread across the pages of Sunday newspapers, and a libel case followed.
It wasn't the first time a man in her life had kissed and told. Husband number two publicly painted Wendy as a wicked stepmother to his two children. That time she retaliated by confessing that she'd been a battered wife during their marriage.
"I wasn't planning on saying a word about how he had treated me because I didn't want his two children and his elderly mother to know what he was like. When he did that for money, I was angry."
And so she answered back, reliving the beatings and the humiliations she'd suffered during their eight-year relationship. The letters rained in. Hundreds of them came from battered wives, asking advice and praising her for having the guts to speak out.
"My personal advice to women who are beaten up is to leave, but that's easier said than done if you've got children. Yet some of the women who wrote to me had done it and made a good life for themselves and came out of it all with dignity."
And that's just what happened to Wendy Richard. Today, both Paul and EastEnders have given her a new lease of life. As Pauline she is a national heroine, one of the world's most famous copers. "Pauline's gutsy. She deserves a medal," says the actress.
Hers is the finest role in the show, she adds, not even trying to sound modest. "It's the best female part to come out of the BBC for years. When I was first offered the role I knew she'd be a challenge because she was so different from the dolly birds I'd played for years. I've been an actress for 26 years and there comes a time when you realise you can't go on playing those sort of parts."
Although she'd be the first to admit that Pauline, with her often glum face and frumpy clothes, is hardly your typical smouldering sexpot, as far as Wendy is concerned, suggesting that Mrs. Fowler isn't sexy is as daft as saying Dirty Den isn't a rotter [scoundrel].
"Pauline is a very sexy lady. She's just not very obvious. Chaps write to me saying, 'I fancy you something rotten, even if you are wearing overalls.'
"I don't want Pauline to wear more glamorous clothes. It wouldn't be right. Her sexuality comes from within. She has a certain warmth."
She certainly wouldn't swap Pauline's old frocks for Angie Watts' up-market little numbers, nor would she swap Arthur for Den . . . though at times he drives her nuts.
"If I was married to Arthur I think I'd have swung for him a long time ago," she laughs. "I feel more sorry for Angie being married to Dirty Den though. She should have everything, but she's got nothing because she hasn't got her man. If Pauline was married to Den she'd have sorted out Jan by now."
Although she speaks with a polished East End accent Wendy is, in fact, a Geordie. But she spent most of her childhood in and around London. Her parents were publicans and she had a strict upbringing . . . there was nanny and she went to a private school.
An only child, she adored her parents and when her father committed suicide, when she was just 11 years old, Wendy was shattered. "He was a wonderful man," she says softly.
She was devoted, too, to her mother. "Mummy was a bit like Pauline in some respects. She'd always had her own business but when my father died she had to work for someone else. But I always had nice clothes and good food. My mother was a grafter [hard worker] and eventually we got our own business again -- only a small hotel but at least it was ours."
Her mother's death 13 years ago, like her divorces, was a bitter blow to Wendy. Her weight plummeted to just over 7 stone [98 pounds; 44.5 kg], and she stayed in bed, depressed. "I haven't always had things easy," she smiles sardonically.
Once, she even contemplated suicide. Understandably, she's reluctant to talk about those black days, but she admits: "I didn't have any work. My marriage was over. I wondered what the point was of going on. Eventually I thought 'Come back fighting' That's what you must do. Keep your faith and keep going."
And yet without the pain she has suffered would she be so happy as she is about her life at the moment? "All the bad things that happen in your life make you become a better person in the end," she says pensively.
Certainly the men in her past have made her appreciate Paul. It wasn't love at first sight, though. "It was a gradual process of falling in love. It has never been a purely physical relationship. I wouldn't even let him across the doorstep for about three weeks. Not even for a cup of tea. He'd walk me home and leave me at the door."
When the met, Paul had never even seen EastEnders. "He's unimpressed by show business and he's certainly not a fortune hunter," says Wendy firmly.
"I enjoy looking after Paul, cooking for him. Every morning I get up to see him off to work at 7 a.m. but he helps around the the flat and on Sundays he makes the breakfast."
There are no doubts in her mind that this is a long-term relationship. But marriage? Let's just says she's keeping her options open. She has closed the book on children though. "I'm too old. It didn't happen for me and that's that," she says dismissively.
Paul has three children from his marriage and they stay with Wendy and their father sometimes. "They are three nice ordinary kids and we don't want any of the EastEnders publicity to rub off on them."
Like the other stars of EastEnders Wendy has had to cope with the sort of poison Press that fame seems to encourage, although compared to what Leslie Grantham (Dirty Den) has had to endure it's been mild stuff.
"I don't think some newspapers sell unless they have an EastEnders story," she says cynically. "You see things dragged up, people come out of the woodwork, all because of tacky cheque book journalism. I like Leslie and I wish the Press would let him and his family get on with their lives."
There have been reports of jealousy between Wendy and Anita Dobson, who plays Angie, and that Wendy has been miffed because Angie gets more attention than her. Not true, insists Wendy.
[Webmeister's note: And ten years later when Barbara Windsor joined the EastEnders cast, the tabloids seemed only too eager to allege friction between Wendy and her as well, which would seem to support Wendy's earlier statement about what makes newspapers sell.]
"I have no reason to be jealous of anybody. Anita is nice to everybody. We all get on well together. There's no friction."
Lately the pace at work has been tough. For Wendy has been playing Dandini in Cinderella this Christmas, doing two shows a day in Brighton and racing up to Elstree to film EastEnders after the show late at night once a week.
There's been a record release, too . . . a remake of her 1962 Number One hit Come Outside, with Mike Berry, also from the Are You Being Served? team.
"I suppose it looks as if I've jumped on the band wagon because others in EastEnders made records last year. That's not the case though. Mike and I had been discussing it for months. There just wasn't time to do it."
Before EastEnders Wendy was known for her comedy roles onstage in West End hits like No Sex Please, We're British, and the Carry On films as well as Are You Being Served?.
EastEnders scripts aren't exactly a laugh-a-minute and she misses the fun. "I often wish there was a bit more humour in EastEnders. There's always humour in life, however down you are."
Not surprisingly her alter-ego's problems occasionally rub off and she admits she goes home feeling a bit depressed. "But you have to lift yourself out of it. Paul says 'Come on, it's all an act, dear!' "
Even the viewers take it it heart. "In one episode Pauline said she just wished that she could have something nice for once and a little girl sent me a pretty hankie asking if that would help cheer up Pauline. It was so touching."
So would she swap her role for a Hollywood soap character whose designer dresses grow on trees and whose only financial problem is how to make another billion? Not on your nellie.
"I wouldn't mind the money they earn but we have the quality. I'm really proud of EastEnders. Our scripts and acting are far superior to any American soaps."
While Pauline's troubles will probably go on until kingdom come, Wendy Richard is keeping her fingers crossed that hers are in the past. There are no regrets. What's the point? she says. "It's no good looking back. Everything is a lesson learnt. Self-pity isn't a good thing. I'm like Pauline, a survivor. You must keep smiling."
And while Paul is around Wendy will be smiling . . . "Someone once told me you've got to kiss an awful lot of frogs before you find your prince," she laughs. "I think that's true Thank goodness I've found mine at last."